Friday, January 12, 2007
The Savage Sword of Red Sonja
It’s a great time to be a Red Sonja fan. Dynamite Entertainment has successfully revived her from the comics’ dustbin just in time for her 35th Anniversary (1972-2007). With her new eponymous series a runaway hit, Red Sonja gets a staring role in a new comic anthology with an old title: Savage Tales. This Conan associated title is the forerunner to the black and white comic magazine, Savage Sword of Conan, which Red Sonja appeared in several times. So it’s fitting she is the lead in this new comic series.
The so-called “she-devil with a sword” was a comic book star back in the 1970s and early 1980s, appearing numerous times alongside Conan the Barbarian as well as in her own adventures. Her stories take place in the Hyborian Age; a time lost to recorded history, many thousands of years before what we know as the ancient world. A common misunderstanding is that Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, created Red Sonja. This isn’t the case. Her creator is Roy Thomas, the original writer on the Conan the Barbarian comics. Now, you could say Howard inspired her creation, since Thomas freely adapted the story The Shadow of the Vulture for the Conan comics. Thomas restaged the story about the siege of Vienna in prehistoric Hyboria and greatly changed a minor character named Red Sonya of Rogatino into the low fantasy Red Sonja we know. Her popularity grew such that Sonja became the iconic Sword & Sorcery female warrior. She even had a series of novels. Eventually, She faded from the scene, which was hastened, no doubt, by the horrible Red Sonja movie. Fast forward to 2005 when writer Michael Avon Oeming began scripting her new comic tales and you can see how far she has come. Sadly since the rights to Red Sonja and Conan belong to two different companies, they won’t cross paths anytime soon. In fact, there has been friction between their respective property rights holders; see Red Sonja, LLC Sues Paradox.
Now, I know what your thinking, Red Sonja is just cheesecake with a sword, because of her scale mail bikini, large breasts, and erotic poses. While I agree that this is large part of her appeal for male comic readers, it isn’t the only aspect of her stories. Her new adventures are excellent; Oeming has crafted exciting and moving tales with an interesting and sympathetic warrior woman. A good example of his craftsmanship is the current plot, which concerns Red Sonja’s relationship with her patron Goddess, and the rise of her nemesis, the evil wizard Kulan Gath. It is very engaging and I’d be interested to hear female readers reactions to this storyline. So I believe, it’s certainly not only a case of good-girl art.
On personal note, I have a ‘get out of the chauvinist jail’ free card, as my first exposure to Sonja was in the early ‘80s when she wore a slightly more conservative blue outfit rather than the famous bikini. As a boy, I found her very compelling and the world she inhabited completely engrossing, while not knowing anything about her skimpy armor. So I feel, it is possible to see past the 'full figure' to the strong woman... at least that is what I keep telling myself. Regardless of the way she may appeal to the readers, Dynamite Entertainment has begun collecting her adventures in trade paperbacks, so it is easy for new readers to join in the fun. Happy 35th to the She-Devil with a sword; it is indeed a good time to be a Red Sonja fan.