The Adventures of Red Sonja
Robert E. Howard’s tough-talking red-haired warrior woman who began as a plot device gets her dues with this reissue of the first seven of the beautifully-drawn 1970s Marvel Red Sonja tales, now in trade paperback form from Dynamite Entertainment.
Robert E. Howard, the rugged Texas pulpsmith who created Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane and a raft of other two-fisted he-man heroes, wasn’t much on woman protagonists, although he once came up with a tough-talking red-haired warrior woman as a plot device in one of his barbarian tales. Roy Thomas decided to use the character in a two-part story in Conan the Barbarian #23-24 (memorably illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith) and gave her a name: Red Sonja.
It didn’t take the marketing geniuses at Marvel long to figure out that a no-nonsense barbarian woman in a chain-mail bikini just might have a future in the comics business. They re-launched the Marvel Feature title as a showcase for Red Sonja, kicking off with a sensational Thomas-penned story drawn by Esteban Maroto and Neal Adams.
They then made another very important discovery. Frank Thorne, a back-bench artist previously notable for his work on DC’s obscure Tomahawk and miscellaneous war comics, was really, really good at drawing women in chain-mail bikinis. Thorne’s Red Sonja, written by perennial great Bruce Jones, was the breakout hit of 1976 and a must-buy on every pubescent male reader’s list. Thorne became a huge star for about 20 minutes, appearing at conventions in a wizard’s pointed hat and cloak and accompanied by Red Sonja in all her fearsome glory, portrayed by a buxom young fan named Wendy Pini (shortly to create her own book, Elfquest). Overexposure soon led to backlash, and, amazingly, Red Sonja and Thorne both sank without a trace by the end of the 1970s.
Dynamite Comics acquired the license and re-launched the series in 2005. Now they have reissued the first seven of these excellent and beautifully-drawn 1970s Marvel Red Sonja tales in a nifty trade paperback collection. The re-coloring by Mike Kelleher and Glasshouse Graphics looks nice on the first two stories by Adams/Morato and Dick Giordano, but doesn’t mesh with Thorne’s distinctive use of blacks. Other than that, the edition is a real treat, and includes a nostalgic introductory essay by Roy Thomas.
The Adventures of Red Sonja Volume 1
Dynamite Entertainment, 2006
Material originally published by Marvel, © The Red Sonja Corporation
Writers: Roy Thomas, Bruce Jones
Art: Neal Adams, Esteban Maroto, Dick Giordano, Frank Thorne
Approx. 100 p., Color, $19.99