When Dynamite Entertainment began publishing new Red Sonja comics in 2005 - the first new Red Sonja comics in six years - no one could have guessed how well the books would take off. Just two years later, Red Sonja has become a true franchise for the New Jersey publisher; undeniably the center of their entire line. In addition to the ongoing monthly series by Michael Avon Oeming and Mel Rubi, Dynamite has published numerous mini-series and one-shots featuring the work of an impressive list of creators. Frank Cho, Ron Marz, Adam Hughes, Jim Balent, Peter David and Mike Carey are just some of the names associated with Dynamite's Red Sonja comics empire, and past dynasties included work by Neal Adams, John Buscema, Dick Giordano, Howard Chaykin, and of course Red Sonja's creators Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith.
So what is it about this warrior queen that attracts such diverse and gifted talent? CBR News tracked down Rick Remender, writer of the upcoming "Red Sonja: Vacant Shell" one-shot, and asked him if he knew the answer.
"Well, if I might geek out here," Remender said, rolling a twenty-sided die, "for me [Red Sonja] taps into my childhood. The Barbarian flicks with Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and all the 'Red Sonja' comics and all the other barbarian/fantasy stuff was everywhere. There is something completely liberating about doing things in a fantasy world, where most all restrictions are out the window. With a character like Sonja you can tap into the imagination of the kid who would stare at Frazetta paining for hours. It's absolute escapism with a character you can put in almost any scenario. That's fun stuff...
"…And she's also a hot broad with a sword and almost no clothes and we're all pervy old men."
Remender's one-shot, "Vacant Shell" takes place early in Sonja's life, approximately two years before the events of Michael Avon Oeming's ongoing series began. In the story, Red Sonja travels to the outer villages to investigate rumblings of a "dark god" she'd heard. Along the way, Sonja encounters a critically wounded man and, against her better judgment, saves his life.
"There are as many consequences to saving a person as killing one," Remender explained. "You sort of have to own their acts once you give them their life back. With no knowledge of the man of if his tale is true or not, Sonja is forced to trust her instincts and hope they aren't being manipulated."
Sonja is led eventually to a village turned completely to evil, its inhabitants no more than ghouls who've traded away their souls. Things get progressively worse from there, said Remender, who sees this story as a cautionary tale that informs Red Sonja's decisions in later years. "This will be a painful learning experience for the character. It's also perfect self-contained issue that deals with characters from regular continuity without a new reader having to be caught up to understand."
Illustrating this dark tale of Red Sonja's past is French artist Paul Renaud, who is easily among the most Red Sonja-suitable artists to come along in years. Renaud's style is very reminiscent of Adam Hughes while incorporating the mood and majesty of fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta. Remender was introduced to Renaud by a mutual friend, and the two immediately began planning a creator-owned book. During the development of that project, Remender suggested to Dynamite that Renaud was someone they should be using on covers.
"[Dynamite] saw the same potential in Paul that everyone sees and not only got him on covers but signed him to a book and a one shot. I was asked to do the one shot and gladly agreed. I got to work right away on ideas for it and the guys at Dynamite really liked 'Vacant Shell' and saw the potential to have an early encounter with the dark god in it as a big plus. Paul's pages in the special are gorgeous,absolutely astounding."
Upping the already high artistic ante for "Vacant Shell" is a variant cover by Mike Kaluta, of whom Remender is a huge fan. "Kaluta is one of my all time heroes. When we decided to do a variant for my creator-owned series 'Strange Girl' at Image Comics he was the only name on the list. He did such an amazing piece, he's one of the greatest living artists, no question. To have him do covers for two books I've written is a bit of a nerd-dream for me."
Remender is known as a creator with a great many ideas, each one yearning to live on the printed page. Often writing and drawing several books a year, Remender is one of indie comics' most prolific creators of the decade. "I'm slowing down this year," Remender confessed. "At one point last year I was drawing a book and writing seven others and I wanted to die. I was working seven days a week at least twelve hours a day and it was sucky squared to the power of ten. I really enjoy my job so it's hard for me to say no to things, but I've officially started, for the sake of my marriage if not for my health."
Writing a licensed book like "Red Sonja" provides Remender with a way of reigning in his imagination, as every property comes with its own set of parameters within which every hired writer or artist must work. But that doesn't mean Remender's on cruise control. Indeed, "Red Sonja" and his other Dynamite book, "Classic Battlestar Galactica" offer the writer/artist challenges uniquely suited to what he calls his "creative A.D.D."
"I can't go nuts and have Boomer become a drag queen in 'BSG' nor could I choose to have Sonja become president of Mars and turn everyone into cheeseburgers. In my creator-owned books I'm often very close to making such choices, cheeseburger people have almost appeared in every comic I've done. You know what I mean, it sets me up in a room to play in but I can't really change the furniture around, if you follow. This forces me to think about how to further develop the characters and put them in an engaging adventure without altering their lives. It's a real challenge."
Remender has just finished the last issue of his first arc on "Classic Battlestar Galactica," and is currently working on "The End League" with Mat Broome for Dark Horse Comics. Also coming up are more issues of "Fear Agent" with Tony Moore and Jerome Opena, and "Strange Girl' continues at Image Comics with new artist Peter Bergting. As for more work with the she-devil with a sword, Remender declares, "I don't have anymore Sonja planned after this, but enjoyed the work and would gladly do another."
"Red Sonja: Vacant Shell" ships this April from Dynamite Entertainment.