Red Sonja, "warrior woman out of majestic Hyrkania," is a fantasy sword and sorcery heroine. She was based on the character Red Sonya of Rogatino in Robert E. Howard's short story "The Shadow of the Vulture" (The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934), which was rewritten as a Conan story for the Marvel comic.
The character now appears monthly in her own series, as well as a series of mini-series and one-shots, all published by DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT. The main Red Sonja series features a wide array of cover artists as well as the regular creative team of writer Michael Avon Oeming and artist Mel Rubi.
The She-Devil with a Sword has become the archetypical example of the fantasy figure of a fierce and stunningly beautiful female barbarian who typically wears sexy, but impractically skimpy armor.
The origin of Red Sonja, "The Day of the Sword", first appeared in Kull and the Barbarians issue 3 by Roy Thomas, Doug Moench and Howard Chaykin, and was later redrawn by Dick Giordano and Terry Austin for The Savage Sword of Conan, issue 78.
Red Sonja lived with her family in a humble home in the Western Hyrkanian steppes. When she had just turned 17 years old, a group of cruel mercenaries killed her father Ivor, her mother and two younger brothers and burned their house and all their possessions. She survived but at the cost of her own virginity after she was brutally raped by the leader of the group, leaving her in shame. Answering her cry for revenge, the red goddess Scathach appeared to her, and instilled in her incredible skill in the handling of swords and other weapons on the condition that she would never lay with a man unless he defeated her in fair combat.
In the current Dynamite comic book series, Sonja's origins are portrayed in "flashbacks" within each issue beginning with issue #8. The goddess makes her first appearance in the new series in issue #12, which also marks the return of the deadly sorcerer Kulan Gath.
Most artists depict Red Sonja wearing a very brief bikini-like costume of scale mail. As originally drawn by Barry Smith for "The Shadow of the Vulture" and "The Song of Red Sonja" in Conan the Barbarian issues 23 and 24 (1973), she did not have as full a figure and dressed a little more conservatively, in a chainmail long-sleeved shirt and red cloth (maybe leather) shorts.
As told by Roy Thomas in the introduction of Red Sonja Adventures Volume 1 (DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT) Spanish artist Esteban Maroto submitted an uncommissioned illustration to him when he was editing the magazine Savage Sword of Conan where he redesigned the character and for the first time showed her wearing what would become her famous costume, the silver "metal bikini", which resembled other fantasy costumes that other Maroto heroines sported in the 1970's. This illustration was printed for the first time in black and white in Savage Sword of Conan #1, was later reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #15 colored but poorly reproduced, and finally restored and colored by José Villarrubia as an alternate cover for the DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT edition of Red Sonja #2. Maroto drew her in this costume for her first solo adventure in Savage Sword of Conan #1, and John Buscema drew her in this costume in the same magazine. Buscema drew her again in this costume in issues 43, 44 and 48 of Conan the Barbarian (1974) and Dick Giordano in the first issue of Marvel Feature (1975) before Frank Thorne took over from issue 2 (1976). The "bikini" proved popular, becoming well known through the paintings of Boris Vallejo and others.
Red Sonja on Marvel Feature #4. Cover by Frank Thorne
Red Sonja on "The Superhero Women". Cover by John RomitaThese are the comic books that have featured Red Sonja as a main character:
Marvel Feature 1-7 (Marvel Comics) (November, 1975 - November, 1976).
Red Sonja (1st series) 1-15 (Marvel Comics) (1977-1979).
Red Sonja (2nd series) 1-2 (Marvel Comics) (1983).
Red Sonja (3rd series) 1-13 (Marvel Comics) (1983-1986).
Red Sonja The Movie 1-2 (Marvel Comics) (1985).
Red Sonja: Scavenger Hunt (Marvel Comics) (1995).
Red Sonja in 3-D (Blackthorne) (1998).
Red Sonja: A Death in Scarlet (Cross Plains) (1999).
Red Sonja (4th series) 0-present (DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT) (2005).
Red Sonja Vs. Thulsa Doom 1-4 (DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT) (2005).
Red Sonja: Monster Island (DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT) (2006).
In addition she has been featured in solo stories in the following publications:
"Conan the Barbarian", (Marvel Comics) (1974).
Issue 48, "Episode!," Roy Thomas (w), John Buscema (p), Dick Giordano (i).
"The Savage Sword of Conan", (Marvel Comics) (1974-1995).
Issue 1, "Red Sonja," Roy Thomas (w), Esteban Maroto (p), Ernie Chan/Neal Adams (i).
Issue 23, "Wizards of the Black Sun," Roy Thomas/Clair Noto (w), Frank Thorne (a).
Issue 45, "Master of Shadows," Christie Marx (w), John Buscema (p), Tony DeZuñiga (i).
Issue 78, "The Day of the Sword," Roy Thomas/Doug Moench (w), Dick Giordano/Terry Austin (a).
Issue 157, "Infant Terrible," Bruce Jones (w/a).
