With a Red Sonja movie back in development it’s probably as good a time as any to look at her appearances… it’s almost surprising I haven’t written about her before.
The character of Red Sonja who first appeared in Conan #23 is very different from the character Robert E. Howard created back in 1934. The character was originally called Red Sonya of Rogatino and she was a swashbuckler of sorts. She appeared in a short story called Shadow of the Vulture. Originally she had nothing to do with the sword and sorcery world that Conan resides.
This is pretty important when you think about it. Literally the Red Sonja who first appearance in Conan #23 never existed before that issue. To be completely honest, I find myself wondering why Marvel let go of the character when they lost the rights to Conan. Sure she’s “inspired” from Red Sonya of Rogatino, but there’s clearly more than enough difference between these two characters besides a J and a Y…
So this plunged me down an unexpected rabbit hole. I spent a good bit of time researching who owned the rights to Red Sonja and how she differed from Red Sonya. Sonja has traveled through a few hands over the years. The short version is Red Sonja is currently owned by Red Sonja LLC.
Sadly had anyone at Marvel been paying attention, they would have been able to make a strong case and keep the rights. She is a distinctly different character from the one in Shadow of the Vulture. Also, Shadow of the Vulture is in the public domain, so “technically” nobody can own the rights to Red Sonya as I understand it. There are articles elsewhere online about this topic if you’d like to find out more. Also Shadow of the Vulture is available to read free online.
Ok, so now let’s get to the comics. I believe there are really 7 books that investors should be looking at… This is my opinion. Everything else I believe to be secondary. Yes, she’s got some really cool variant covers from Dynamite Entertainment by some stellar artist, Topher even mentioned one yesterday. That doesn’t change the fact that there are only 5 to 7 books that are really key to the Red Sonja character. I’m sure some arguments can be made for other books with limited print run variants, red foil logos or virgin covers, but that doesn’t necessarily make them key.
Conan #23 (Marvel 1973) First Appearance. Written by Roy Thomas and drawn by the legendary Barry Winsor Smith. Yes I’m not labeling it a cameo. I went back and read this issue not too long ago and feel that it qualifies for more than a cameo. While it’s not a full issue devoted to Red Sonja, she does appear a few times. It’s broken up into several brief appearances throughout the issue, I feel are larger than a cameo. It also ties into the larger narrative which is continued in the following issue. If that’s not enough, I think I’ve made it pretty clear above that this is the first time “Red Sonja” ever appears ANYWHERE in print.
Conan #24 (Marvel 1973) First Cover Appearance and first full story appearance. This issue is also written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Barry Winsor Smith. It’s interesting that this books hasn’t climbed higher, being as it’s her first cover appearance. I have noticed more people picking up copies at local shows, which is probably do to the movie news. I think with the right actress cast in the roll of Red Sonja and if they are able to make multiple films, this book will really start to soar one day.
Savage Sword of Conan #1 is Red Sonja’s 3rd comic appearance and second cover. Drawn by Neal Adams there’s probably worst books or in this case magazines to have in your collection. Probably most importantly, this is the first time she sports the metal bikini she’s become instantly recognizable for. The very same metal bikini she wears in Dynamite comics today.
Marvel Features v2 “Red Sonja” #1 (Marvel 1975) This is sort of like a first mini series for Red Sonja. While it’s her first headlining appearance in a comic book, it feels like the market has decided this book is less important. I think that’s a huge mistake. Red Sonja’s run on this book only lasted 7 issues which I think is part of the problem. It should be noted that while it was only 7 issues, it still did well enough that Sonja was eventually given her own monthly series later the same year.
Marvel Features v2 “Red Sonja” #2 (Marvel 1975) Frank Thorne started drawing Red Sonja with this issue of Marvel Features. Frank Thorne will probably be best known for working on Red Sonja, both are legends in comics at this point. Thorne will always be sonimus with Red Sonja even though he didn’t create the character.
Red Sonja #1 (Marvel 1977) First Red Sonja ongoing series… Also drawn by Frank Thorne. This will always be a solid book. While it only ran 15 issues it’s still her first ongoing series. As mentioned above, it’s not the first time Frank Thorne draws her and he only drew the first 12 issue.
Red Sonja #1 (Dynamite 2013) I’m going to be honest it just felt wrong to exclude this book. Admittedly not as wrong as Dynamite’s marketing departments liberal use of the phrase “Dream Team” in promoting it. Simone is paired with some artist i’ve literally never heard of before to revamps Red Sonja. Simone redefines Sonja into a slightly different character in many ways. Mainly changing her backstory a bit which liberates Sonja into more of a hot blooded rather than cold blooded character, if you catch my drift. There’s just too many cover’s to list for this book. My advice would be to find the cover that speaks to you. While it probably will never be nearly as valuable as her Marvel appearances, do to the 30K combine print run. I still think this books could still be important. This is the version of the character that Dynamite will be using for the foreseeable future, so it will be interesting to see which backstory they use for the film.
So what else… well, it’s a rabbit hole of Dynamite variant covers and no matter how many I might try to list, I’m going to miss something. Sure there are a ton of cool covers, which I’m sure someone will write about in the near future. Till then, if you see something with Red Sonya on the cover that catches your eye, by all means, buy it. You never know what the market might do.
So, I thought it would be cool to wrap this up and share with you a piece of Red Sonja artwork you’ve probably never seen. It’s not by Mattina or Del’otto, it’s by an artist named Daryl Mandryk. I first ran across it years ago on a now defunct website called CG Hub.
This is by far my absolute favorite image of Red Sonja ever! It’s a shame someone at Dynamite hasn’t contacted Daryl Mandryk to used it for a variant cover. So since it isn’t a cover yet, I figured why not see what it might look like with some trade dressing!
Well, That’s it for this week, Till Next Time!
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