CHEW #36
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

In true CHEW fashion, after the last action-packed issue stuffed with jaw-dropping revelations, issue #36 slows it down a bit, while also managing to tug on reader’s heartstrings. The recently deceased Toni, Tony’s twin sister, was one of the feature characters in this flashback issue, as was yet another Chu sibling, the rarely seen younger sister Sage.

Apparently the entire Chu family tree has been drinking the Kool-Aid because Sage is also gifted with an extraordinary, and quite inconveniently bizarre, food power. While Toni can tell the future and Tony the past/present, Sage is cipropanthropatic, meaning she picks up the memories of people nearby, but only if they are consuming the same food or drink. Given Sage does not particularly want to know that the dude standing next to her drinking coffee is a hardcore furry, this power is responsible for her rather eclectic diet. However, even that precaution was not enough to protect her from accidently accessing the memories of a mob boss, who now has a hit out on Sage. Therefore it is up to Toni to help her sister, all in time to cut off her toe and stuff it in Tony’s girlfriend’s freezer.

This issue is particularly poignant, because not only do we get to see Toni kicking ass and taking names in her unique way (with the help of her boss/fiancé Paneer), but we also have to watch her put on her happy, bubbly face while she knows the whole time she’s going to die. Watching her try on her white dress and imagine how her wedding should have gone was tear-jerking enough; reading her last moments with her sister just turned the knife a little more. Thanks a lot Layman, you ASS; now I need a tissue. And thanks to Guillory for keeping it light with background nuggets such a poster saying ‘Snitches get stitches!’ as Sage runs for her life. We are also treated to a spread reassuring us devoted fans that Poyo is alive and well, and battling mutant foodstuffs. Ah, CHEW.



By Marc Mason

Lost in the hullaballoo of Gail Simone taking over RED SONJA starting with a new issue #1 is the sterling job that writer Eric Trautmann did with the character during his run on the title. Running issues 51-75, with no fill-ins, Trautmann has the distinction of having the longest uninterrupted tenure writing the character in her history. (Mike Oeming’s run had some subs step in.)

Issues 72-75 concluded his run on the book and brought Sonja home.

MM: I think I said it at the time, and I stand by it: I think issue 72 may be the best comic you’ve ever written. Sonja gets thrown in a prison pit, seemingly a bad idea, but it turns out to be something she’s done on purpose. The real story of what she’s doing ties together every issue since you started writing the book. Let’s start simple: the genesis of the unusual prison break. Not a typical Sonja story, necessarily; where did it come from in your head?

: It was just one of those weird moments. I was driving somewhere, and the random thought popped into my head: “What would an insane asylum look like in the Hyborian Age?”

Once I started playing around with that, I knew I had to drop Sonja in one. And that led to the next question: “How would she end up in one?” And the next thought, “Well, obviously, she wouldn’t be taken unless she wanted to go…”

And so on, and so on.

And I knew the end was in sight, so I had to start laying in the last dangling plot threads of my run, and Wurkest was way up there at the top of the list.

MM: Continuing on 72, you mentioned previously that it was originally going to be the last issue of the series, and until the last couple of word balloons, it certainly could serve that purpose. How much of 72 changed once you knew you were going to get to 75?

By the time I got to scripting, not much. The situation was a little fluid at first, so I built 72 as a “I can get off the ride here, if need be.” If you look at the last couple lines of #75, I could’ve pretty easily sent Sonja on her way to the Vilayet (just prior to her first meeting with Conan). I had the subsequent issues plotted as a “just in case.” Fortunately, I got to do ’em.

MM: So you get to 73 knowing you have one last story, and you send Sonja on a journey back to Hyrkania. Was it important thematically for you to take the character back to where she started?

I thought so, yes. Others’ mileage may vary. (laughs)

And deep down, I wanted to do something similar to that lovely Barry Windsor-Smith/Roy Thomas “Cimmeria” adaptation—a picture poem. Sadly, there was no Robert E. Howard poem about Hyrkania I’m aware of, so I had to make it up.

But yes, “coming full circle” was part of my overall plan. We know the warrior Sonja grows into—tough, smart, brave, passionate, and so on—and I had spent several issues showing her early rough edges sanding down into the Sonja we know, so as part of my promise to myself to put all the toys back in the box in the condition I’d found them, putting her back on home ground just seemed…right.

MM: Of course, it’s never that simple; once again, there’s treasure, danger, and a couple of seriously bad guys on her tail. We see the return of her doppleganger, Khala, and you introduce the torturer Omaju, who is quite an unpleasant fellow. What made these two the right villains to finish off your run?

