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Interview: Mark Russell Weaves a Tale of Blood, Sorcery, and Ancient History in Dynamite’s Red Sonja #1

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With fearsome fighting skills and a past shrouded in mystery, Red Sonja #1 introduces a new chapter in the story of the “She-Devil of The Hyrkanian Steppes.” This incarnation promises a sorceress hellbent on revenge and Red Sonja as the wartime ruler over a land on the edge of catastrophe. With art by Mirko Colak (Conan, Red Skull, Turok), colors by Dearbhla Kelly (Wild Storm: Michael Cray), and letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (Lone Ranger, Shanghai Red), Mark Russell (Flintstones, Snagglepuss, Lone Ranger) takes on the storytelling duties, intertwining the flame-haired warrior’s backstory with real-world facts from Earth’s ancient history. Russell describes his take on Red Sonja and what this version offers fans and new readers alike.

Deanna Destito: What will make this incarnation of Red Sonja stand out from others?

Mark Russell: I think one thing that will stand out about this series is how rooted it is in Earth’s ancient history. Whether its Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, for me, the fantasy worlds that always stand out to me are the ones that blend the internal logic of a fictional world with the very real struggles for power on our own. It’s that blend of the real and fantastic that makes a world feel at once fascinating yet believable.

Destito: Why was making it more historically accurate important to you?

Russell: For this series, I am specifically using the story of Cyrus the Great of Persia, the most powerful man of his world, and his war against Tomyris, the barbarian queen of a steppes tribe known as the Massagatae, as my main source of inspiration. I wanted to use history as a source of inspiration because there are so many stories from ancient history that are so fascinating and illustrate our human frailties so well, but most people will never hear them or learn their lessons until they’re brought to life in a more popular medium. And then on the other side, there’s so many fascinating, utterly world-changing people and events from ancient history that we don’t know much about because nobody bothered recording their conversations or to ask them what was going through their minds when they decided to revolt against the world’s most powerful empire, or faced, not only certain death, but the extinction of everyone and everything they’d ever known. My hope is not only to make this fantasy world feel more real, but also to help bring our own past to life in a way we don’t normally see.

Destito: Is this version more accessible to a variety of readers than other versions?

Russell: Part of what I’m trying to do with this story is not just tell a hero’s story from the hero’s perspective, but to look at how the world is really the story of conflict and conflict is really about how people look at the world differently depending upon their own reality. So I wanted to have an ensemble cast of characters so the reader can look at this story from a variety of angles and see themselves and their own motivations in one character or another.  Also, in writing this story as a commentary on history, I want to debunk our commonly held bias that history is just the story of a bunch of well-heeled white dudes settling disagreements on the battlefield. One of the most powerful people in the ancient world, and one of the most influential figures in world history was Atossa, who was the daughter of Cyrus the Great of Persia. She learned statecraft from one of the ablest rulers of antiquity and became the glue that held the empire together after his death. She was the sister of one emperor, the daughter of another, the wife of a third, and the mother of a fourth. The quality of these emperors varied wildly, but the empire itself remained stable and strong because of her wisdom and influence behind the scenes. The Achaemenid Persian Empire went into decline almost the minute she died. I wanted to bring more of these characters to life who are not just the men whom the accident of fate brought to power, but those who used their wit and willpower to influence their world rather than just be spectators in it.

Destito: How does it fit, if at all, with previous canon?

Russell: I respect the previous canon and try to maintain the high standards set by previous writers like Amy Chu and Gail Simone, but I really want this to be its own thing, a stand-alone story that new readers can jump into and immediately follow along without knowing too much about what’s happened before in the series.

Destito: How far ahead have you mapped out your storylines on this series?

Russell: I have planned storylines in advance for fourteen issues but would like to do more to make this story as sprawling and epic as I imagine it being.

Check out Red Sonja #1 on February 6. Look for variant covers by notable names such as Amanda Conner, Joseph Michael Linsner, Christian Ward, and Frank Cho as well as a fifth cosplay variant.

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