With the recent news that Marvel has regained the license to publish comic books about Conan the Barbarian, fans have thought back to all of the great adventures that Marvel released starring the character over the years. However, some of their most famous Conan stories are those that involve Red Sonja, who debuted in Conan the Barbarian #23 by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith (then going by just Barry Smith).
With Marvel regaining the Conan license beginning in 2018, fans would surely like to see some new Red Sonja comics from the publisher. The only problem is, Red Sonja’s rights are not included in the Conan deal. Read on to learn how a character who debuted in an issue of Conan the Barbarian would not be included in a deal to license Conan the Barbarian.
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Roy Thomas had been writing the adventures of Conan for over two years when he noticed that the stories really did not have much in the way of a female protagonist to match Conan. There were plenty of female characters in Robert E. Howard stories, but they existed mostly as plot devices. They were either damsels in distress for Conan to rescue or they were romantic figures there as, in effect, prizes for Conan when he succeeded on an adventure. Thomas went through Howard’s older works and found the short story “The Shadow of the Vulture.” In that story, there was a character called Red Sonya of Rogatino. The story was set in the 16th Century, and not the age of barbarians like Conan. Still, Thomas was inspired enough to use the character as a basis for a new character, Red Sonja, who would debut in Conan the Barbarian #23 as part of an adaptation of “Shadow of the Vulture.”
Here is how she looked when she debuted…
The character was not yet wearing her iconic chain mail bikini, but fans still got a whole lot of sex appeal out of Smith’s depiction of the character in the next issue, Smith’s final issue of the series…
Artist Esteban Maroto sent in a pin-up of Red Sonja to Marvel and Maroto reduced the amount of clothing worn by Sonja. That pin-up was published in Comixscene magazine. It got Maroto the assignment to draw a double-page splash in the black and white magazine Savage Tales #3…
The pin-up inspired Roy Thomas to adopt the costume design for Red Sonja in the comics.
In the first issue of Savage Sword of Conan, the black and white comic magazine spin-off of Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja debuted her new look in the first story in the magazine, where she teamed up with Conan once more…
That issue also included Sonja’s very first solo adventure, with art by Maroto, who found himself hired for the gig after his unsolicited pin-up!
It also published his original pin-up…
Conan comic books continued to be very popular and Red Sonja also gained a lot of fans. Note that, while Thomas ostensibly adapted her from the Red Sonya character in “Shadow of the Vulture,” she was truly a new character. Thomas invented her back story and her personality out of whole cloth.
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