(laughs) Well, Khala was still out there… I had to do something with that character.

I’m not sure where Omaju came from. I had been doing some reading on the Inquisition not too long ago, and that certainly colored the characterization of him. He just seemed appropriately Howardian to me, and I needed someone vile and awful enough that he’d outlived his usefulness to his masters, and thus provided an on-ramp for Sonja’s story here, where — because she’s an outlander, if she kills Omaju, there’s no political blowback on Prince Yezdigerd. Once I knew roughly what I needed, I sort of created him on the page, as it were. I didn’t do my normal routine of writing detailed character bios of my major supporting cast—Omaju was just “born” bad.

MM: In the end, you use her final fight with Khala to demonstrate growth in Sonja’s character. Was that a deliberate choice made to wrap up the series?

It was, very much so. Khala just worked thematically—she’s all the bad stuff in Sonja, laid bare. And she gave Sonja a hell of a time in their first outing. But, some tough months had passed, Sonja had faced a lot of her own, well, we’ll call them “issues” (in a move sure to make REH roll in his grave), and I wanted Khala to be illustrative of how far Sonja’s come through all these trials.

And there’s an almost touching quality, I hope, to how Sonja treats Khala at the end—it’s almost sisterly, a callback to Sonja’s earlier taunt in their first encounter: “I’m a Hyrkanian and my only sister is steel.”

MM: The final panel puts a bow on it, and suddenly you’re done. As you back away from the keyboard that day, how are you feeling?

Pleased, but also really, really sad. I was pretty depressed about it for a couple weeks after.

MM: Did you say what you wanted to say about the character? How would you assess your overall run with the character?

I said some of what I wanted to say about Sonja, absolutely. But not all. I’ve said elsewhere that I could happily write Sonja for 100 issues and not get bored with her.

As for self-assessment… that’s tough. I feel like I wrote the character to the best of my ability, and was always mindful of honoring what came before, not going out of my way to blow it all up. As a reader, I hate that, which is a major reason why my run is all “prequel.”

I would like to think that my run will inform subsequent runs, but that’s mostly ego, I suspect. In the cold, harsh light of day, the book didn’t perform well during my tenure, and I have a firm belief that my issues will likely be forgotten. That didn’t improve my mood when I stepped away from the keyboard, I’m afraid.

But that’s not atypical. I’m like most writers, who are simultaneously convinced they’re the right person for the job, while secretly believing I just suck so much. (laughs)

MM: You left some stories untold. Have you repurposed some of that material in your other work? Or is it still in your head, and someday maybe you’ll get the opportunity to write those stories?

I haven’t repurposed those ideas, no. They’re in a largely Hyborian context, so doing so would require some pretty massive revision to a point that it would just be silly. I’d love to come back, but I suspect that should that opportunity arise, the landscape will be very different—I wouldn’t be able to just pick up where I left off, so those stories won’t see the light of day in the way I intended.

MM: If you could say one thing to those who were with you for the run, what would it be?

Thank you. It meant a lot to me, as my Vampirella run was being pilloried (for basically doing the same kind of character work I was doing on Sonja), to hear from people who appreciated and liked the effort I made on Red Sonja. I hope I did her — and you — proud.




By Marc Mason

Lost in the hullaballoo of Gail Simone taking over RED SONJA starting with a new issue #1 is the sterling job that writer Eric Trautmann did with the character during his run on the title. Running issues 51-75, with no fill-ins, Trautmann has the distinction of having the longest uninterrupted tenure writing the character in her history. (Mike Oeming’s run had some subs step in.)

Issues 67-71 sent Sonja off to the Far East. This is part four of a five-part look at his tenure on the book.

MM: “Swords Against the Jade Kingdom” is a magnificently pulpy title. Let’s talk pulp for a moment; Sonja has pulp roots, of course, but that isn’t always the feeling her stories give the reader. How conscious of her pulp roots were you as you wrote the book?

Pretty aware. I mean, I know that this incarnation of Sonja isn’t purely “Howardian,” but she was introduced in this form in a Hyborian context, so that sense of brawny, blood soaked sword-and-sorcery was always a touchstone.

And yeah, I liked that title, too.

MM: What does pulp lit mean to you personally, both as a reader and as a writer?

As a reader, I’ve always had a soft spot for it—particularly the airwar pulps like G-8 and his Battle Aces, hero pulps like The Shadow and The Spider, and the hardboiled detective Black Mask stuff. As a writer, I think pulp needs a certain level of bombast, of heightened threat and consequence. The characters are governed by their passions, the environments are always dangerous, and so on. 24 was, at the outset, a terrific example of modern pulp. There was character work in there for sure, but the plot and violent resolution of conflict was more important.

So, for Red Sonja, I tried to strike a balance between modern pacing and sensibilities and that old school, purple-prosed delivery.

MM: Basically, you send Sonja and her crew to Asia this time around. What were you looking for, story-telling wise, in making that choice? What kind of inspiration did you use in putting together the arc?

I keep coming back to that old Marvel Conan run I referred to earlier—Jim Owsley’s stuff. There was a short arc where Conan ventured in Khitai because one of his closest allies, a Samurai-type named Kobe, was forced to abandon his companions and return home at the behest of his father, the emperor.

It was fun stuff, but different in tone than what had come before, and I probably was unconsciously mirroring that a bit.

But one of the things I was hoping to accomplish was to steer the description of Khitai a bit more in the direction of Howard. In comics, Khitai is largely presented as Howardian Japan. It seemed to me that Howard’s original intent was to reference China and Korea a bit more, so I tried to do that here.

MM: Once again, Sonja gets played by a bad guy and sent after a good guy. She’s a clever warrior, but not so great at judging character! Why, as a character, does that tend to be one of her biggest flaws?

(laughs) Why not? She needs at least one.

I tend to prefer flaws like that in a heroic character—conflicts aimed at her personality, her intellect, her emotions, rather than physical threats (though those are certainly present in abundance, too). Again, look at her first appearance—she incorrectly pegs Conan as an idiot. From the outset, she’s shown some lack of skill at judging the people around her.

So, with the story she’s been told, of women and children murdered by bandits, Sonja really couldn’t do anything but go after the so-called “bad guys,” right? That’s just not something she can turn a blind eye to. Failing to investigate that would just feel “off” to me.

And Xi Longwei’s plan there is pretty elegant — send the outlander he doesn’t care about after the people hunting him. If she wins, then those hunting him are out of his hair; if she loses, so what? A dead barbarian is meaningless to him.

MM: My favorite part of the story is the introduction of Yusan, a swordsman who is the equal, if not better, of Sonja. Their fights were exquisitely done, but the respect they develop for one another was more so. He’s the closest thing to someone who could be a legitimate love interest for Sonja you put in the book. Was there ever any thought of playing that angle with him?

Some. But setting the story in Khitai led to me writing the story somewhat differently than I had in prior arcs, especially in the narrative captioning. The style, while still the “Lost Nemedian Chronicle” device I had used all along, took on a slightly different rhythm and cadence, became a bit more, for lack of a term, lyrical or poetic.

I was shooting for an Asian folk tale tone, so I didn’t want to muddy the purity of that with a love interest that just wasn’t going to go anywhere. (Besides, Yusan may have respected Sonja, but she was still an outsider, a barbarian. There wouldn’t be a love affair there, I don’t think.)

And so, his purpose as a storytelling device became sacrificing himself for Sonja to make a kill. That kind of hero in that particular tradition wins only through self-sacrifice.

MM: Dragons! Another different type of foe for our heroine. Indeed, the final showdown between Sonja and Lau Xifong is as good as anything you did in your run – my favorite aspect of her character is her intelligence as a warrior, which is what wins the day. How difficult was it putting together that final battle and that final issue, much of which is just Sonja stalking her prey in the snow?

I couldn’t help myself. I had avoided too much of the “Sonja fights this kinda monster this week, and that kinda monster next week…” in my run—there were some magical mechanical creatures, some damned spirits, some magical guardians, but very few traditional monsters.

So, I figured it was time for a dragon hunt. I’d set a goal, though, of not just having the dragons be Western—the whole “Three Brothers” folk tale aspect of their origin was a great deal of fun to write, and I hoped readers enjoyed it, too, and felt it wasn’t just another monster bash.

In terms of putting it together, it wasn’t too difficult. Mapping out a fight scene has never been too tough for me; making it work along with all the character stuff is where the challenge lies. And by this point, I feel like I knew Sonja pretty well.

For this fight, there was a certain inevitability to it, and for my purposes it played well thematically. Sonja’s isolated in the issue, and the environment is cold, which matches her mental state pretty well. But in truth, she’s not really alone, and the people who’s respect she’s earned are with her the whole time.

MM: At the end, you’re in the home stretch. Four issues left. Where were you at, mentally, as you began preparing to wrap it all up? Still upbeat? Feeling a bit of melancholia?

