It’s a bad day to be a guy in Patra.
Red Sonja #5, the penultimate book in Gail Simone’s Queen of Plagues storyline, ended with Sonja and Dark Annisia, her former BFF from the slave pits facing each other – finally – in the arena, alone, woman to woman.
Except they weren‘t alone. This issue begins as the two former best friends stand facing one another in the area, but they hear a voice up on the dias. There, swilling purplish wine, is Bazrat, the evil king who’d forced them to fight in the arena for years against other slaves.
As it turns out, Bazrat had been looking forward to seeing Sonja and Annisia go toe-to-toe in the arena three years ago, when Good King Dimath interrupted the slave pit fights with his war.
This apparently stuck in Bazrat’s craw. Over the last three years, Bazrat’s been carefully building a plan that will allow him to revenge himself on everyone, and also let him get to enjoy the main attraction: a battle to the death between the two women who managed to become friends in his fight-to-the-death slave pit. Only now, he’s not forcing them to fight one another. He’s manipulated them into fighting of their own free will.
Oh yes, and the plague that’s been killing everyone and everything? The one that had Annisia going around burning villages? It’s wasn’t a actually a plague at all. Bazrat poisoned everyone. Surprise.
If you think that seems like a lot of work to get to watch a fight, well, remember that these people don’t have cable. And also, Bazrat seems to have some hang-ups about women, which is interesting, considering… well, what happens a few pages later.
I can’t say much more, for fear of spoiling it for the readers, but suffice to say that the plot features not only the efforts of Sonja, but also an army of women led by the twin tweens who were sent out to be Sonja’s bodyguards in the first book (I really want them back in the next issues) and a slave woman.
And there’s a twist. A what-the-hell, didn’t-see-that-coming twist, which is the best kind of twist.
It is an appropriate ending to a story that was famously put together almost exclusively by women; with Simone helming a team of female writers and artists (not counting artist Walter Geovani).
So what about this arc, which reboots Sonja and breathes new life into her story?
Well, as a reader, much as I enjoy both character and author, I don’t think Simone has hit her stride yet. This story was solid and the relationships between Sonja, Annisia, King Dimath and the Wonder Twins felt real, but I feel like Simone is just warming up to her material and I’m interested to see what comes next.
So what about the feminism in the first story produced by this mostly-female team? Despite the fact that Sonja’s uniform is a chain mail bikini, it’s awesome to see Sonja, charging around the country, concentrating on her mission and her friendships (and her booze, because let’s face it, girlfriend likes a drink.) There’s no love interest distraction in this first arc and frankly, there shouldn’t be. Also, there is not one damsel in this whole arc. NOT ONE. And that is damn refreshing.
I do personally sometimes find Simone’s feminism to be heavy-handed, and occasionally, dated. The sexist males are so stereotypical and two-dimensional that their remarks are sometimes hard to take seriously. (See Bazrat’s comment to his slave girl in the photo above.) But then again, any feminism in comics – where sexism is rampant – is welcome.
What’s next for Team Sonja? Well, next month’s cover shows her swimming with alligators, so things are bound to be interesting. Will I read it? Definitely. Will I review it? That will depend.
In the meantime, I think we all know what Sonja will be doing, now that her first storyline has ended: