"Know also, O prince, that in those selfsame days that Conan the Cimmerian did stalk the Hyborian Kingdoms, one of the few swords worthy to cross with his was that of Red Sonja, warrior woman out of majestic Hyrkania. Forced to flee her homeland and because she spurned the advances of a king and slew him instead, she rode west across the Turanian Steppes and into the shadowed mists of legendry."
- The Nemedian Chronicles
First Origin (1975)
During the Hyborian Age, a red-haired girl named Sonja lived with her family in a humble home in the western Hyrkanian steppes. When Sonja had just turned seventeen years old, a gang of cruel mercenaries killed her father Ivor, her mother and two younger brothers, and burned their house and all their possessions. She survived, but at the cost of her own virginity after she was brutally raped by the leader of the group, leaving her in shame.
Answering Sonja's cry for revenge, the red goddess Scathach appeared to her, and offered to bestow upon her unparalleled skill in battle on the condition that she would never lie with a man unless he defeated her in fair combat. Sonja gladly accepted the offer. She grew to womanhood as a wandering adventurer, and as she journeyed her legend grew as well. She became known as Red Sonja, due to her flame-red hair, fiery personality, and uncanny ability to spill the blood of her enemies wherever she went.
Rebooted Origin (2014)
In the new Red Sonja series written by Gail Simone, the character's origin story was retold, removing both the rape and supernatural elements of her story. In the reboot her original name is revealed as Sonjita rather than Sonja, and she was the daughter of the chief of a Hyrkanian village. The village was attacked by vicious raiders and Sonjita's family and the rest of the villagers were slaughtered, leaving Sonjita the lone survivor. But she was not caught or raped by the attackers, nor was she ever visited by the goddess Scathach. Instead, Sonjita escaped into the wild and relied on her own hunting skills to track down and kill the raiders one by one. She was then captured by slavers and forced to fight for her life in an arena for three years, through which she gained her unrivaled fighting skill and became known by her 'arena' name: "Red Sonja."
Re-imagined and adapted for comic books by writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith in 1973, the original inspiration for Red Sonja was created in 1934 by fantasy novelist Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian and the mythical Hyborean Age. Howard's character was named "Red Sonya of Rogatino," and she first appeared in the short story The Shadow of the Vulture (which was adapted into Red Sonja's first comic book story by Marvel). However, Howard's Red Sonya was a saber-and-pistol wielding heroine of the Renaissance era rather than a swordswoman of the Hyborean Age.
In the 1970's, after Conan the Barbarian became a hit series for Marvel Comics, other Howard characters were considered for introduction into the series, including Red Sonya. In order to transform her character so that she could be a contemporary of Conan, writer Roy Thomas altered the spelling of her name to the more exotic "Sonja" and made her a barbarian swordswoman from the land of Hyrkania. Red Sonja was a hit with readers, growing from a supporting character in Conan to starring in several volumes of her own comic book series. She has become the archetypal example of what is now a fantasy staple: The fierce and strikingly beautiful warrior-woman clad in revealing bikini-like armor.
Red Sonja first made her comics debut in 1973, as a supporting character for Conan the Barbarian in his monthly series. In her earliest feature story The Song of Red Sonja, drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, she wore a modest scale mail shirt and red shorts and her figure was less curvaceous. In subsequent appearances she donned the famous bikini armor for which she is now known.
The fiery red-haired warrior woman proved immediately popular with fans, and she continued to make appearances in Conan’s title as a guest star. Though Red Sonja and Conan were generally portrayed as allies, their relationship was often tenuous due to her fiercely independent nature and the fact that as mercenaries, they would sometimes be in competition for the same prize. Occasionally they even came to blows, though the threat of a common enemy invariably caused them to join forces later. To complicate matters Conan was attracted to Sonja, who repeatedly rebuffed his advances due to her personal code of never laying with a man who could not defeat her in combat. Conan was never able to best Sonja in a fight, despite making several attempts, and this often added to the tension between the two.
By 1975, Red Sonja had become so popular that she was given a solo debut in the Marvel Feature title. After headlining Marvel Feature for seven issues she was given her own title, which ran for another fifteen issues. Artist Frank Thorne became indelibly associated with the character during this run. After her series ended she continued to make appearances in Conan’s series, where she first faced one of her most enduring enemies, the evil sorcerer Kulan Gath.
In 1979, Red Sonja teamed up with Marvel’s most popular modern superhero, Spider-Man, in Marvel Team-Up # 79. Through mystical means Sonja was transported to modern-day New York City by switching bodies with the similarly red-haired Mary Jane Watson, the girlfriend of Spider-Man. There, she fought alongside the web-slinger against Kulan Gath, who had traveled back in time along with Sonja. Spidey and Sonja were victorious and Sonja returned to her own time.
In the mid-1980's, to help promote the upcoming release of the Red Sonja movie, Marvel released a two-issue miniseries based on the film and also gave Red Sonja another volume of her own title. Her metal bikini was retired and she wore a less revealing blue tunic for this series. The reboot ran for thirteen issues, after which Red Sonja continued to make guest appearances in Conan. In 1995, Red Sonja: Scavenger Hunt was the last Marvel comic to feature Sonja as the titular character. In the late 1990's, Marvel, deciding to focus exclusively on their main superhero universe set in modern times, declined to renew their rights to the Conan universe and characters. Red Sonja made no new appearances in comics for several years.
In the early 2000's a new publisher, Dynamite Entertainment, acquired the comic book rights to Red Sonja. Dynamite decided to bring back Sonja’s classic bikini armor for her new series, which debuted in 2005 and featured the art of Mel Rubi, who has since put his own stamp on the character just as Frank Thorne did in the 1970’s. The series was an immediate hit, becoming Dynamite’s best-selling title and firmly returning Red Sonja to mainstream popularity.
In addition to her own title, Red Sonja has starred in the title role of many Dynamite miniseries. In 2007 Marvel, partnering with Dynamite, welcomed back Red Sonja for a five-issue miniseries in which Sonja and Spider-Man met again in modern-day New York City in a scenario very similar to their first team up. Sonja again switched bodies with Mary Jane Watson, and she and Spider-Man battled old nemesis Kulan Gath once more. The two succeeded in defeating Gath a second time, despite the latter’s recruitment of Spider-Man's arch-foe Venom to his cause.
Death and Reincarnation
In the rebooted series written by Gail Simone, Red Sonja is notably different from her previous incarnations. Though she still loses her family to raiders at an early age, she is never raped and never meets the goddess Scathach. Thus she does not possess any divinely-gifted powers, nor is she under any oath of chastity. Instead she gains her supreme fighting ability entirely through her own training. This Red Sonja is as feared for her fighting prowess as her previous incarnations, but is more lusty and hotblooded, with a love for both alcohol and sex unseen in other versions and a ribald, almost crude sense of humor.
Major Story Arcs
Marguerite Bennett has picked up where Gail Simone left off. Sonja returns to Hyrkania to find herself a stranger in a strange land. She must halt her people's slide into militant fascism and overthrow the king.
Major Story Arcs
The Celestial One
Red Sonja has been wandering the world. She eventually enters a town where most of the men have left for war. Women were being treated like slaves, however, Red Sonja did not help them as they did not want any help. She goes into a bar and chats with the bartender named Jessa. Sonja drinks until she passes out on the table, some men came in to take advantage of her being passed out. It was all planned out, make her pass out, and kill her easily. However, Red Sonja was not a warrior that is easily defeated, as she woke up and defeated all the men easily and left afterwards. Sonja then spends the night in the woods with her horse, Throne. She then shoots an arrow and kills an owl for food. After she finished eating, she continued her search for the Hyborian Kingdoms. Sonja runs into a group of bandits attacking a messenger on a horse. Sonja uses her skilled marksmanship and kills most of the bandits from afar with a bow and arrow. Once they began closing in on her, she drew her sword and finished off the rest. The messenger begins hitting on Sonja due to her revealing armour, but she assures him that it distracts men long enough for her to chop off their heads. They then get straight to the point, he mentions that he is a messenger of Gathia. He tells her that he was bringing a message to the Zedda Tribes (the bandits that attacked him) about surrendering. The two of them head for Gathia, which is a city that Sonja had been looking for. However, it was a days ride to get there. They rest near a pond, where the messenger warns Sonja to be careful of the monster in the pond. He begins telling her about how pure his city has become thanks to their King, and that the only reason she is allowed to come is because she saved him. Just as the messenger finishes drinking the water, he begins chocking and a vine type monster emerges from his mouth. Sonja was forced to decapitate him in order to kill the monster. Sonja decides to take his head to Gaitha and deliver his message for him. Once she arrived at the city, she shows them the decapitated head and they recognize her as Red Sonja. She tells them that part of their land is corrupted but they do not believe her, so they decide to attack her.
The number of soldiers did not overwhelm her at all as she easily killed soldier after soldier. However, Sonja stood atop a trap door and it opened, causing her to fall in it. There is a monster inside the area, and Sonja begins preparing herself by grabbing hold of a skull and lighting it on fire for distraction. Sonja gains the upper hand and stabs a broken sword in its head, she then takes the skull and drives the sword deeper in, killing him after multiple blows. Sonja passes out after the battle and the guards take her away. She awakens in a white dress with hand cuffs chaining her down. A woman was cleaning her and Sonja becomes angered that the woman is forced to bow before anyone. A priest comes in and tries to get her to worship his God. The people of that kingdom worship a man named The Celestial One, and he “purified” most of the lands around the area. Since Sonja did not accept The Celestial One as her God, she is to be killed. Sonja is then tied up to a pillar out in the open as the priest drives a dagger through her heart. Sonja is then dumped into the area where they throw dead people in. However, later that night, the priest returns and recovers Sonja’s body. He takes her to a nearby refuge to tend to her dagger wound. He uses some dark magic and revives Sonja to the world. Later that morning, Sonja wakes up and the priest Fa, shows Sonja that he spoke the truth, they truly needed her help. The priest reveals that he used the Blade of Vaven to feign her death, then revive her for help. However, the knife is forced to remain within her. He also reveals that they have to return the blade to the idol it stood on or else her death will be permanent. Sonja tells him that she is not for sell, but he assures her that he wants to take down the Celestial One. Sonja agrees and they head to the Idol.
Defeating the Celestial
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 130 lbs (59 kg)
Place of Birth: Hyrkania
Occupation: Warrior, adventurer, mercenary
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: Ivor (father, deceased), mother & two brothers (unnamed, deceased). Reincarnated version: Lady Verona (sister, deceased), Lord Daniel Dorn (husband, deceased), Lord Lucan Martur (brother-in-law, deceased). 1985 film only: Varna (sister, deceased).
Powers and Abilities
Powers and Abilities
Peak-Level Athlete: Through a combination of the divine gifts granted her by the goddess Scathach and her own relentless warrior training, Red Sonja is in peak human physical condition. She is imbued with the maximum strength, speed, endurance, agility, and reflexes that a human female could possess without being considered superhuman. In the new Gail Simone series she does not possess any divine gifts, only her natural-born physical talents and learned skills.
Weapon Master: Red Sonja is a virtually unparalleled sword-master of her era, having fought and defeated countless enemies with her blade. Even Conan, himself a legendary swordsman, cannot best her in a duel. Though the sword is Sonja’s weapon of choice, she is nearly as proficient with other melee weapons and can gain expertise with unfamiliar ones with minimal training. She is an accomplished archer and demonstrates remarkable accuracy with any distance weapon. Sonja’s mastery of arms includes being able to quickly improvise and construct weapons with any available materials at hand, so that even when seemingly disarmed, she is rarely weaponless.
Unarmed Combat: Red Sonja has mastered the martial arts disciplines of her era and is a deadly fighter even without any weapons. She has taken down many enemies larger than herself merely with her fists and feet.
Berserker Strength: When greatly angered or outnumbered, Red Sonja can go into a berserker fury, significantly increasing her strength and deadliness in battle. She has single-handedly annihilated waves of armed opponents while in this state, literally becoming a one-woman army.
Tracking: Red Sonja has spent much time traveling the diverse and dangerous landscape of the Hyborian age and is a gifted ranger and tracker. She can navigate and survive nearly any form of terrain and hunt down almost any quarry. She is also adept at covering her tracks and leaving little trace of her passing.
Stamina: Red Sonja's physical stamina is at peak human level due to Scathath's divine gifts and Sonja's own rigorous conditioning. She can exert herself at maximum effort for far longer than most humans can endure. Being from the harsh and wintery climate of the Hyrkanian steppes, Red Sonja has built up a high tolerance for adverse environmental conditions and is seemingly impervious to cold, even when clad only in her metal bikini.
Stealth: Red Sonja possesses catlike grace and can move about in near-silence in order to avoid detection, making good use of shadows and any other available cover. She is also highly skilled at disguise, camouflage, and infiltration.
Divine Protection: As the chosen favorite of the goddess Scathach, Red Sonja is seemingly watched over by her in much the same way a guardian angel would. Despite wearing no armor (since her metal bikini hardly counts as such), Sonja has fought her way through countless bloody battles and performed numerous death-defying feats while emerging virtually unscathed, usually suffering only scratches or minor wounds at most. While much of this can be attributed to her uncanny fighting skill and superb athleticism, many feel that Red Sonja also enjoys divine aid and protection by the red goddess in some way, adding to her legend and instilling greater fear in her enemies as a result. (Note: In the new Gail Simone series, Sonja not enjoy any special divine protection since she never met the goddess Scathach.)
Other Abilities: Red Sonja's diverse physical skills include swimming, climbing, acrobatics, and escape artistry. She is an expert horseback rider and an accomplished sailor. Sonja is highly intelligent and resourceful, and possesses a keen understanding of warfare and battle strategy. Her charisma makes her a natural leader when called upon, though she usually prefers to operate alone. While she distrusts magic, she is well acquainted with it and instinctively understands how to deal with the supernatural – a necessity when battling her greatest enemy, Kulan Gath.
Red Sonja is famous for wearing scanty bikini-like scale mail armor that reveals far more of her curvaceous figure than it conceals, and therefore is nearly useless as a means of protection. Numerous supporting characters have commented on this fact, but Sonja has explained that her armor is deliberately provocative for good reason: "Men are easily distracted. Most of them never even notice my sword... until their heads roll off their necks." In addition to taking deadly advantage of its distraction against her mostly male opponents, Sonja enjoys the freedom of movement it provides, preferring not to be encumbered by any sort of heavy or restrictive armor anyway (though on occasion she has picked up and used a shield when necessary). She instead relies on her incredible agility, reflexes, and unsurpassed fighting skill to avoid injury during battle.
Red Sonja did not always wear a scale mail bikini. In her first comic book appearance in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian title, artist Barry Windsor-Smith drew the character wearing a scale mail shirt and shorts. However, this relatively modest mode of dress did not last long. In the introduction to the Red Sonja Adventures Volume 1 collection released by Dynamite Entertainment, editor Roy Thomas explained that a Spanish artist named Esteban Maroto submitted an uncommissioned illustration of Red Sonja wearing a far sexier bikini version of the armor. This occurred while Thomas was editing the magazine Savage Sword of Conan, and it inspired Thomas to have the character redesigned. Soon afterward, Red Sonja appeared for the first time wearing what is now known as the "silver metal bikini," and this quickly became her signature look.
Dynamite has featured Red Sonja in other costumes besides her bikini armor. In several issues of Red Sonja's first ongoing series she changed to a scale mail shirt and leather skirt, an outfit that closely resembled her original Barry Windsor-Smith costume. And in the Red Sonja: Blue one-shot, she wore a blue tunic as a tribute to her latter days at Marvel. However, the signature bikini armor was her regular attire throughout the Queen Sonja ongoing series, accessorized with a crown and cape while she was playing the role of queen. The metal bikini armor is also a regular feature in the rebooted Gail Simone series. However, since the series is meant to be a more realistic take on the character, Red Sonja has been shown wearing more practical clothing when the environment calls for it. She dressed in furs and hides when she was exiled to the cold mountains (due to being infected with a plague/poison), and she wore protective leather gear while traveling through a treacherous swamp.
Most recently, Dynamite has premiered Sonja in a new costume for her current series. The current costume is a reimagining of her previous chain mail bikini, updating the look to be more practical while paying homage to the chain mail bikini.
Red Sonja (1985 film)
In 1985 a live action Red Sonja film was released, with actress Brigette Nielsen in the title role. Nielsen, a blonde, dyed her hair red in order to look the part. Sonja was not portrayed in her scale mail bikini in the film and instead wore leather corset-style armor.
The film took several liberties with Sonja's origin story from the comics. The rape of Sonja and the murder of her family was carried out by the soldiers of Queen Gedren, the film's main antagonist (played by actress Sandahl Bergman), rather than by a gang of men acting alone. Gedren ordered the attacks in retaliation for Sonja refusing to be her consort. The fact that a woman was behind Sonja's victimization seemed to contradict one of the primary motivations behind Sonja's character in the comics. In another departure from the comics, Sonja had a sister and a brother, rather than two brothers. The sister, Varna, avoided the fate of her brother and parents and grew to adulthood as a priestess, but was eventually killed by Gedren's soldiers later in the film.
The Sexiest Woman in Comics
Citing a number of factors -- her fiery red hair and equally fiery personality, the nearly impossible challenge of having to defeat her in fair combat in order to win her affections, and (most of all) her memorable choice of attire -- Red Sonja was ranked first in Comics Buyer's Guide's 100 Sexiest Women in Comics, beating out stiff competition from other famous heroines like DC's Wonder Woman and Marvel's Emma Frost. In winning the #1 ranking she also won the honor of being the cover girl, rendered in a pinup by artist Mark Sparacio.
Red Sonja's first feature story The Song of Red Sonja (in Conan the Barbarian #24) won the Academy of Comic Book Arts Award for Best Individual Story in 1973.
With the debut of Red Sonja's new hit series, Dynamite Entertainment was awarded the title of Best New Publisher by Diamond Comics Distributors in 2005.
Conan The Adventurer (1998 TV series)