I was genuinely sad. I love the character, far more than I ever thought I would, and that melancholy permeated this arc and added to its bittersweet punch. And it definitely played into the subsequent arc.



Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Various

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Looking for a good graphic novel or two to give to an older teen reader? A few recent efforts to cross my desk fit the bill pretty well. Let’s take a look.

Writer Derek Kirk Kim and artist Les McClaine return with TUNE VOL.2: STILL LIFE (First Second), an excellent followup to the first volume – though you can easily catch up with the story if you haven’t read the initial book. When last we left slacker hero Andy Go, he had signed a contract that had him living in an alien zoo – as an exhibit! Unfortunately, this came right as he realized that he girl of his dreams liked him too. Now the deal’s about to go really bad, as Andy discovers the perils of not reading the fine print of a contract and the problems with the existence of multiple alternate universes. TUNE remains tons of fun from start to finish; it’s funny, it has pathos, it has twisty plotting, and you never know what’s going to happen next. Kim’s scripting is terrific, and McClaine has no weaknesses in his pages. Everything here is just firing on all cylinders. I liked the first one a lot; this second volume proves that the series has serious legs.

There’s a sense of whimsy to writer/artist Jess Fink’s WE CAN FIX IT! (Top Shelf), but in an entirely different sense. Fink stars as her main character, the conceit being that she has a time machine and uses it to go back to visit herself at various critical junctures in life in order to prevent what she feels are her worst mistakes. But as she does, often in amusing ways, the story also brings to light the true nature of what life’s mistakes mean to our development. It’s clever, for certain, but there’s also a twinge of sadness as well. Indeed, Fink does an outstanding job of taking her “character” on a rich emotional journey that surprises the reader quite often. Her art is clean and simple, and she has a nice gift for body language and personal expression that enhance the story along the way. Laughter and learning in one book are always a solid combo; this one’s a winner.

On the more serious side of the aisle, you’ll find LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD by writer/artist Elaine M. Will (Cuckoo’s Nest Press). LOOK takes the reader on a darker journey, telling the story of a 17-year old boy named Jeremy. While on the surface he seems to have a normal existence, that vanishes quickly as he drowns beneath a wave of crushing manic depression that comes complete with hallucinations. In rapid fashion, his family, school and personal life disintegrate and the question becomes one of actual survival as his hallucinations put his life in danger. No question about it, this is an impressive piece of work, a stunningly deep work that hits the reader in their emotional core. Will has a strong grip on the material, never letting it feel maudlin or sensationalized, and her art is strong in depicting the human moments alongside the ones based in the imagination. Don’t go into it expecting to be uplifted, but do go into it understanding that Jeremy’s struggle will resonate, particularly with kids his age. Nicely done.



By Marc Mason

Lost in the hullaballoo of Gail Simone taking over RED SONJA starting with a new issue #1 is the sterling job that writer Eric Trautmann did with the character during his run on the title. Running issues 51-75, with no fill-ins, Trautmann has the distinction of having the longest uninterrupted tenure writing the character in her history. (Mike Oeming’s run had some subs step in.)

Issues 61-66 comprised one lengthy epic tale. This is part three of a five-part look at his tenure on the book.

MM: So you get to issue 61, and Walter Geovani returns to the art chores. Looking over your tenure, it feels to me like of all the artists you worked with, he was the guy who was most simpatico with your scripts, and he delivered the goods on the page. What was your working relationship like with him? How does it compare to other artists you’ve worked with over the years?

Walter was (and I’m sure still is) an absolute joy to work with. I was a little concerned, given the demands of “War Season,” that I’d be facing a revolt on the art front, just because there were so many scenes of huge armies clashing. I sent a mail out early on, telling Walter to let me know if he needed me to back off of some of that, and to my delight, he went the other way, asking for me to up the ante in terms of scale.

The best part was that he’s also so damned fast. I was racing to stay a few scripts ahead of him, because he turned out those beautiful pages at a pace I found more than a little intimidating.

I’ve been lucky to work with other artists of similar work ethic and talent—Don Kramer on JSA Vs. Kobra, Marco Rudy on The Shield, and of course, Steve Lieber on Shooters all spring to mind. Not to mention guys like Daniel Indro, Patrick Berkenkotter and Edgar Salazar on other Dynamite books. Walter’s just terrific, and I’d jump at the chance to work with him again. It’s no accident he’s the guy drawing Gail Simone’s Sonja.

