Published by Dark Horse Comics, Dynamite Entertainment
Written by Gail Simone, Jim Zub
Illustrated by Dan Panosian, Randy Green
Colours by Dave Stewart
Letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft
This miniseries marks a combined effort between Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment to bring together two of the most well known properties of sword-and-sorcery writer Robert E. Howard. While Conan and Red Sonja initially spawned from the same series of comic books in the adaptations of Roy Thomas, their comic counterparts have been split across the two publishers for years. With a superstar writing team containing current Red Sonja scribe Gail Simone as well as the creator of the beloved Skullkickers, Jim Zub, these characters are already in fantastic hands.
This miniseries takes place across a span of many years and takes us through an adventure that is told through three pivotal moments in the lives of this infamous duo. Each issue is framed as an advisory story being told to a young prince; the style of the narration is stereotypically grandiose which sets the tone of each scene perfectly. We get to see their first meeting as young adults before they know who they're destined to be and, as we eventually discover, this initial meeting shapes the course of their lives more than they initially know.
The understated nature of their importance is a running theme throughout this miniseries. It begins as they accidentally stumble upon a dangerous substance that threatens to wipe out all life in their world. The pair are never depicted as adventurers seeking glory and are two simple people trying to create a better life for themselves and everyone around them. This is juxtaposed with their lives as self-proclaimed "honest pirates" as, even though they know how to fight to kill, they are trying to survive in the only way they know how.
This series plays with the idea that a supposedly insignificant moment in our pasts can have a massive effect on, not only our own lives, but the lives of everyone that we come into contact with. In a fantasy setting, the word "destiny" gets thrown around a lot; this is subtly slotted into the story through the use of the genre-appropriate narration.
In the gap between each issue, time passes and the lives of each of our heroes change drastically. Without needing to know anything about past history of these characters, the tragedy and heartbreak in their lives is instantly clear each time we see them. Simone and Zub know how to insert a dump of exposition that feels like a natural part of our characters catching up with each other.
The friendship that the writing duo have managed to portray walks the fine line between sexual tension and simple comradery. It's refreshing to see a relationship between a man and a woman that doesn't result in each person falling in love and living happily ever after. There is a clear demonstration of the fierce independence in each of the characters creating a situation where neither of them want or need a commitment from the other.
One criticism of this miniseries is the slightly disappointing final confrontation between the two legendary warriors and their main antagonist. The entire situation feels like it belongs in a sci-fi story and detracts from an otherwise awe-inspiring fantasy story.
It wouldn't be fair to do a review of this series without mentioning the artistic team. There is a change in the artist between issues #2 and #3 but the art style is so similar that it's difficult to notice. Even reading through the entire series in one sitting, the only way that I noticed was when looking up the the artist's name for this review. While there is nothing particularly wrong with Green's art, Panosian turns in some really astounding work. His rendition of both Conan and Red Sonja is extremely striking and captures the raw nature of their fighting styles.
This is a miniseries that's going to define what I expect from any future fantasy epic. The characters are complex and compelling in way that I've not experienced in a while. Its decade-spanning story is expertly paced and, despite not knowing anything about the characters beforehand, the writers create such chemistry between the two that you root for the pair and their continued relationship. This is a refreshing and reinvigorating take on established fantasy tropes that will leave you wanting more. If you've ever been a fan of any part of the fantasy genre or even if you simply like seeing a strong and badass relationship, then you need to get your hands on this. It will fill a hole in your collection that you didn't know you had.