Red Sonja: Lord of Fools will not appeal to a large segment of the usual sword-and-sorcery fan base. Those who only read Red Sonja for the artwork and to see just how much side-boob and butt-cheek an artist can expose before it magically transforms into an issue of Belladonna will not enjoy this issue. Nor I fear will those Robert E. Howard purists who rate everything based on how well it conforms to the continuity of the old master. I mention this only to save those readers some time and myself some time reading their complaints later.
Lord of Fools is surprisingly light on action, being made up of scenes that take place before, during and after the events of Red Sonja #6 of the current series by Mark Russell and Mirko Colak. It is also surprisingly light on the title heroine, who only shows up for the final segment of the issue. So who will enjoy Red Sonja: Lord of Fools, if it is not made for perverts, purists and action fans? Virtually everyone else, so long as they can enjoy a good laugh.
The current Red Sonja series has centered around Sonja being named queen of her homeland of Hyrkania as part of a desperate plan to repel Dragan The Magnificent – King of Zamora and would-be emperor. Dragan was once given a prophecy that he would die if the land he ruled stopped expanding and has been engaged in a campaign that out-Alexanders Alexander the Great ever since. The first issue opened with him conquering Stygia and it’s at this point that the aforementioned Howard purists said, “I’m done.” (In the original Howard stories, Stygia didn’t have a single king and was ruled by snake priests and sorcerers who would have little trouble crushing an army with their fell magics.)
The irony is that the story of Lord of Fools redeems much of the first six issues from the Howardian perspective, even as Mark Russell’s script spins several stories that are to Howard’s original Conan stories what Mel Brooks’ History Of The World, Part I was to Ben Hur and Spartacus. This comic is also surprisingly accessible to new readers, despite being made up of three scenes that were apparently cut from Red Sonja #6 like fodder for the DVD extras menu and cobbled together into a single story.
As we read this issue, we learn the circumstances of how Dragan became married to a princess who despised him and how he had a son who cares little for the empire his father is trying to build for him and only wants a father’s attention. We also learn of The Lord of Fools – a deity who has very little in common with the gods Howard described in his stories, but who could well be a mask of H.P. Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep. Finally, we rejoin Sonja as she learns the origins of her new adviser, Cerkus – The Tongue of Fire who is tasked with telling the queen the harsh truths no one else can say for fear of being executed and how Cerkus was cursed with an inability to lie.
It is a bit hard to describe these stories without spoiling precisely how they connect to the greater narrative and how the concept of the Lord of Fools and what we learn of Dragan’s wife and her background as a former cultist help to affirm Howard’s cosmology. So if you are a Howard purist, know that while this issue may make your blood pressure rise as Zamora is described as “a tiny sliver of land” when Dragan first conquered it, it will be worth it in the end. As for the rest of you, I am hard pressed to remember a comic that made me laugh so uproariously or nod so sagely at a comedian’s wisdom.
The artwork by Bob Q and Katie O’Meara captures the spirit of the various stories well enough. As I said before, there’s no grand action sequences in this book, but they shift the perspective between panels enough that there’s no static scenes despite most of the issue being devoted to simple conversation. The sequence in which we hear a fable regarding the King of Fools and his encounter with the one emperor who did manage to conquer the world is breathtaking, however, comparable to P. Craig Russell at the height of his powers.
Bottom Line: If you haven’t been enjoying the current Red Sonja series for whatever reason, you won’t like this book. If you have been enjoying it, you will. And if you haven’t been reading it, you should give this issue a shot, as it is surprisingly friendly to new readers.
Red Sonja: Lord Of Fools #1 releases on July 31, 2019!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.