"Red Sonja: The Black Tower" #3 builds Frank Tieri's wild cross-genre story to an utterly unexpected cliffhanger. The series has been touch-and-go for me, spending too much time on backstory and struggling to focus, but it's finally picking up. Though the dialogue and panel framing still leave something to be desired, this is the strongest issue of the series thus far.
I do love that Tieri is just going crazy with this series. From its science fiction villain to eyepatch-wearing Sonja riding a dragon, "The Black Tower" is having a whole heap of fun. Tieri also writes not just a fierce Sonja, but a fiercely admired one. The narrator emphasizes her importance and skill -- "There was only one who could ever get them to do that. Only one who could lead them" -- and describes her as "the warrior woman who shaped the Hyborian age." Sonja herself is less flattering, foul-mouthed and practical. There's one panel in particular where her blacked-out profanity even made me laugh out loud. Tieri's Sonja is not one for speeches, and it works -- most of the time. Some of Sonja's dialogue feels phoned-in or generic, and going forward, I'd like to see the imagination that's so clear in the plot come out a bit more in the dialogue.
Simon Bowland continues his lovely work on lettering. I'm obsessed with this font, and the ever-so-slight shading on the word bubbles is a nice complement to the coloring. I've also come around to his use of the same text treatment in both the narrator's captions and the actual dialogue, as it visually reinforces that they're both components of the same retold story.
Salvatore Aiala Studios provides a very sword-and-sorcery color palette that works well. When the panel isn't brightened up for laser guns and fire, this world stays solidly in the mottled grey-green of battlefields and peasant wardrobes. It's a palette that could have felt dull without the contrast of the Black Tower and the dragonfire, but here it works.
Cezar Razek is easily up to the challenge of Tieri's multi-genre script, shifting from sleek lines for the Black Tower and its fighter ships to knottier, more detailed lines for the dragon and Sonja's army. There's a boatload of action in this issue, most of it involving Red Sonja riding a dragon, and Razek makes that look as awesome and epic as it should. The battle is easy to follow while still being visually interesting. And while Razek's figure work can get rather cheesecake, I also recognize it's tough to make a chainmail bikini look realistic.
Razek certainly shocks with the last page, but I really could have done without the sexualized headless torso. The backside of Sonja's dead body dominates the bottom third of the page, and it's rather distasteful. Now, this is a Red Sonja comic, so I know I'm signing up for chainmail bikinis, but continuing to objectify a corpse is just unnecessary. That same scene, framed to focus on Thraxis holding Sonja's head, would have easily accomplished the same shock factor without making the reader feel squicky.
Though I hate to be a sucker for a cliffhanger, issue #3 certainly has me eager for next month's installment. I'm fascinated to see how they play this twist out -- I just hope it will be with snappier lines and less sexism.