Robert E. Howard, the rugged Texas pulpsmith who created Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane and a raft of other two-fisted he-man heroes, wasn’t much on woman protagonists, although he once came up with a tough-talking red-haired warrior woman as a plot device in one of his barbarian tales. Roy Thomas decided to use the character in a two-part story in Conan the Barbarian #23-24 (memorably illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith) and gave her a name: Red Sonja.
It didn’t take the marketing geniuses at Marvel long to figure out that a no-nonsense barbarian woman in a chain-mail bikini just might have a future in the comics business. They re-launched the Marvel Feature title as a showcase for Red Sonja, kicking off with a sensational Thomas-penned story drawn by Esteban Maroto and Neal Adams.
They then made another very important discovery. Frank Thorne, a back-bench artist previously notable for his work on DC’s obscure Tomahawk and miscellaneous war comics, was really, really good at drawing women in chain-mail bikinis. Thorne’s Red Sonja, written by perennial great Bruce Jones, was the breakout hit of 1976 and a must-buy on every pubescent male reader’s list. Thorne became a huge star for about 20 minutes, appearing at conventions in a wizard’s pointed hat and cloak and accompanied by Red Sonja in all her fearsome glory, portrayed by a buxom young fan named Wendy Pini (shortly to create her own book, Elfquest). Overexposure soon led to backlash, and, amazingly, Red Sonja and Thorne both sank without a trace by the end of the 1970s.
Dynamite Comics acquired the license and re-launched the series in 2005. Now they have reissued the first seven of these excellent and beautifully-drawn 1970s Marvel Red Sonja tales in a nifty trade paperback collection. The re-coloring by Mike Kelleher and Glasshouse Graphics looks nice on the first two stories by Adams/Morato and Dick Giordano, but doesn’t mesh with Thorne’s distinctive use of blacks. Other than that, the edition is a real treat, and includes a nostalgic introductory essay by Roy Thomas.
— Rob Salkowitz
The Comics Buyer’s Guide:
The evolution of Red Sonja in Robert E. Howard’s Conan universe, as envisioned by editor and writer Roy Thomas, is interesting. Steeped in the mysticism of the Hyrkanian wilds, the tales of Red Sonja present a woman destined for a violent death or immortality. Particularly amusing are the attempts at turning Sonja into a harem wench and the jealousy of Belit in “Battle of the Barbarians.” Sonja will never be any man’s quiet and gentle consort.
Collecting all seven Marvel Feature stories, the masterful art of Neal Adams, Esteban Maroto, Dick Giordano, and Frank Thorne takes readers deep into quests for pages from mystical journals, keys of gold, beasts of stone, bear gods, and were—beasts of Seti. Richly illustrated, the stories are excellent reading and prime examples of classic sword and sorcery.
Dynamite Entertainment has produced a volume that exemplifies care and attention to printing quality. From the paper to the color reproduction, this is one classy book. The only addition to be wished for is the inclusion of the original covers. Maybe next edition.
— Tim Lasiuta
Dick Giordano cover; The Adventures of Red Sonja; Collects Marvel Feature (2nd Series) #1–7; ca. 2005
Schrijver: Roy Thomas
Tekenaar: John Buscema, Tony deZuniga