MM: 61-66 are your longest story on the book to date. You return to the Horn of Nergal plotline and the ramifications of your first story in the book, and the plight of the young girl Sonja left behind. Let’s start by talking about story length -six issues. What did the story gain by adding more space. What were you able to add, both in plot and also in character, that a shorter version would have been missing?

I’m not sure I thought about it in those terms. I just knew I had a bigger story than four issues, and plotted accordingly. There was a lot of ground that needed to be covered—some (not total, but some) redemption for Sonja after “War Season,” the glass palace in the Stygian sands, plus some Stygian politics, not to mention the demands of making sure I’d clearly delineated all the relationships in Sonja’s sphere. I wanted Osric in particular to have some moments to shine, so his actions in a later arc would sting a bit. But Johndro and Barrannes also needed some room to breathe, so the reader would get to know them, too, and hopefully — after what happened to the last batch of allies — worry about them.

I also needed some space to play with the tone of the piece. After putting Koth behind her, issue 61 opens up pretty lighthearted. No one gets killed, stabbed, maimed, or otherwise Sonja-d. She’s having some laughs, and, I hope, the audience could relax a bit so that when things get dark, the reader would have that “Oh, man, this is gonna suck…” moment. By the next issue, Sonja’s not in a good space, emotionally or physically, and Azenathi, the Priestess of Bast, makes a point of slapping her in the face with the disaster at Persemhia. Without that space, the first issue of the arc wouldn’t have been so lighthearted, because I wouldn’t have had time to do it.

MM: Additionally, we get a new supporting cast to replace the one previously slaughtered. What were you looking for with the new crew, as opposed to what the dead ones brought to the book?

I wanted them to be “echoes” of the guys Sonja lost in “War Season,” and they are, to an extent. But I also used the new cast the same way I used the original allies—a chance to cement the story in the Hyborian age. A Zingaran, an Argossean, a Brythunian and Hyrkanian, each with distinct mannerisms and customs and attire, and so forth. Plus, from early on, I knew that Johndro, my Zingaran, would be chronically seasick, which was a joke for myself—the Zingarans famously being a seafaring people. There’s a whole story there, actually: what it’s like for a Zingaran to hate the sea so much he becomes a mercenary in the desert kingdom of Stygia.

They had to be distinct as people, not just carbon copies of Rogatino, Wurkest, Dimitri and Valkos, but similar enough so that later on, when she’s gotten through a bunch of scrapes with them, and they’re all still alive, she can feel that she’s repaid her debts.

MM: You also introduce another champion of a god, much like the scorpion villain in issue sixty, in the form of Azenathi. She’s the right hand of Bast, the cat goddess, and she represents a far different type of foe. You mentioned previously that you were building towards something of a “contest of pantheons” had you remained on the book – I’m curious about how you went about developing these rivals to Sonja. Why was she next in the lineup? What was her thematic purpose as a Sonja villain?

Each of the “champions” she beats is a different kind of threat. Akim-Mekht, the scorpion guy (who, I realize, never got named in the issue) is a physical threat; Azenathi’s approach is manipulation—using her abilities to play on Sonja’s guilt. She never directly threatens Sonja; she attacks Sonja through her friends.

Ultimately, each of these champions were to individually “test” Sonja—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. A later “champion” was to cast some doubt on the Red Goddess (which would be a tie to what came “later” in her timeline, or rather, in earlier issues of Dynamite’s Red Sonja if that makes sense). I really wanted to make sure my run let me do the stories I wanted to do, but wouldn’t undercut or retcon other writers’ take on the character.

MM: Of course, sometimes you just have to skip the subtext and skip straight to the text. Late in the book, literally a dark-mirror version of Sonja is brought into the world and our heroine is forced to do battle with her doppleganger. It flowed from the story nicely, but at the same time, it also felt like you were cutting loose and having a bit of a lark. Your take?

Part of the fun of a book like Red Sonja is being able to take some shopworn concepts, dust ’em off and play. “Evil twin” isn’t exactly the most original thing, but I knew it would have a thematic payoff in my later arcs, and she acts as a thematic mirror to Sonja while she’s in play.

I was also moving toward setting up a recurring villain, and Khala, her doppleganger, was to be a recurring thorn in Sonja’s side. I had planned on using her as the lynchpin of the contest of pantheons—Khala surely felt she deserved Sonja’s role as the Red Goddess’ slayer. I had originally planned on her orchestrating these attacks on Sonja, specifically to weaken her, suss out her vulnerabilities, and after killing Sonja and (she believed) gaining Sonja’s abilities, would lead an attack on Scathách.

Which, you know, would end so very well for her.

