Let me tell you a story about death, flaming red hair, heroic last stands and four year olds. Let me take you back to an age of undreamed of: an age of irresponsible parenting we like to call the 1970's.
I was a very young boy. I must have been four years old because that is when my first memories are. My mom was a single parent and she took me to a friend's house. The friend had a four year old daughter. Me and the girl were told to play together while the parents talked.
We had no clue what to play together. I remember sneering at her Barbies. She had no interest in playing Tarzan with her stuffed animals. We sort of sat in near terminal boredom till I saw that she had a couple of comic books. Most of them were of Donald Duck but one of them had a bizarre group of half naked people fighting against impossible odds. That was the one I liked.
It is a very strange memory. I remember being enthralled by this one comic. I remember a redheaded woman wearing a blue bikini that just fascinated me. There were other heroes with her, but all I cared about was the redhead. I couldn't read but I had the impression she was loud. I had the impression that this girl did not play with boring Barbies and cute fuzzy non-violent animals. Looking at this fictional comic character, I had my first feelings of yearning. This redhead looked like she was fun to hang out with.
Since I couldn't read, I don't know what the plot was. I remember the heroes traveling to a hill, and then being surrounded by an army. I have the distinct impression that the heroes did not survive. Looking back as an adult, I know that is ridiculous and the most likely thing that happened is that it ended on the cliffhanger. To my young mind though, they died in a heroic last stand. I think I may have gotten teary eye.
I have no other memory of that night. I am not sure if I even ever saw that kid again. I would love to know why her parents bought their girl a violent barbarian comic with a nearly naked chick in it but hey, it was the 70's. Comics were for kids.
But what I do remember was that feeling that some women could be cool. Well, they could be cool to a four year old at least. The barbarian redhead fought, killed and seemed to yell a lot. She was pretty much like me, except she had interesting clothes that she filled out in very interesting ways.
Years and years later, I got into Conan comics and recognized the mysterious warrior woman from my past as Red Sonja. It was a strange feeling. It was a lot like finding out that Santa Claus worked down the street and he liked visitors. Now I could read her adventures and keep up with the character. And she has a movie coming out? Holy crap.
As an adult I certainly think the sex appeal is a large contributor to the character's popularity but I think my own childhood experience is not that rare. Comics in the 70's were terribly lacking in strong female characters. Even though Wonder Woman was running around in comics, she was very distinctly an ideal for women to aspire to. Red Sonja is more of an adolescent male ideal of a woman. She is a killer. She is brash and headstrong. If she had testes, she would be your favorite drinking buddy. The fact that she was drawn like, well like Red Sonja, was just bonus.
On a side note, I have never found the comic that I looked at as a child. It is entirely possible that what I read was a small company's knock-off of Red Sonja. In my mind, that shows how strong of an ideal Red Sonja is.