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.