Comicbook / Red Sonja

"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 and slew him instead, 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 Comics. 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:

  1. The Ring of Ikribu (Ace 1981) (Adapted to comics by Roy Thomas and Esteban Maroto in The Savage Sword of Conan issues 230-3)
  2. Demon Night (Ace 1982)
  3. When Hell Laughs (Ace 1982)
  4. Endithor's Daughter (Ace 1982)
  5. Against the Prince of Hell (Ace 1983)
  6. 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 . 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.

An animated movie was released october 3rd, 2016.

The series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Red Sonja herself.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Thulsa Doom in the Dynamite run look more like his movie counterpart than the original, skull headed necromancer from the original Kull stories.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Definitely Nielsen in The Movie. The comic character can be this Depending on the Artist.
  • 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 who 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!!!"
  • Bar Brawl: A common trope in Red Sonja stories, usually at the start of a story and leading to Sonja getting into trouble. There were a couple of instances in Frank Thorne's run at Marvel and a great one early in the Dynamite reboot, with a fantastic cover by Adam Hughes. There have been instances of Sonja starting brawls because she's been out of sorts but usually trouble will occur when another character hits on her or when they are bullying another character. In such instances, Sonja usually comes out on top, relying on any available weapons. She's cut off the wandering hands of would-be admirers with her sword, she's smashed guys with tankards and she's flattened groups of men with her bare hands. There's a short but neat bar brawl in the current series by Amy Chu, where Sonja picks up a table with one hand and hurls it across the bar like a softball, taking a gigantic thug off his feet ... Chu's Sonja is a cut above most Sonjas and Word of God is that she is pretty much superhuman.
  • Barbarian Hero : Rare female version.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Has happened to her more than once, when some Evil Overlord decides to make her part of his harem. See the Sonja Goes East one-shot for one such example.
  • 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.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Former Trope Namer.
    • 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...
      Red Sonja: That is without question the stupidest thing I have ever heard.
  • Bi the Way: In Gail Simone's run she's not too picky about who she goes to bed with.
  • 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.
  • Chainmail Bikini: Usually attributed to artist Esteban Maroto. Red Sonja is the Trope Codifier, if not the Ur-Example.
    • The Pathfinder: Worldscape comic includes Pathfinder stats for Red Sonja. Apparently, her chainmail bikini doesn't give her any armor bonus at all (her only armor bonus comes from Bracers of Armor +4), but she does have an ability that lets her add her Charisma bonus (18, for a +4 bonus) to Armor Class when not wearing armor, as opponents are distracted by her boo-, uh, "confidence and personality", as the text says.
  • Color Character: Red Sonja.
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Lady: Gerd, the blacksmith and retired adventurer who gives Sonja her very first Chainmail Bikini in a story by Rhianna Pratchett in Legends of Red Sonja. She cut an impressive figure herself before she settled down.
  • Crossover: Red Sonja has crossed over with a number of others, from the obvious like Claw The Unconquered, a Barbarian Hero from a different publisher, to Spider-Man and Wolverine.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Evil Sorcerer Thulsa Doom slays an Elder God in Queen Sonja #20. Overlaps with Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?, as he first tricks it into giving him enough power to allow him to kill it.
    • 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.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: This is sometimes given as the reason for the Chainmail Bikini.
  • 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.
  • Enigmatic Empowering Entity: The 'red goddess' Scáthach (known as 'The Lady' in some accounts) who grants Sonja her fighting skills in the Marvel Comics version of her origin.
  • 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.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Happens from time to time.
  • Evil Albino: Trolus from Savage Sword of Conan #1.
  • Evil Counterpart: Crimson Katherine from Giant-Size Red Sonja #2.
  • Evil Overlord: Many of Sonja's enemies.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Kulan Gath, amongst many others.
