Monday, January 28, 2008

The Retcon the Feminists Missed

After reading Red Sonja #29 on Saturday the 26th I figured the usual blogs would be all a buzz about the story from that issue. Well, there was nothing… nothing except a review (here) by Ray Tate at comics bulletin.

I guess that most woman aren’t reading Red Sonja otherwise this comic would have made bigger waves. Now I can understand this as Red Sonja does have her cheesecake with a side of pornface appeal but ultimately that’s more of a cover art kind of thing. The bigger concern here is that Red Sonja’s origins have been drastically rewritten and most of it is awful.

With issue 29 Michael Avon Oeming and Brian Reed bring their Kulan Gath conquers the world storyline to a close, his defeat by Sonja and the shattering of Sonja’s origin play out in this issue.

What’s important to know about Red Sonja’s past is that as a child she was raped, her family was murdered, a goddess took pity on her and that goddess made her into a great warrior. Additionally, Sonja was given a warrior’s skill and in return she’s forbidden from having sex. Not only that, but she can only take a mate when she’s defeated in combat by a man someday. This is the back-story that Roy Thomas laid down in the 1970s. There’s never any mention of any possible lesbian relationship in all of this by the way. So apparently Sonja has always been a celibate hetero hero. OK she did screw a god a year or two ago but that didn’t count ‘cause he was a god.

Anyway, the idea that Sonja is a feminist icon (as Tate and some purport) is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, she’s a strong woman that makes her own way in the world. She has a warrior’s destiny and she kicks butt. She fights against evil and is a womanly force for good in a primitive male-dominated world. On the other hand, it seems that it was necessary for Sonja get raped for all this to come about, and that’s troubling. While rape is a fairly common theme in some ancient myths, which is what I think Thomas was tapping into, it’s much more of a dubious storytelling origin in our modern era. In addition, the idea of her being celibate until she’s defeated by her “Mr. Right” brings up all kinds of other gender issues as well. (Especially since her Mr. Right is Wolverine, don’t believe me? Read What if? Vol. 2, #16.)

So where does this leave us with issue #29? Well, it’s revealed that Red Sonja’s rape and the murder of her family were actually orchestrated by the goddess so that Sonja would be a force to oppose and defeat Kulan Gath. It’s also revealed that she was created out of the blood of Kulan Gath and the heart of a Tree which is confusing and creates all sort of questions about her such as; is she an artificial person, an elemental like Swamp Thing, or a homunculus as Tate says? The story goes further and demotes the Goddess to simply a failed, pathetic sorceress willing to use Red Sonja as a tool. Thus the Recton is complete.

Now having the goddess exposed as merely human and the one that caused all of Sonja’s troubles is incredibly cynical and isn’t a good payoff on a storyline that’s been going for a long time. This is the kind of lazy narrative we usually see from the big 2.

The one bright spot in all this is that Red Sonja has renounced her vows. This means that she could have an intimate relationship with someone now and that opens up new avenues for storytelling. It’s just too bad that Oeming and Reed’s plot was a very messy way to accomplish this. To top it all off, Ron “the refrigerator” Marz takes over the writing duties with issue #30 so any mature examination of this new liberated side to Sonja is probably doomed. At least he can’t kill her off since she’s the title character.



Sleestak said...

I noticed the ret-con but I ignored it.

Anonymous said...

That sucks. I hope she eviscerates those writers.

They said similar things of Isis. Ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile flooded every year because of Isis' tears for her lost husband, killed by her other brother, Seth. Isis pieced Osiris back together after Seth sliced him into pieces and threw him in the Nile.

Talk about kinky - with her magical powers, she was able to bring her husband back to life. She then fashioned a replacement for Osiris' missing penis, and blew life - with the appropriate magic words, intonations and rituals... and a little help from Thoth - back into her husband. Sharing a night of passion, the deities conceived Horus and Osiris died again, and went on to become Lord of the Underworld.

But as with Red Sonja, people today think Isis was just a mythical representation of mortal, historical queens of Egypt.


mordicai said...

