Thoughts on Mars Attacks Red Sonja

I had a bunch of unread comic books piling up, so yesterday afternoon I sorted through them, decided that some of them were never going to get read and put them in a box for recycling, then picked through the rest to read something.

I wanted to read Lavie Tidhar and Paul McCaffrey’s Adler, but I’m not sure where I filed the first two issues — they came out in the pre-COVID times — but one complete thing I did have was John Layman and Fran Strukan’s Mars Attacks Red Sonja from Dynamite Entertainment.

Yes, Mars Attacks, the over-the-top B-movie parody trading card series from Topps. Yes, Red Sonja, the scantily clad sword-and-sorcery heroine of the Hyborian Age. Swords versus Martian super-science!

Barry Kitson's cover to Mars Attacks Red Sonja #1
Barry Kitson’s cover to Mars Attacks Red Sonja #1

The concept sounds goofy, but Layman and Strukan execute it well. There’s less tonal clash than you might think. Remember Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law — “Any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.” The Martians and their mad science are effectively monstrous beasts and wizardry to Red Sonja and the survivors of the kingdom of Bryssendyn and treated very much as such. The narrative style Layman adopts feels very much like a story told by a bard in a tavern centuries after these events and elevates the story.

I’ve read at most a handful of Red Sonja comics in my life, so I have little idea of what her character is supposed to be like, but I liked the way she’s characterized here — fierce, smart, loyal, driven, a little snarky, always dangerous — and she develops a strong bond with the Princess Meredeen, the last survivor of the Bryssendyn royal family. I also liked that Strukan didn’t excessively sexualize Red Sonja. Yes, Red Sonja is known for her chainmail bikini, but Bryssendyn appears to be in a colder land so she’s frequently wearing furs or armor over top the bikini. I imagine Topps may have had some say in that: “Mars Attacks is PG-rated, so let’s keep Red Sonja PG-rated for this.”

The other characters aren’t as well drawn — I can’t even remember most of their names — though the main Martian character, the mad scientist Xi’Zeer, is certainly distinctive; he has an extraordinarily tall head and wears a huge monocle, and I imagine he speaks with a ludicrous German accent.

It was fun. It worked for me as a sword-and-sorcery tale, and it worked for me as an absurd 1950s sci-fi B-movie (like what happens to Red Sonja in the fifth part). I probably enjoyed Mars Attacks Red Sonja more reading it on one go — and that took at most an hour — then I would have had I kept up with the issues individually. I may not go out and read more Red Sonja, but this, on its own, was solid.

Dynamite offers a lot of covers for its books. While I splurged on the first issue, getting the Barry Kitson cover (seen above) and the Dustin Nguyen cover, and Arthur Suydam did a series of B-movie homage covers, for my money the best covers were those by Luca Strati, which better reflect the contents of each issue and capture the tone of the series better, and those are what I bought for the rest of the series.

Individual issues may still be at your local comic shop, and I believe the collected edition is due out sometime in the spring.

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