MM: Sonja once again gets her hands on the Horn of Nergal, and as we knew she must, this time she uses it. What did that moment represent to you in terms of her overall character arc during your run?

I liked it because she knows what she’s letting loose. That damn thing represents nothing but pain and death to the user, and she blows the horn because she’d rather die than let anyone she cares about be hurt or killed. Her friends are in danger because of the ripple effect of her choices, so she knows she’s responsible for them.

I loved that moment.

Plus, there’s Lovecraftian and Howardian elements to that whole device, too. The magic item that carries a terrible cost. It was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

MM: We talked about Sonja’s wardrobe in part one; in this arc she (quietly) slips back into the chainmail bikini for a bit, but not the entire time. Was there a purpose to that move, or was it just something you went with organically as part of the story?

I figure it’s hot in the desert?

That was my approach to “costuming” here (and in Vampirella). These aren’t superheroes. They wear clothes that function best for their environment. So, when Sonja knows she’s riding into a huge battle, she wears more armor. When she’s traveling fast, she wears lighter armor or no armor at all.

MM: By the time this story was over, there were only nine issues left in your run. How far ahead did you know that 75 would be your last? Did you know it at any point while writing this arc?

I don’t recall exactly when I knew, but I’m pretty sure it was by the end of this run. I was being told that the series was going to end at issue # 72, in fact.

So, I was taking the knives to my overall outline, figuring out what I needed to get to the ending I’d planned, and that was when the “contest” storyline was jettisoned. I needed more time and space to gradually add these other champions, and I just didn’t have it, so I went with smaller-in-scale but still traditional sword-and-sorcery arcs.

I think I was writing issue #70 when I learned that the run had been extended to #75 specifically to let me end in a milestone issue number, which was a really nice thing for Nick and Joe to do.



Written and Drawn by Margreet de Heer
Written and Drawn by Reed Waller, Kate Worley, and James Vance
Published by NBM

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two new very good efforts from my former employer…

SCIENCE: A DISCOVERY IN COMICS is the second of these reference volumes I’ve seen from writer/artist Margaret de Heer, and as with the one on philosophy, it is absolutely terrific. Originally published in the Netherlands, and translated from the Dutch, de Heer uses the sequential art format to inform and enlighten the reader about the history of science itself, the meaning and origins of some of its disciplines, and even the foundations of theory. Heady stuff, to be sure. Yet de Heer has a way of presenting the concepts in such a manner that they never feel like they’re going over one’s head. Instead, SCIENCE feels truly like a book for the masses, a work that brings scientific principle to the layperson in ways it hasn’t before. Her art is simple and straight-forward, and she always chooses function over form: everything works to service the lessons she is trying to impart. When people ask me about how comics can serve a purpose in the classroom, this is precisely the kind of book I use to demonstrate that very thing.

After a loooooooooong wait, the serialization aspect is over, and the final volume of THE COMPLETE OMAHA is now available. A classic comicbook soap opera renowned for its sex positive approach to the cast’s graphic on-page couplings, what started out as a humble little thing shook the industry to its foundations. For those who don’t know, it was OMAHA causing a comics retailer to be prosecuted for carrying it in his store that eventually led to the foundation of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! Here in this final volume (finished by Waller and Vance using notes from Worley before she left us too soon due to cancer) Omaha, Chuck, Shelley, Kurt, and the rest are put through their final paces as the story heads for an appropriately explosive climax. Plotlines are tied up, villains get their comeuppance, characters fins emotional resolutions… it’s everything you’d want if you’ve been reading the book from the start. Waller and Vance’s work stays true to everything that had come before, and the last couple of pages are just about perfect. A nice job of sticking the landing.



By Marc Mason

Lost in the hullaballoo of Gail Simone taking over RED SONJA starting with a new issue #1 is the sterling job that writer Eric Trautmann did with the character during his run on the title. Running issues 51-75, with no fill-ins, Trautmann has the distinction of having the longest uninterrupted tenure writing the character in her history. (Mike Oeming’s run had some subs step in.)

Issues 56-60 saw Trautmann diving into different genres with Sonja. This is part two of a five-part look at his tenure on the book.

MM: Let’s start by talking about action, specifically about writing action for Sonja. Issue 56 opens up with an action sequence that’s as good as anything you did in your run: Sonja sneaks up on a patrol of warriors looking for her, assaults the man in charge, steals his horse, beats up a bunch of guys, and then kills the rest by firing arrows into their heads while riding away. Bravura stuff. What kind of process did you go through as you wrote this sequence (and others like it)? Was it hard to keep coming up with amazing feats for her to do?

I mostly wanted a scene reminding people that Hyrkanians are horse soldiers. Sonja’s adventures tend to be centered in urban areas or in lost tombs and so forth and its easy to lose sight of that element of her skill set, which is often subordinate to the “she devil with a sword” stuff. So, at that moment in the story, she’s alone, on the run, hunted by enemies on all sides—reverting to horse-fighting just seemed apropos.

Coming up with tricky situations for her to overcome was part of the fun; I don’t know if I’d call it “hard,” per se. It was just part of the gig, and a fun part at that. I never got to do some of the stuff I’d jotted down—fight over a waterfall/Hyborian water wheel construct was one I always wanted to do, but didn’t have a place to put it. On the other hand, the castle fight in this arc (where Sonja fights a mud “golem”) was a scene I had in my head early on. I briefly toyed with how to make that work in War Season, but it didn’t fit. I was happy to find a home for it later on.

Action sequences are fairly easy for me to write, I think. The hard part was not knowing my illustrator—I’d come off four great issues with Walter, and a terrific one-off with Patrick Berkenkotter, but at the time I wrote these issues, I didn’t know who my illustrator was. So it’s a bit nerve-wracking. Do I write a big horseback combat sequence and run the risk of the illustrator saying, “I, uh, hate drawing horses…”? Do I write a big clash of armies only to learn that the illustrator prefers the more introspective stuff (like Sonja and Scathách sitting in a bar)?

And there’s always the major problem in a fight scene—pacing and balance. The longer, more complicated the fight scene, the harder it is to pick the right “snapshot” for the illustrator to draw. That’s a lot of trial and error for me; usually I write a combat-heavy issue in three or four drafts before the editor even sees it. Sometimes, I’ll thumbnail out the issue for myself, crude, stick-figure breakdowns, just to make sure that I’m not asking for too much in a given panel or scene. That’s the hardest part. It’s also conclusive proof that I should never attempt to actually draw comics.

MM: 56 also touches on one of her most interesting characteristics, which is that Sonja often finds herself in “no good deed goes unpunished” situations. For a mercenary and a killer, she has a gift for siding with the underdog. How do you balance writing those personality traits?

At some point, and I’m not sure when (though it probably started around this time), I started to think of Sonja as being akin to Josey Wales. She’s an archetypical warrior maiden, but at the same time, there’s the human part of her, the part that craves community, kinship, camaraderie, all that. And there’s always, as I mentioned last time, that touch of larceny to her. She’s a good person, in a bad time, and she sometimes does bad things, and its those moments of self-interest (where she’s been reckless or hurt or endangered others) that haunt her and push her to do the right thing.

So that’s the balance, I guess: she’s a thief, she kills people for money, she’s got all the reason in the world to be embittered and angry, sure… but she’s also the hero of the tale, even when she’s the reluctant hero.

MM: One thing about Red Sonja – she never has time to draw unemployment! Once again, she quickly acquires a job, this one stemming out of the conclusion of the previous arc. Obviously you need to keep the character moving, but how do you avoid making the “she gets hired to –” a bad trope?

I tried to make those connections organic. She’s a mercenary, after all, and this is a setting rife with opportunities to ply her trade. In the case of this arc, I knew I wanted her to be part of the mix when Strabonus takes the throne of Koth, and with a lot of folks in Koth wanted her dead, she’s going to need cash, fast, to get the hell out of there. That made a certain amount of sense, and this time let me treat her a bit more like The Man With No Name than Josey Wales.

(Funny that, it wasn’t until you started asking me this stuff, I had never consciously thought of her in such Old West and specifically Spaghetti Western/Eastwoodian terms. Hm.)

MM: The arc in 56-59 finds her working the middle between two warring brothers. There is plenty of action (again, exquisitely choreographed) but the tone leans toward con artistry. Were you consciously choosing to play with different genres as you got deeper into the book?

Not so much “genre” as emphasizing different parts of Sonja’s character. Every issue talks about her a s a thief, a reaver, a pay-soldier, a slayer of men, and so on. The first arc was much more a traditional warrior story with a fall-from-grace element; this second arc was about putting her on the road to redemption down the line, but also about showing more of the thief/caper side of her. I kept coming back to that first encounter with Conan, where she (erroneously) pegs him as a lummox that she can leave holding the bag while she skips out with the loot.

So, that’s her, right there, in digest: she’s not a bad person, but she’s not necessarily a person you can trust because she’s always got her own interests right up front. But when the chips are down, if she’s your friend, you can depend on her.