Yeah-- sorry. I like adventure comics myself, but I can't bring myself to pretend that Red Sonja can be redeemed as a premise.

Unknown said...

That just sounds like one of those things when a writer is trying to be too clever. Or maybe it's just a pale, left-handed rip-off of how Alan Moore turned Swamp Thing on his head.

Which was all kinds of awesome. This? Not so much.

Don Snabulus said...

Wendy Pini rolls her eyes.

Dean Wormer said...

I assume that since her chasity vow excluded gods that yours truly would be in the short line to getting some Red Sonja loving.

Along the retcon lines with regard to the Spiderman divorce deal I have two things- a really interesting debate among comics fans over at AICN

The second thing is I actually read this last night when I had a half hour to kill at Fred Meyer. I didn't like it.

The idea that they make a deal with Mephisto to save aunt may is just ridiculous and out of character for both Mary Jane and Peter. At least Mary Jane is the first to accept the deal and Peter is sort of dragged into it. They don't really choose. They're blackmailed with May's life literally ticking away.

The Harry is back alive stuff and Peter is now a loser bachelor living with Aunt May just seemed lame. This is suppossed to open up possibilities? It constricts the story imo.

I understand that adding drama to comics is hard to do when titles have been along as long as they have but cheap gimics that push the characters in an un-heroic direction seems stupid and short sighted.

Put me in the camp that doesn't like what the Big 2 are doing with comics.

Swinebread said...

Sleestak - I guess that’s best thing to do

Isis – Isis is one of the more interesting myths to come out of the accident world and proves my point about Red Sonja’s connection to the past. But Sonja wasn’t blowing the life back into anybody ‘cause sadly she was celibate. “Was” being the operative word here.

Mordicai – I was having fun with it until this, I just wanted some good, old sword and sorcery

Joel – Trying to be too cleaver? Exactly, like the Hulk movie, the storytelling would have been much better with a straightforward story.

Snab – her and me both

Dean – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. All the things you mention are great reasons to hate one more day/brand new day. Now imagine this happening over and over and over again the last few years and you’ll understand why I’m pulling my hair out.

Arkonbey said...

Dean: "Put me in the camp that doesn't like what the Big 2 are doing with comics."

Couldn't agree more. Not to sound pretentious, but my new stuff is indie stuff or if Big Two, not superhero (DMZ).

and "I understand that adding drama to comics is hard to do when titles have been along as long as they have but cheap gimics... [seem]stupid and short sighted."

Perhaps it is time for the Big Two to pull a New Universe deal and start all over again fresh. Only this time actually create intriguing characters and stories.

Faded said...

the whole Red Sonja series has been a massive disappointment, especially in light of some of the great work that went into the newer Conan stuff.

I buy damn near anything that has to do with the REH world, but this shit is simply pandering to the 15 year old boy level of readership. And jeez, is it just me, or is the gore level really just gone amok??? No subtlety in art or storytelling, to be found. Thomas, unlike the current line of Sonja writers was trying to mold something lasting, and he did. This blogpost will last longer than this pathetic re-invention of Sonja

Dean Wormer said...

Perhaps it is time for the Big Two to pull a New Universe deal and start all over again fresh. Only this time actually create intriguing characters and stories.

That's a great idea but I assume it's just too risky for the powers that be.

Hope the indies crush 'em because of that.

Swinebread said...

Arkonbey - The big two are merely living off the successes of the past. Why innovate when you can coast. That’s why they are getting into movies.

Fade- I’m not quite as upset about the current Red Sonja as you are fade but all your arguments are spot on especially with the plot that culminates in issue 29. REH-ish adventures was what I was looking from this comic and Dynamite seems unwilling to give us that. Maybe Dark Horse should have gotten the rights to Sonja as well.

Dean – Marvel and DC are going to just keep regurgitating the same characters over and over again except with more death. The only way to affect anything is to vote with your dollars. Because of the way the market is set up though, I don’t see the Indies overtaking the big two anytime soon if ever.

Unknown said...

Now that you mention it, Red Sonja should ONLY ever be written as a super dyke.

Swinebread said...

It might work a lot better