Red Sonja, "warrior woman out of majestic Hyrkania," is a fantasy sword and sorcery heroine created by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith and first appearing in Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel Comics). She was loosely based on the character Red Sonya of Rogatino in Robert E. Howard's short story "The Shadow of the Vulture" (The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934), which was rewritten as a Conan story for the Marvel comic.
The She-Devil with a Sword has become the archetypical example of the fantasy figure of a fierce and stunningly beautiful female barbarian who typically wears sexy, but impractically skimpy armor.
Howard vs. Marvel
Howard's Red Sonya was very different from Thomas's: Thomas reinvented her, making her a heroine of Conan's Hyborian Age, tweaking the spelling of her name, and giving her a sword instead of her guns.
Red Sonja is a redheaded female warrior who had sworn an oath never to have sex with any man unless he had defeated her in personal combat.
She is most often depicted wearing a very brief bikini-like costume of chainmail (although this is usually fashioned from overlapping disks rather than interlaced rings!). As originally drawn by Barry Smith for "The Song of Red Sonja" in Conan the Barbarian issues 23 and 24 (1973), she did not have as full a figure and dressed a little more conservatively, in a chainmail long-sleeved shirt and cloth (maybe leather) shorts.
The "bikini" look is usually credited to Frank Thorne, but was created by Esteban Maroto for Sonja's appearance in The Savage Sword of Conan issue 1 (1974), and used by John Buscema in issues 43, 44 and 48 of Conan the Barbarian (1974) and Dick Giordano in the first issue of Marvel Features Presents Red Sonja (1975) before Thorne took over from issue 2 (1976). For some reason the "bikini" proved popular, becoming well-known through the paintings of Boris Vallejo and others.
These are the comic books that have featured Red Sonja as a main character:
- Marvel Feature Presents Red Sonja 1-7 (Marvel Comics) (1975-1976)
- Red Sonja (1st series) 1-15 (Marvel Comics) (1977-1979)
- Red Sonja (2nd series) 1-2 (Marvel Comics) (1983)
- Red Sonja (3rd series) 1-13 (Marvel Comics) (1983-1986)
- Red Sonja The Movie 1-2 (Marvel Comics) (1985)
- Red Sonja: Scavenger Hunt (Marvel Comics) (1995)
- Red Sonja in 3-D (Blackthorne) (1998)
- Red Sonja. A Death in Scarlet (Cross Plains) (1999)
- Red Sonja (New series) 0-present (Dynamite Entertainment) (2005)
In addition she has been featured in solo stories in the following publications:
- Conan the Barbarian, issue 48 (Marvel Comics) (1974)
- The Savage Sword of Conan, issues 1, 23, 45, 78, 157, 169, 171, 187, 192,194, 195, 210, 230-3 (Marvel Comics) (1974-1995)
- Kull and the Barbarians, issues 2 and 3 (Marvel Comics) (1975)
Her origin story, "The Day of the Sword" first appeared in Kull and the Barbarians issue 3 by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin, and was later redrawn by Dick Giordano and Terry Austin for The Savage Sword of Conan, issue 78.
She has appeared a "guest" alongside Conan the Barbarian in the series:
- Conan the Barbarian
- The Savage Sword of Conan
- Conan the King
And with Spider-Man in "Marvel Team-Up" # 79 and Wolverine in "What if?" Vol. 2, #16. She has been featured in several novels by David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney:
- #1 The Ring of Ikribu (Ace 1981) (Adapted to comics by Roy Thomas and Esteban Maroto in The Savage Sword of Conan issue 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)
She was played by Brigitte Nielsen in the 1985 film Red Sonja, which also starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Kalidor (a Conan clone). The film was directed by Richard Fleischer. It performed poorly at the box office.
The character has been parodied in numerous forms including the furry comic book series, Red Shetland where the title character is a humanoid mare in the archetypical armor bikini.