The genre stuff I was playing with was more with the other characters in the story. On the one hand, you had a family of alchemists and scientists, but their art appeared more as magic. And they’re besieged because their rivals claim that they’re black magicians.

On the other hand, you’ve got Strabonus, practicing ancient and nasty magicks, which manifest almost as a science. I’m a little surprised that my gambit to do credible Hyborian “robots” didn’t rile up more people. I’d envisioned them a bit more like the clockwork army at the beginning of Hellboy 2, but in the end they looked way more like “robots” than I’d intended, so I had to breathe a sigh of relief that there wasn’t a lot of “Seriously, dude? ROBOTS?” in my inbox.

MM: Once again, though, Sonja seems to prevail, but in the longer game, she winds up worse for the wear. She leaves behind a situation that goes tits up after she leaves and the bad guy ultimately wins. She gives away the money she earned as well. Combined with the ending of the previous arc, Sonja’s life sort of takes on an air of futility. Is this deliberate on your part?

I don’t know that I’d agree that her time in Koth was futile. She defeats her enemies, and she gets paid, and she can get the hell out of Koth. Those are all victories, and they were hard won.

But she’s also the product of a family that was murdered in front of her. Getting Constantinius (the young prince she rescues from a murderous father) clear would be the only choice she could make and still live with herself. More than anyone in that story, she knows what that feels like, and there was no one there to help her until the Red Goddess. And there’s always more money, right?

MM: Issue 60 sees you take the book in a pure-horror direction. Scorpions, scorpions everywhere! Sonja battling a priest of a scorpion god… Any particular inspiration for this one?

There’s a bit of Lovecraft in there, and a tiny nod to my own elder ancient evil thing (Yag-Ath Vermellus, in Vampirella; a careful read of some of the captions will find that reference buried in there). There’s certainly precedent for a blending of Lovecraftian motifs and Hyboria, after all.

The two biggest things I wanted to do here (besides having my friend Brandon Jerwa devoured by scorpions on the page; and you know him, Marc. We’ve all wanted to do that at least once, right?) was to emphasize that gods in this setting tend to operate by proxy, and if Sonja is a goddess’ champion, then surely there would be others. And those others would be weird and dangerous.

The one big storyline I never got to was a large scale battle between several of those champions—many teaming up to destroy the Red Goddess, with only Sonja to oppose them, that sort of thing. This was the lead-off for that, which was to come after the next arc.

At some point, I decided against it because I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be on the book, and I had a bunch of plot threads I’d already established that needed to be finished up. My feeling was, if I got all the last echoes of War Season tied up, then the next big arc would be this godwar concept.

MM: The issue does set her against a villain who could be considered a kindred spirit in many ways – a servant of a god, much as she is. Really, a great villain – did you find it difficult to have Sonja kill a character that turned out to be so rich in possibilities?

Nope. I didn’t have much of a problem killing off Rogatino in the first arc, either; hell, they were all originally slated to die. Besides, killing him off here meant that his successor could come looking for Sonja later. I don’t mind when characters I love die, if there’s a dramatic dividend.

I had some characters Greg Rucka and I created for Checkmate that were killed off in some DC book or other, while I was ramping up to write JSA Vs. Kobra, and the editor assumed I was angry that it had happened, and seemed kind of puzzled when I told her I didn’t care that they died. I cared more that they died off-panel, for no real good purpose. I even worked into my JSA Vs. Kobra pitch a way to expand on the deaths and use them as part of the villains’ scheme, so it would enhance that moment from the other book and help boost my villain in my book. (Ultimately rejected, of course, which is my biggest regret in that series. But I digress…) So, no, I’m not particularly precious about character death.

MM: You had now hit ten issues on the book, six more than had originally planned. At this point, where was your head as far as long-term thinking? Was the grander arc falling into place for you?

Oh, definitely. At this point, I had the last arc mapped out—I knew how Wurkest and Sonja would meet again, and where, and what the exit line for me would be (with Sonja heading out into the adventure that would culminate with her first meeting with Conan). I had a good idea that it would all happen in Hyrkania, because there was something nicely symmetrical about that to me. Some of the more specific points (like the villain) came much later, but at this point the shape was definitely starting to develop.

I had already done a short series of notes about where I could go, so I knew Stygia was next, and that it would tie off some of the plot loose ends from War Season, and I knew after that, I wanted to send her off toward Khitai.

I also had a couple arcs in the Stygia section that I ended up jettisoning simply because I was running out of time to finish out the book the way I wanted to. But we can talk about that next time.