[+++ NOTE: Potential spoilers. Buy and read the book, then head back here for some cool commentary! +++]
Sonja’s storyline in this series springboards from the idea that it’s a ‘classic’ Red Sonja adventure, a Hyborian struggle against a sorcerous foe… and into that we very much drop the out-of-place element of the Project Superheroes as a literal culture clash. In other words, it’s misdirection: you think you’re reading one type of story, in a particular format, and it shifts into another.
Two key elements of that overall story I had to pay attention to were that the Project has no experience of magic (to the point where, ultra scientific beings that they are, they don’t believe it actually exists) and the fact that the story is about Sonja’s recruitment to the Project. Now she’s a fabulous hero, but she’s not in any way a ‘metahuman’, certainly not in the ways the Project would define it, and that is the core criterion on which they assess recruitment. So the story had to show that Sonja, though not a metahuman, was worthy of recruitment. The danger was always that she, and her world, would seem very ‘simple’ compared to the Project’s, with nothing really to test their abilities, and that would diminish Sonja as a character.
In this issue, I leaned into those elements to both make them clear and reinforce both sides of the coin. This is the climax of Sonja’s Hyborian adventure — her versus the wizard. It’s her chance to prove herself. The Project members are present, but mainly as spectators who, for once, are entirely out of their depth. We establish Sonja’s credentials, we reveal the Project’s blindspot to magic.. and we do it without reducing either of them. – Dan Abnett
Pages one to four
Skarab Nor is revealed to be a vastly powerful character, and has the Project helpless (and shocked at their helplessness). Sonja is also now aware she’s outclassed — potentially the weakest character present — so she relies on her core skill-sets… not just her ability with a blade and her courage, but on her cunning. She fakes out Nor, admitting his superiority, and begging to change sides so she can survive the ordeal. She plays the mercenary sell-sword that he knows her to be.
He goes along with it (and, by the way, sees something in the Project’s tech that gives him pause… something that we will circle back to much later in the series).
Pages five to eight
Once she has him lulled by her flattery, Sonja strikes. She’s used her guile to get close to him, and is smart enough to know he has to be separated from the source of his power. This ‘separation’ is done in gruesome fashion… Sonja is not squeamish. Jonathan’s art marvelously captures the sudden explosion into action on the page turn.
At that point, things really kick off. Sonja has angered Nor (understatement!) and also his creepy statues-turned-animated-monsters. What’s more, those monsters are now a little out of control, because Nor’s power over them is disrupted by the loss of the scepter. Chaos ensues… and some spectacular, dynamic art.
Pages nine to eleven
Sonja has managed to free Vana, and Vana tries to help… which means recovering her force field controller… and Vana is not used to the blood and butchery of the Hyborian Age. She gets her force field working just in time to same Sonja and then, at Sonja’s urging, uses the force field to allow Sonja to make her monster-killing strike.
Pages twelve to fourteen
The eldritch powers inside Skarab Nor are starting to boil to the surface. He is much more (or less) than a human being, riddled with daemonic aspects that start manifesting. Everyone is now scrambling to grab the scepter.
Pages fifteen to nineteen
Sonja brings the battle to a close, first taking Nor down and then making sure he can’t get back up again… by destroying the scepter. She may be a ‘backwards barbarian’, but she knows how the rules of her world work. Awesome and dynamic action from Jonathan here, really powerful old school barbarian violence.
Pages twenty to twenty two
After all that bloodshed, Sonja just rides off. The Project, suitably impressed and pretty shaken up, track her down and offer her a new job. She treats this offer with typical mercenary contempt. We end on her priceless reaction to the high tech life of the Project. A whole new world awaits… literally. And we’re just starting with this new role for her… next issue, there’s going to be some great fish out of water moments, some broad laughs… and an unexpected menace.
Red Sonja: The Superpowers #3 is out now from Dynamite. And you can read the previous Writer’s Commentary by Dan Abnett for this series here (issue #2).