"Know also, O prince, that in the selfsame days that the CIMMERIAN did stalk the HYBORIAN KINGDOMS, one of the few swords worthy to cross his was that of RED SONJA, warrior-woman out of majestic HYRKANIA. Forced to flee her homeland because she spurned the advances of a king a slew him insread, she rode west across the TURANIAN steppes and into the shadowed mists of legendry."
— The Nemedian Chronicles
Red Sonja, the She-Devil with a Sword, is a low fantasy sword and sorcery heroine created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. She first appeared in Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel Comics, February 1973). The character was loosely based on Red Sonya of Rogatino in Robert E. Howard's short story The Shadow of the Vulture (The Magic Carpet, January 1934), which Roy Thomas rewrote 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 monthly series is currently being written by Gail Simone, with a four-issue spin-off, Legends of Red Sonja, in publication, featuring a wide array of well-known female fantasy writers from Mercedes Lackey to Tamora Pierce.Red Sonja has become the archetypical example of the fantasy figure of a fierce and stunningly beautiful female barbarian in the utterly impractical Chainmail Bikini.Red Sonja lived with her family in a humble house in the Western Hyrkanian steppes (modern Ukraine/Russia). When she had just turned 17 years old, a group of mercenaries killed her family and burned down their house. Sonja survived but she had been 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 lie with a man unless he defeated her in fair combat. (The "fair" part is sometimes not included.)Sonja has been featured in several novels by David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney with covers by Boris Vallejo:
The Ring of Ikribu (Ace 1981) (Adapted to comics by Roy Thomas and Esteban Maroto in The Savage Sword of Conan issues 230-3)
Demon Night (Ace 1982)
When Hell Laughs (Ace 1982)
Endithor's Daughter (Ace 1982)
Against the Prince of Hell (Ace 1983)
Star of Doom (Ace 1983)
On television, Red Sonja makes an appearance on the Conan TV series, in the episode, "Red Sonja". She is on a mission to rescue a young wizard who was kidnapped. When one of Conan's partners sarcastically asks why the village didn't send their best warriors, Sonja replies, "They did send their best warrior, mulebrain!" She was played by Angelica Bridges.She was played by Brigitte Nielsen in the 1985 film Red Sonja, which also starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Prince Kalidor (a Conan clone)note Indeed, it was originally supposed to have been a third Conan movie (following Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer), but things happened.... The film was directed by Richard Fleischer. It performed poorly at the box office, and was also widely panned by critics but gained a cult following throughout the years from its VHS release.A remake of Red Sonja is reportedly in the works. It was to be produced by Robert Rodriguez, directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, and actress Rose McGowan would have portrayed Red Sonja. Recent developments, however, indicate that the project is on ice.
Androcles' Lion: In Red Sonja: Beserker, Sonja rescues a polar bear cub from a pair of sadistic hunters who were tormenting it. The bear stays with her through winter. Years later, Sonja has been sentenced to die in the arena and a bear is unleashed against her. It turns out to be the same bear and refuses to attack her. The two team up and escape the arena.
Animal Assassin: Sonja sets the arena animals on their masters in Red Sonja: Berserker.
Anything That Moves: Unlike previous versions, the Gail Simone incarnation was not raped and will not lose her fighting abilities if she has sex, so she's more than happy to indulge. She's also not too particular about she does it with. Man, woman, horned forest god are all fair game.
Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: In What If? v2 #16, a crossover with Wolverine, Red Sonja is beaten by Wolverine and essentially gives up and waits for him to rape her, but he walks away, disgusted by the idea and saying "Sorry, darlin', that ain't my style." Sonja is both perplexed and slightly insulted, so she follows him. After their next meeting he warms up to her, and she eventually becomes his queen.
Badass Boast: In the Gail Simone version "I'm Red Sonja. I'm everyone's type!!!"
