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This article is about the comic series. If you're looking for the character type, see Best Her to Bed Her.
"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 a slew him insread, 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 fictional character, 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 Entertainment. 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.
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. Often finds herself in peril as a Distressed Domina with Naughty Tentacles involved, adding to the pulpy fantasy atmosphere of her adventures.
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.
Sonja has been featured in several novels by David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney with covers by Boris Vallejo:
- The Ring of Ikribu (Ace 1981) (Adapted to comics by Roy Thomas and Esteban Maroto in The Savage Sword of Conan issues 230-3)
- Demon Night (Ace 1982)
- When Hell Laughs (Ace 1982)
- Endithor's Daughter (Ace 1982)
- Against the Prince of Hell (Ace 1983)
- 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). The film was directed by Richard Fleischer. It performed poorly at the box office, and was also widely panned by critics. But gain 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.
The series provides examples of:
- Action Girl
- Amazonian Beauty: Definitely Nielsen in The Movie. The comic character can be this Depending on the Artist.
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: In one What If? 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. It's only after their next meeting that he warms up to her, and she eventually becomes his queen.
- Barbarian Hero
- Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me
- Best Her to Bed Her: Former Trope Namer.
- Loophole Abuse: As might be expected in a modern take on the story, the exact wording and meaning of Sonja's vow has been explored in her current series. For example, in issue 15, a demigod 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.
- Black Magic
- 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.
- 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.
- Chainmail Bikini: Usually attributed to artist Esteban Maroto.
- Color Character
- Crossover: Red Sonja has crossed over with Spider Man and Claw The Unconquered, a Barbarian Hero from a different publisher.
- Distressed Domina: Sonja is this a lot, She's one of the best, toughest and most intimidating warriors in comics, male or female, the She-Devil with a Sword who lives up to the name, but she often has a matchup problem with sneaky or cunning enemies, especially Kulan Gath and his creepy tentacle attacks, or Kang the Conqueror as in The Black Tower series. Conan, Spider Man or other of her fellow warriors wind up needing to come to her rescue.
- 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.
- Distracted by the Sexy: This is sometimes given as the reason for the Chainmail Bikini.
- 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 Lady
- 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.
- The Fagin: Jubal
- Fan Service: What do you think the Chainmail Bikini is for?
- Femme Fatalons: Evident when Sonja takes off her gloves.
- Fiery Redhead
- Fridge Logic: see Just Bugs Me/Marvel Comics
- Full-Frontal Assault: On a few occasions, Red Sonja has broken out of a harem and fought while clothed only with shadow.
- Girl Powered: The McGuffin in the film could only be handled by women. Men who touched it were instantly killed by bad special effects.
- Go-Go Enslavement: Given Sonja's preferred fighting "attire" of a chainmail bikini, when she is captured,usually at the hands of a nasty opponent like Kang the Conqueror in The Black Tower or Kulan Gath (for example in the Red Sonja Spider Man team-up), this is often implied. Or just plain obvious.
- A Handful for An Eye: Sonja pulls this trick on Raven in the Red Sonja: Raven one-shot.
- Harmful to Touch: The McGuffin in the movie instantly killed any man who touched it.
- Heroic Fantasy
- Hot Amazon
- Hot Chick with a Sword
- The Ladette
- Low Fantasy
- Man-Eating Plant: Savage Tales #5.
- Naughty Tentacles: Not as often as to Sonja's bikini-clad "sister" Vampirella, but when it does happen it can be pretty striking, as against Kulan Gath and the Lovecraftian beast that he nearly sacrifices Red Sonja to before Spider Man comes to her rescue.
- Oh My Gods: "By Ishtar and Mitra!"
- 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
- Psycho Lesbian: Not Sonja, but some of her foes fall into this category.
- Rape as Backstory
- Rape as Drama
- Redheaded Hero
- Sorcerous Overlord: Kulan Gath.
- Spiked Wheels
- Statuesque Stunner
- Virgin Sacrifice: Sonja saves a young man from this fate in Red Sonja: Blue.
- Walking the Earth
- Indeed, it was originally supposed to have been a third Conan movie (following Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer), but things happened...