Issue 169, "The Endless Stair," Peter B. Gillis (w), Steven Carr (p), Armando Gil (i).
Issue 171, "The Waif and the Warrior," Jim Valentino (w), Steven Carr (p), Josef Rubinstein (i).
Issue 187, "Red Sonja Queels the Song of the Siren," Marie Javins/Steve Buccellato (w), Alfredo Alcala (a).
Issue 192, "On the Road of Kings," Roy Thomas/Dann Thomas (w), Tony DeZuñiga (a).
Issue 194, "The Road to Zamboula," Roy Thomas (w), Tony DeZuñiga (a).
Issue 195, "Swordless in Zamboula," Roy Thomas (w), Tony DeZuñiga (a).
Issues 207-10, "The Road to Zanadu," Roy Thomas/Dann Thomas (w), Del Barras /Reggie Jones/ Kirk Etienne (a).
Issue 229- "A Lady for the Burning," Roy Thomas (w), Howard Simpson (p), Rober Quijano (i).
Issue 230-3, "The Ring of Ikribu," 1/4 Roy Thomas (w), Esteban Maroto (a).
"Kull and the Barbarians" (Marvel Comics) (1975).
Issue 2, "She-devil with a Sword," Roy Thomas (w), Howard Chaykin (a).
Issue 3, "The Day of the Sword," Roy Thomas/Doug Moench (w), Howard Chaykin (a).
She has appeared a "guest" alongside Conan the Barbarian in the series:
Conan the Barbarian
The Savage Sword of Conan
Conan the King
Spider-Man in "Marvel Team-Up" # 79 (The spirit of Sonja possesses the body of Mary Jane Watson to face her old enemy Kulan Gath).
Wolverine in "What if?" Vol. 2, #16 (Sonja is defeated by Wolverine and becomes his mate).
Claw in "Red Sonja/Claw" 1-4 (DC Comics/DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT) (2006).
Marvel Feature #4 was reprinted in the book "The Superhero Women" edited by Stan Lee. Red Sonja was featured on the cover in a painting by John Romita marching among Marvel Comics's female characters (clockwise: Ms. Marvel, Hela from the series Thor, the Black Widow, the Wasp from the Avengers, Medusa from the Inhumans, and Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four)
Sonja has been featured in several novels by David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney with covers by Boris Vallejo:
#1 The Ring of Ikribu (Ace 1981) (Adapted to comics by Roy Thomas and Esteban Maroto in The Savage Sword of Conan issues 230-3) (DOWNLOAD 1ST CHAPTER)
#2 Demon Night (Ace 1982) (DOWNLOAD 1ST CHAPTER)
#3 When Hell Laughs (Ace 1982) (DOWNLOAD 1ST CHAPTER)
#4 Endithor's Daughter (Ace 1982) (DOWNLOAD 1ST CHAPTER)
#5 Against the Prince of Hell (Ace 1983) (DOWNLOAD 1ST CHAPTER)
#6 Star of Doom (Ace 1983) (DOWNLOAD 1ST CHAPTER)
She was played by Brigitte Nielsen in the 1985 film Red Sonja, which also starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Kalidor (a Conan clone). The film was directed by Richard Fleischer. It performed poorly at the box office.
Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort's Millennium Films and Randall Emmett and George Furla's Emmett/Furla Films announced they have acquired the rights to produce and distribute a feature film based on the "Red Sonja" property as well as the allied and ancillary rights. The picture will be produced by Randall Emmett, George Furla and Avi Lerner as well as executive produced by M. Dal Walton III, Luke Lieberman, Nick Barrucci, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short and Boaz Davidson. The property is currently out to writers and directors.
The character has been parodied in numerous forms including the furry comic book series, Red Shetland where the title character is a humanoid mare in the archetypical armor bikini.
Another parody of Red Sonja is realized in the form of Red Sophia, a character from Dave Sim's black and white, independent comic book, Cerebus.
Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan in the Discworld novel The Light Fantastic is probably also intended as a Sonja parody. Her introduction makes much of the fact she wears sensible chainmail, rather than "something off the cover of the more advanced kind of lingerie catalogue". In Eric she is briefly mentioned having a drink with another swordswoman named "Red Scharron".
Beverly Switzler, a character from the Marvel comic book, Howard the Duck is featured on the cover of Howard the Duck (Volume 1) #1 wearing a scale mail bikini similar to the outfit worn by Red Sonja.
1973 Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards: Best Individual Story (Dramatic). The Song of Red Sonja. Written by Roy Thomas and pencilled, inked and colored by Barry Smith. The story first appeared in Conan the Barbarian issue 24 (March 1972), where two panels were censored by John Romita Sr. The uncensored story was reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition, Volume 1, No. 15, 1977, where it was recolored by Glynis Wein and the artwork was slightly cropped to fit the page format.
Red Sonja publisher DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT was awarded the title of "Best New Publisher" by Diamond Comics Distributors in 2005.
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