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: While she does get a few dirt smears on her in rare occasions, this is played straight to an extreme degree. Sonja has been slashed, impaled with arrows (albeit in the arms or legs), and even got got shot with a police revolver in her team-up with Spider-man. In no instance has she ever been scarred, lampshaded at the end of her Spider-man team-up, she wakes up lying on an altar somewhere in her own time period and finds the bullet she had been shot with had fallen out. More recently she contracted black plague and while one panel had her sprouting some boils on her face, these immediately disappeared the panel after.
Loophole Abuse: As might be expected in a modern take on the story, deconstructing the exact wording and meaning of Sonja's vow has been attempted in her current series. Aside from the presence of the word fair (which can come and go, depending on the story), and for that matter the definition of fair combat, in issue 15 of the Dynamite series, an ancient god defeats her (and two of her friends, which apparently made it a fair fight) in battle. However, he knows nothing of her vow. Later, they become allies, and she comes to admire him, so she allows herself the indulgence. In issue 31, it's revealed she can lie with any man she chooses if she permanently foreswears her blessed skills. It would also follow that she does not have to let a man rape her if he defeats her, but the option to sleep with him is there if he does. In addition, there is no provision against love, just physical affection—it is as much a test of Sonja's will to abide by her vow as it is a compact from her goddess. The wording of her vow also means that if she were to be raped, she would not lose her blessed skills in consequence.
This facet of her has officially been abandoned in the Gail Simone run; she runs into a male swordmaster with the same vow and... Well...
Blithe Spirit: Of the more violent sort. In general, the Hyboria is at least as patriarchal as the medieval times of our own world; when she passes through a town, though, some of the women tend to take inspiration from her example.
Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Roy Thomas has said that when he 'created' Sonja, he made her a redhead so she she be visually distinct from the other major women in Conan's life; the black haired Belit and the blonde Valeria. Of course, the original Red Sonya of Rogatino had red hair, and since he ripped her off this might be nonsense.
Thomas has also said that when he first read The Shadow of the Vulture he thought Red Sonya of Rogitano would make an excellent foil for Conan. So it is likely that when he was casting around for another female character, he remembered Sonya and the red hair helped to clinch the deal.
Butt Monkey: Sonja is turning into this in the Gail Simone run. She's been thrown face first in the mud by bouncers, has a chef turn her down when she's practically begging him for sex, a swordsman spanks her in the butt before she falls face first in the mud. Finally a barbarian who saw her get humiliated, gives her the nickname Mud Sonja. Stuff like this would never happen in the previous Dynamite incarnations.
The Caligula: When she wasn't killing evil sorcerers, Red Sonja was often killing mad kings, many of whom attempted to imprison her in their harem.
Carnival of Killers: The Gray Riders, a group of twelve mercenaries and assassins hired to hunt down and kill Sonja in the Legends of Red Sonja mini-series.
Combat Pragmatist: Especially in Gail Simone's run on the series. Sonja uses her Chainmail Bikini to distract male opponents and in Legends of Red Sonja tells a former adventuring partner to spread lies about her cowardice and lack of prowess so a group of hunters tracking her will be caught off guard. When it comes to a straight-up fight, though, she's perfectly willing to put on a suit of full plate armor and pull out all the stops with her swordfighting skills.
Sonja herself gets this alot, in one mini-series she kills Woden, Loki, the Fenris Wolf and the Midgard Serpent. She also became a Witchblade wielder in another mini-series and defeats a fallen archangel.
Discontinuity Nod: Gail Simone's relaunch dispenses with the "can't have sex unless the man defeats her in battle" aspect of her origin. Instead, a very horny Sonja meets a swordsman who won't have sex with anyone unless they defeat him in battle. She declares it to be the stupidest thing she's ever heard.
The Dog Bites Back: In the first arc of Simone's run the queen of the king killed by the mad King of Zamora gets even with him by feeding him the very poison he'd used to decimate the countryside in his drink, resulting in an extremely messy death as all his organs fail at once.
Dolled-Up Installment: Sonja's first appearance was an adaptation of Howard's non-Conan story The Shadow of the Vulture.
