“Swords of Sorrow: Jungle Girl / Red Sonja” sticks to the simple stuff, and that approach both keeps the story moving and keeps it from excelling. The meeting between Jana and Red Sonja is a classic crossover from the obligatory initial fight to the quick comradeship, and Mirka Andolfo’s warm, playful artwork invites the reader in. However, without any real surprises or creative flourishes, the issue starts to feel formulaic and its expectedness detracts from otherwise lively dialogue and fangirl-pleasing premise. All told, “Red Sonja & Jungle Girl” #1 shows all the elements of a successful story, but it doesn’t do much more than assemble them.
The story is easy to slip into, and readers who know the most basic premise behind “Swords of Sorrow” will be able to follow along effortlessly. Bennett plays Sonja’s snark off of Jana’s relative straightforwardness without resorting to a confining straight man/joker dichotomy. In one conversation, Sonja rattles on about “metal palaces that pierce the sky” and “hairless pig-cats that smell like a middenheap at midsummer,” while Jana makes herself a flower crown and brags about her cooking. It’s such a fast, smart scene that the reader absorbs the characterization without a pause, and it’s a pleasure to watch these two characters interact.
However, there are few surprises in this issue. The clarity of the action is wonderful, but the expectedness left me feeling as if very little had happened, even though the plot had plenty of movement. It didn’t leave me wondering about the next issue; instead, I feel like I can predict what’s coming next. That said, the dynamic between Sonja and Jana and the scope of the established conflict is undeniably enjoyable. (I mean, look at that monster on the last page.) I just wish I got to see this issue flex its creative muscles a bit more.
With Vincenzo Salvo’s popping colors and simpler, less realistic figures, Andolfo’s artwork has playfulness and warmth to spare. It feels younger and lighter than some of the other “Swords of Sorrow” titles, and Andolfo embraces the action and joy of a big event. The splash pages and spreads are particularly satisfying, from Sonja’s surprise encounter with a desert cat to her initial arrival on Jana’s island. However, the inking is unevenly heavy at times, which can make the panels look off-kilter and inelegant. They just need a little more neatness going forward.
I especially appreciated the coloring in this issue, which went bold, clear and a touch cartoony. There is a minor color clash between the red ombre in Sonja’s captions and the magenta in-panel on the first page but, after that opening, the lettering and the coloring complement each other much better.
My only significant issue with the artwork is the appearance of the demons at the end, which didn’t read easily at all. I had to go over it a second time to really grasp what was going on and, while there can be value in panels that require extra concentration, it didn’t feel intentional given the readability of the rest of the issue.
“Swords of Sorrow: Jungle Girl / Red Sonja” doesn’t make any missteps, but it doesn’t do enough to hook the reader, either. Luckily, it’s laid enough groundwork for the next two issues to build in more inventive ways.