If you were to mention the name Red Sonja to most people they’d probably say they know her from the 1985 film of the same name starring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Well, the story of the She-Devil With a Sword goes back much earlier than that. Red Sonja is creator Robert E. Howard’s second best-known creation behind Conan, but she certainly has her fans. Sonja’s known as Conan’s friend and sometimes foe, but she never actually appeared in any of Howard’s Conan stories. Howard created Sonja in the 1930s and was further developed by Roy Thomas during the 1970s at Marvel Comics. She had numerous appearances in “Conan The Barbarian” comics and even starred in a number of solo-series for Marvel. But after a ten-year absence, she’ll be returning to comics later this year. Dynamite Entertainment, through their own imprint, will bring the fiery red head back in to print with a new series co-written by Michael Avon Oeming (“Thor”) and Mike Carey (“Ultimate Elektra,” “Lucifer,” “Hellblazer”) and illustrated by Mel Rubi. CBR News spoke to a Dynamite Entertainment spokesperson to learn more about their plans as well as co-writer Michael Avon Oeming to see what he has in store for the character.
“We’ve been exploring what direction to head in now that we’ve successfully launched ‘Army of Darkness’ and situated the Dynamite ‘brand,'” a Dynamite spokesperson told CBR News when asked how bringing “Red Sonja” back to comics came about. “‘Army of Darkness’ is coming along nicely and we’re ready to launch Sonja. We want each project we do to receive maximum exposure and not over-crowd each other, and we’ve had Sonja in development for close to 9 months.
“The deal came together through the Red Sonja Corp, who controls the property. We had been in touch with them before on previous business, but they had been not accepting offers from anyone on Sonja because they wanted a company that would treat Sonja as the great character she is. When we presented our offer, with the caliber of creators we were willing to bring to the table, they agreed. They’re looking to take Sonja wide and were gracious to let us take a crack at the comics.”
While Red Sonja the character has a lot of history and has been translated in to multiple media, she’s not been in the spotlight for some time. While that may be the case, Dynamite doesn’t feel the character’s been diminished at all. “If anything, absence has definitely let the heart grow fonder. And the time is right in the sense that the ‘fantasy’ and ‘sword and sorcery’ genres have made tremendous in-roads into popular culture. ‘Lord of the Rings!’ leads the way. Sonja’s ready to take her spot back at the top, and we’re happy to help put her there.”
The success of the “Lord of the Rings” films has helped drive interest in the fantasy genre, something which has helped the success of the “Conan” comic over at Dark Horse. Dynamite feels that same interest will drive a successful launch for “Red Sonja.” “Nothing will help ‘Red Sonja’ more than great story and great art, and call us biased, that is what we are presenting,” said Dynamite.
Bringing the right creative staff together was one of the keys to Dynamite landing the Red Sonja license.
“We approached Mike Carey and Mike Oeming at about the same time (and because of Carey’s work load, he turned us down at first, which ended up being the best thing, since it gave us the idea of having them co-plot and co-write – and just wait until you see the results!) and it took a little while longer to find Mel, but he was worth the wait. Now, Mike Carey has gone on to become one of the busiest (and best) men working in comics today, so he’s still got his hand in, but Oeming proved his ability to script a brilliant story with his ‘Thor’ run, so Sonja’s in good, and enthusiastic hands.”
Currently, Dynamite is set to release a $.25 cent #0 issue in April. The creative team of Oeming, Carey and Rubi are joined by Richard Isanove (“Origin”) and Ceasar Rodriguez (“Sojourn”) on colors featuring a Greg Land (“Phoenix: Endsong”) cover. The #0 issue will include a retailer incentive sneak peak at the Alex Ross cover set for the first issue. Issue #1 of “Red Sonja” will see its release likely in June with covers by Alex Ross, JG Jones, Michael Turner, Michael Kaluta, Art Adams, Joseph Michael Linsnser, John Cassaday, Adam Hughes and more planned for the first several issues. “Red Sonja” will be an ongoing series with the first story lasting five issues.
In addition to bringing Red Sonja back to monthly comics, Dynamite will also be handling the reprinting of the original materials published years ago and, from other companies, you can look forward to statues, trading cards and lithographs down the line. As for a cross-over with Robert E. Howard’s other great fantasy creation, Conan, “It’s probably too early for that, as we’ve got quite a few dynamite stories to tell” said Dynamite.
“What’s great about Red Sonja is the rich world and history she comes with,” said series co-writer Michael Avon Oeming. “Be it the character that Roy Thomas molded or the background of Robert E. Howard’s novels. There is a pre history of the ages for the Hyborian era, landscapes and cultures to draw from. There seems to be a never-ending string of books, art and history to read about Sonja and find her character.”
Oeming says he’s looking to expand the character of Red Sonja beyond simply being the She-Devil With a Sword.
“I want to do more with her character than the sword wielding female hero character she easily falls into,” said Oeming. “The trap of character cliché and predictability is pretty easy to fall into with a character like Sonja, but I think the key to avoiding that is to find the character within those perimeters and then be true to it. I think [writer Roy] Thomas’ stories created more of a world than a specific character to Sonja – stories are his strength. Other versions have offered her as devoid of any real personality. She was pure hero motivation, always doing the right thing for the right reasons, very modern. Very predictable.”
Red Sonja’s origin is a tragic and violent one. One day as a young girl soldier’s came to Sonja’s family farm and demanded her father join them. When he refused, the family was slaughtered and Sonja was raped by the soldiers. Later, a mysterious goddess granted her fighting skills that would have no equal, and at that moment Sonja swore no man would have her who could not defeat her in battle. Oeming plans to build on the character’s roots, while staying true to Thomas’ origin, updating it slightly for today’s audience.
“My hope for this series is to build her personality. Character, not characterization,” said Oeming. “She comes from a savage cruel world, survival of the fittest. This Sonja won’t be Wonder Woman with red hair, she won’t be perfect, she wont always be nice and she won’t always do the right thing, especially in our modern terms of what is right or wrong. Don’t forget, this is a woman who chooses her men based on whether or not they can kill her. I’m not sure if that’s feminist power or a form of self-loathing. I think its somewhere in between.
“As far as characters we’ll see, you can count on a few surprises, including one I believe is still top secret at this point, but is sure to shock people and get them talking. Specifically, we’ll meet Osin, a character based on the Celtic hero Osin (designed for Dynamite), whom the great Occianic Cycles are based on. He’s no Conan riff. I hope to see him go on to be a very specific kind of hero.
“Besides the huge amounts of Hyborian lore, I’ll be drawing on my love of Norse and Celtic mythology which also strongly influenced Howard’s writing.”