Eternal Hero: After a story in which Sonja dies, the subsequent story has the character being reincarnated. This is later revealed to be a mystic line of reincarnation, back to the days before humans used weapons—Sonja's original incarnation was the first to do so. Apparently being a Fiery Redhead is actually the real power of the line, as her fury is what allows each incarnation a way of becoming a great warrior regardless of circumstances, but depending on how she does it, that fury means she can end up a great hero or a great villain.
Exposed to the Elements: Sonja both averts this and plays this straight, depending on the writer and artist of the story. The better writers will have her wearing several layers of fur when she is in a snow-covered realm. The worst ones will have her marching through the snow in a Chainmail Bikini without even as much as a fur cloak.
Farm Boy: Well, farmgirl in her case but in almost all of her incarnations Red Sonja and her family were farmers/foresters before they got attacked.
In the third Smith/Tierney novel, When Hell Laughs, her Chainmail Bikini is torn off her in the middle of battle. She fights on, and makes no attempt to cover herself even when the danger is past. (For the remainder of the novel series she wears more practical armor, though the cover art keeps the bikini.)
It also happens in the first act of Red Sonja: Blue; during battle with a monster to save a young man from being a virgin sacrifice, her top is ripped away. This, naturally, just pisses her off, and after defeating the monster (berating the boy not to look all through the rest of the battle) skins it to wear its blue fur as a makeshift tunic.
Girl Powered: The McGuffin in the film could only be handled by women. Men who touched it were instantly killed by bad special effects.
Gladiator Games: Sonja is sentenced to the arena in the Red Sonja: Berserker one-shot. In the Gail Simone run, she and Dark Annisia used to be slaves fighting in an arena for the King of Zamora's amusement until they were rescued.
Go-Go Enslavement: A frequent trait of bad guys. The King of Zamora is shown having multiple slaves of both genders from kingdoms he's conquered, including at least one queen whose husband he murdered.
Kangaroo Court: Sonja finds herself before one in the Red Sonja: Beserker one -shot after maiming two young hotheads who mistook her for a prostitute and then attacked. One of them was the son of the justicar who sat in judgement on her.
The Lad-ette: Especially in Gail Simone's run. Sonja is not particularly modest, has an aggressive appetite for sex, booze and food, sings bawdy songs and has a mouth as foul as anyone else's she might encounter.
Mark of Shame: In the first arc by Gail Simone, Sonja's face is marked with one after she contracts the plague.
Mistaken For Prostitute: This happens to Sonja on a semi-regular basis; largely due to her habit of hanging around seedy taverns in her Chain Mail Bikini. Thus usually ends badly for the person making the mistake, although she always gives them the opportunity to apologise before kicking their ass. They seldom take it.
Private Military Contractors: When she's not righting wrongs and helping the helpless (or getting into bar fights, or killing people for looking at her funny, or cutting her way through a few dozen guards of the latest guy to kidnap her and try to make her part of his harem and then making him wear his ass as a hat, or any of the other sort of violence she engages in), Sonja tends to make a living as one of these.
Psycho Lesbian: Not Sonja, but some of her foes fall into this category.
Retcon: Happened partially when Dynamite first re-introduced Red Sonja. While almost all the other details have been kept the same, her age had been reduced to tweeny-hood in her origin (perhaps to increase the believable length of her adventuring career) and she was made to be the youngest child not the oldest. In the latest Gail Simone version, her origin seems to be retconned again, this time making her successful revenge against the killers of her family come from her own childhood skills as a hunter rather than being powered-up by a goddess and there seems to be no rape.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Part of her backstory, but also like her Spear Counterpart Conan, would often find herself motivated to them, especially against foes that took particular delight in their crimes against women.
Stripperiffic: Obviously. Probably the only major comic character who routinely wears less than her is Namor.
Although semi-justified in the Dynamite Series as Red Sonja deliberately wears it to distract her mostly male adversaries. As she puts it "Men are easily distracted. Most don't even notice My Sword...until their head rolls off their necks."
Take That: Recently Sonja encounters Osric the Untouched, a seemingly invincible swordsman who has his skills given to him by the gods and he can only have sex with the person who defeats him in battle. Sonja declares that she has never heard of anything so stupid.