  • 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.
  • The Fagin: Jubal
  • Fanservice: What do you think the Chainmail Bikini is for?
  • Full-Frontal Assault: On a few occasions, Red Sonja has broken out of a harem and fought while clothed only with shadow.
    • 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.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Sonja pulls this trick on Raven in the Red Sonja: Raven one-shot.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Red Sonja has always been a boozer and this probably reached its zenith under Gail Simone, where she was a full-blown alcoholic who could barely function without booze. Current writer Amy Chu has dialled that back a bit but her Sonja still loves a drink. In the storyline where Kulan Gath transports her through time to modern-day New York, her first priority after escaping captivity is food and her second is ale. Sonja pretty much says the trope title while walking around Harlem looking for a bar.
  • 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.
  • Little Miss Bad Ass: In the Dynamite comics one-shot Sanctuary, Sonja mentions that she started her career as Scathach's enforcer when she was 12.
  • Man-Eating Plant: Savage Tales #5.
  • 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.
  • Never Gets Drunk: Type 3a. Red Sonja *can* get drunk and often *does* but her capacity for alcohol is prodigious, probably even higher than Conan’s. In Amy Chu’s current series, having been transported through time and space to modern-day New York, Sonja finds herself a bar, makes friends quickly despite her inability to speak English and ends up in a big drinking session with her new buddies. When her cop friend Max comes by to pick her up, he finds her passed out drunk with a bar tab of 837 dollars to settle. The bartender tells Max it’s all her’s. Word of God is that there was a glitch with the calculations … based on the price of beer on the wall, 837 bucks would’ve bought nearly 300 beers but Amy Chu ‘only’ intended Sonja to have gone through 120 beers, equalling the personal best of André the Giant. Bear in mind that Andre was about 7’0’’ and 450lbs at the time and Sonja’s 6’0’’ and 140.
  • Oh My Gods!: "By Ishtar and Mitra!"
  • One-Sided Arm-Wrestling: In the ‘Lost In New York’ storyline mentioned under Bar Brawl, Never Gets Drunk and I Need a Freaking Drink above, Sonja finds a seedy bar and while she’s knocking back a couple of beers, she notices a big guy called Luis crushing his friend in an arm-wrestle. Luis then invites the statuesque female barbarian in the chainmail bikini to step up, hoping to Best Her to Bed Her and figuring he’s got an easy win on his hands. Unfortunately for him, Sonja immediately smashes his arm down without blinking. With the other patrons laughing at him, Luis complains that he wasn’t ready, so Sonja offers to take him on again. Once more, she immediately and effortlessly beats him, with Luis saying he thinks she broke his wrist. The next panel shows Sonja beating a huge bald guy with ease in an arm-wrestle and this particular bout goes viral on social media and alerts her enemy Kulan Gath to her presence. The strong implication here is that the She-Devil beat every single challenger in the bar without breaking a sweat, although we only see her taking on two. Now factor in that Sonja was sporting a nasty head-wound in the scene and also had a nasty gunshot wound to her arm-wrestling shoulder, suffered in the previous issue. Word of God is that Red Sonja is as strong as six normal men.
  • Pirate Girl: Sonja has been a pirate from time to time.
  • Pirates: Just as with Conan the Barbarian, pirates feature prominently in the Red Sonja stories: both as enemies and allies.
  • 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.
  • Rape as Backstory: She became the badass warrior she did partly out of a reaction to being raped when she was a girl.
  • Re Tool: The Gail Simone series, with an eye toward Reconstruction.
  • 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.
  • Sorcerous Overlord: Kulan Gath.
  • Spiked Wheels: She acquires a Boudicca-style chariot, complete with spiked wheels, for leading troops into battle in Queen Sonja #4.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Her height is officially 5'11" ... in the current series by Amy Chu, she's 6'0 and was played by the 6'0 Brigitte Nielsen in the movie.
  • 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.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Sonja saves a young man from this fate in Red Sonja: Blue.
  • War Elephants: In the 1970s Marvel run, Sonja allied herself with the young ruler of kingdom whose major military strength was its war mammoths.
  • Waterfall Shower: Sonja takes one (surrounded by strategic Censor Steam) just before she is captured by an Evil Sorcerer at the start of Red Sonja Annual #4.