Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Smile of a She-Demon

Red Sonja was relaunched in 2005 by Dynamite Entertainment. I don't envy them the task. They had to take a character that most people remembered as a failed movie and create a character in an age where the casual fan has seen Lara Croft, Buffy the Vampire slayer and Xena. They had to make stories that did not cross over with Conan, which is a tricky feat in itself. I sometimes think Red Sonja was defined as a Conan with boobs, at least to her older fans.

As a fan, I often accept that what made a character work originally may not work for modern audiences. The task of any creative property is to gain an audience, not cat to the shrinking dying original audience. At the same time, you have to keep in mind that something made Red Sonja popular in the first place, and if you get away from it then are just making your own character.

What I find interesting in the relaunch is what they did to Red Sonja's personality. The chainmail bikini is still there, and visually she is as gorgeous as ever, but someone decided that they needed to make Red Sonja ultra-serious.

For example, this is Red Sonja in a bar back in the 70's.

Past Red Sonja drank, laughed and was kind of an ass to people. Red Sonja is your worse behaved friend except she is really hot.

Now look at one of the few times we even see a bar in Modern Red Sonja

Moody Red Sonja is deeply moody and political.

This is pretty much the tone for the new series. New Red Sonja is quiet, stern and ready to cut people. She is almost Clint Eastwood's Stranger With No Name except everyone knows who the redhead with the big swords is.

It is a curious choice when you consider that the most successful woman warrior in recent memory was Xena. Xena had it's share of pathos but it also intersected with slapstick comedy. Men and women obviously responded well to this mix, but Dynamite chose a more lone gunslinger approach to their heroine.

One reason for this darkness may be due to Dark Horse's relaunch of Conan. New Conan is much closer to Robert E. Howard's version, which is to say he is a tough son of a bitch in a very tough world. It is a grim world with grim consequences. Sword and Sorcery comics are a hard enough sale in modern days, so maybe Dynamite played it safe by imitating the only other comic like it out there.

I suspect though that the grim plots come from an issue of respect. Red Sonja's chainmail bikini has become synonymous with silly fantasy pinups. Whether the fans like it or not, chainmail bikinis are hot, but also inherently ridiculous. Add to that the fact that the movie was such an atrocity, Dynamite might have been afraid that their property was going to turn into one big joke.

Hence the dark plots that look like they were written at Dark Mountain under the dark shadow of Dark Castle by Robert E. Poe. Heck, considering that New Red Sonja is still going strong and has had six times the number of issues that the Marvel series did, maybe they made the right choice.

Personally, I miss her smile.


  1. You put a lot of thought into this post. NICE!

  2. Thanks, I tend to obsess over characters and what makes them work. I am just glad to have a venue for it.

  3. Granted, I was never a big reader of the Marvel Sonja comics, but I prefer the Dynamite approach to a more Howard-like character than the Xena-type silly stories/dialogue. The Dark Horse/Dynamite approach is so much more true to the source material (yeah, I know Sonja in this incarnation wasn't really a Howard creation) - sorta like the Frazetta Conan pieces. Dark and brooding.

  4. I want to go on record and say this post gets the REH award for best RED SONJA SHE DEVIL WITH A SWORD post of 2009.
    I have some material I want to post but I am going to wait another week or so and leave this one as the headliner out of respect.

  5. Ha, thanks Mikeyboy. I am glad you liked it. For me I am just interested in what makes a character last as long as Sonja.

  6. I've been a fan of Red Sonja ever since I saw the movie, but the chainmail bikini really has to go in favor of something a little more practical and magnitudes less ridiculous. I mean, they don't have to put a suit of plate armor or anything like that on her, but contrary to popular belief, practicality and sexiness CAN be attained in one package. Look at outfits like what Brigitte Nielsen wore in the RS movie and Lucy Lawless wore in Xena. They were practical (well, a bit moreso than the chainmail bikini, at least) and sexy at the same time.

    But the chainmail bikini just has to go. If Sonja's fans are actually fans of the *character*, rather than her tits and her ass, she'll endure. If not, then maybe Sonja's not really as popular as she seems to be...