The fact that, like it or not, it is that season, means there are spoilers ahead for…
Red Sonja Holiday Special
Writer: Amy Chu, Erik Burnham, Roy Thomas, Clair Noto
Artist: Ricardo Jamie, Frank Thorne
Cover: Leonardo Romero
“This time of year, people try a little harder to help others. Peace on earth, good will towards all, you know?”
“I do not.”
Despite my general grinchiness, I thought I should probably make some acknowledgement of the season and take a look at one of the many holiday specials on the stands. I missed – though by some accounts, I suppose I should say “missed” – the offering from DC this year, and while I did also grab a Hellboy special, that particular red character made a holiday appearance last year.
But red is one of the colors associated with the season, so it was only fitting to pick instead one of the unlikelier specials. Unlikely, of course, because of the era in which the character lives – it’s rather like paradox of The Flintstones or the characters in the comic strip B.C. celebrating the birth of someone who, from their perspective, hasn’t been born yet – but the She-Devil with a sword has a distinct advantage in that regard, given that she engages in time travel on a semi-regular basis.
Thus, as she makes her way through the snowy woods and encounters a poor, hungry woman vainly seeking warmth, the color of the woman’s cloak reminds her of her visit to a future time and she is moved by the spirit of the season to offer the woman food, warmth, and the story of that memory.
Shortly after her arrival in modern-day New York, she and her friend Max – who later proved, unbeknownst to him, to be a time-tossed resident of the Hyborian Age – were rushing down the snowy Manhattan streets on Max’s motorcycle. Well, “rushing” is a relative thing – Sonja asserted that she could run faster than they were moving in the gridlocked winter traffic.
After a man in a red suit standing on a street corner laughs at her, or so she thinks, Sonja wants to stop to show the man the error of his ways, but Max explains that he wasn’t laughing at her, and as Sonja observes the New Yorkers gathering at “temples” (stores), and purchasing trees, she realizes that there is indeed much in this strange new world that she does not understand.
She’s especially confused when they stop at a diner and she sees the proprietor deliver kindness to a beggar rather than the beating she anticipated.
Max does his best to explain the holidays to Sonja, focusing on the diverse cultures clustered together in the city that never sleeps, and how virtually all of them have some kind of traditional winter holidays that occur around the same time, and that even those who don’t hold any of the beliefs those holidays reflect are often moved by the spirit to be a little kinder.
Sonja soon turns Max’s words against him, roping him into helping out a man who Max initially writes off as a nut and wants to just dump into the system (Max is a cop), but Sonja prevails upon the way of “the Santaclaus,” whose colors the man wears, to coerce Max into helping right now.
While we see that this little side quest actually connects to the larger story of Sonja’s time in the present, even in her telling of the tale Sonja is unaware that the man they’re helping – who was beaten for overhearing some mob types talking about their plans, and who lost his dog, Rudolph, in the process – has just had an encounter with her ancient enemy, the sorcerer Kulan Gath.
While Sonja initially pounds the stuffing out of the goons still pursuing the man in the Santa outfit, they eventually produce the “powerful magic” of guns, and the three are soon on the run, but are saved by…Santa Claus!
Shortly thereafter, the drunken and battered Santa is reunited with his Rudolph, and though Sonja is eager to join the revelry, Max insists they’ve had enough excitement and that he’s interested in having a silent night from this point on.
Back in the Hyborian Age, the telling of the tale comes to an end, though Sonja lets the woman know that there is a grander tale to be told, if the woman is interested in travelling with her for a time. She is, but she asks if Sonja ever thinks about trying to find a way to return to Max’s time.
Sonja admits that she does miss things like warm baths and cold beers, and Max, of course, but it is not her time. Still, telling the tale and honoring the ways of Max’s gods by engaging in an act of kindness at this time of year did make her feel close to him once more and provided a moment of peace and goodwill.
The special is rounded out with a reprint of a classic tale from the Marvel era, with art by legendary Red Sonja artist Frank Thorne.
This tale has no holiday connection, featuring a weary Sonja headed towards a city that she hopes will offer her a comfortable place to sleep, good ale to drink, good food to eat, and a minstrel to sing sad songs.
She is warned away from the village by a talking goat, but does not take the warning to heart, and, in time, learns that the whole city was an illusion created by Death himself as a means of trapping Sonja.
Fortunately, while they didn’t dissuade her from entering the city, remembering the goat’s warnings provides the clues she needs to escape from Death’s trap.
This was a very slight comic in terms of content, with nothing really going for it beyond being connected to the season. It’s very talky, with not a whole lot in the way of action.
While the main story is connected to the recent events in Sonja’s regular series, it doesn’t really add much, or do anything to push the ongoing narrative – the last few issues of the regular series have mostly been one-off stories of late – so it’s mostly just…there. It’s not bad, and it’s a fun little holiday-themed diversion, but it’s nothing to write home about, or probably to even write a Spotlight post about, I suppose.
And yet, here we are.
The art in the main story is solid, with an especially good use of facial expressions, which is a bonus, given the aforementioned lack of action. However, the already-gratuitous nature of Sonja’s outfit seems even more gratuitous – and out-of-place, given the weather – here, particularly with some of the poses.
The “classic” story is exactly the kind of thin story you’d find as a back-up feature in the 1970s, but it is saved by the art of Thorne, whose work can also be called gratuitous, but he has the advantage of having achieved iconic status, and benefits from the nostalgia of olds like me, for whom Thorne’s Sonja was the Sonja.
So, yeah. ‘Tis the season and all that, even in a a harsh and brutal era in which “the season” did not yet exist as such.
Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja