This week’s Writer’s Commentary comes from writer Jordan Clark and his new book from Dynamite, Samurai Sonja #1. He discusses particular style choices, the historical research that informs this series, inspirations, as well as other highlights from this debut issue.
[+++ WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Buy and read the book, then come back here for some cosmic commentary! +++]
Oh hello there, I didn’t see you come in. I’m – – hold on [wipes crumbs away] I’m Jordan Clark, writer of the new multiversal…ahem…Sonjaversal™ take on Red Sonja, entitled Samurai Sonja.
What exactly is Samurai Sonja, you ask? It’s a mix of the swords and sandals western fantasy of the beloved “She-Devil with a Sword”™ with Japanese history and folklore. The swords and armor are there, the monsters and magic are there, but through a different lens which hopefully makes things fresh for long-time Sonja fans, and enticing for new readers.
Lots of research went into this one, so let’s take a look at #1 together shall we.
Where better to start than page one? I wanted to set up a little motif here that we’ll use throughout the series, by having a Kitsune Fox do a narration over a version of a Kakejiku, or a hanging scroll. I thought it would be a neat way of giving a glimpse of things to come as well as in future issues, recapping Sonja’s previous adventures. Kitsune can represent many things, from messengers and protectors, to tricksters and demons. Our narrator is fairly benevolent, but I wouldn’t want to get on its bad side.
Isn’t that dragon boat neat? One thing I wanted to point out here is the shinto charm, or omamori, Sonja is holding. Not only will it come up later, but they’re just pretty interesting in general.
Samurai were devout followers of both Buddhism and Shintoism, the main religions of Japan. The omamori act as both protection and good luck. Each one contains a prayer, and the one Sonja has in particular is the yakuyoke amulet, meant to ward away evil. Given to her by her father, it’s one of her most prized possessions.
We get a glimpse of Sonja’s standing in her clan. Women samurai, or Onna-Bugeisha have been around since the beginning. Many acted as defenders of their clan’s homestead, but many others fought side by side with the men. One of the inspirations for Sonja is Tomoe Gozen, arguably one of the best and most feared warriors of her era.
A sea dragon! Our first yokai here and we may just see them again. This particular dragon is based on Yofune Nushi, who was defeated by a girl named Tokoyo looking for her exiled samurai father. Symmetry at work!
As Sonja sinks closer to her doom, she calls on Amaterasu. Amaterasu is the goddess of the sun and highest amongst all gods in the Shinto religion. In the Shinto religion, the sun represents order and purity. Amaterasu is look to Sonja for just that, to help bring order to the warring states and purify the lands from the evil of Shuten-Doji.
Love this page! First we get a look at Sonja’s armor, designed by the amazing Pasquale Qualano. We also get a look at Sonja’s new weapons, blessed by the goddess herself. And finally, one last look at the armor worn by her uncle. The understanding of what was lost and what duties lie ahead. Good stuff!
Meet this issue’s yokai! The Gashadokuro is a towering skeleton composed of pained and angry dead. Usually unburied soldiers or villagers who died from famine, their anger turns into a grudge against the living and when it combines, into the Gashadokuro. This village has been ravaged by the war as well as our dragon friend from earlier. Luckily, Sonja is looking for a fight.
Another favorite page of mine. We go back and forth between all the things that made Sonja and her anger in the present. Her connection to her father, her unresolved feelings around his passing, losing almost all of her clan, all of those emotions are pouring out during this battle.
A Gashadokuro cannot be defeated through brute force. The rage held by the spirits that created it will only reform the yokai. After letting out all of her rage, Sonja recognizes herself in the creature. The futility of fighting against yourself. This monster isn’t her enemy, only a victim lashing out at others. Is that who she is? What she wants to become?
A warrior is only as strong as their compassion for others. Not every battle can be solved with violence. Some victories come by letting go. Sonja recites a Buddhist prayer for the dead, releasing the anger and pain of the Gashadokuro and allowing the villagers to rest.
And finally, a glimpse at our big bad. Shuten-Doji, Oni King himself. Sonja has passed the first trial but there are bigger and more terrifying things to come. But for now, Sonja continues her journey…
And that’s it for #1. What’s that? What happens next? *motions to come closer* You didn’t hear this from me, but if psychic apes, bridge battles, haunted dreams, and fulfilled destiny are your thing, join us on the rest of this adventure. Thanks to everyone for reading, and hopefully you’ll follow Samurai Sonja on her epic quest!
Samurai Sonja #1 is out now from Dynamite Comics