Showing posts with label Red Sonja. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Red Sonja. Show all posts

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Adventures of Red Sonja - Volume 01

In the pulp magazine pages of Magic Carpet’s January 1934 issue readers will discover Robert E. Howard’s sword-mistress Red Sonya of Rogatine. She is the star of Howard’s short story “The Shadow of the Vulture”, described as a tall Russian warrior woman who fights with a dagger, two pistols, and a sabre. While writing for Marvel, Roy Thomas obtained a copy of the story from Glenn Lord, the literary agent for Robert E. Howard’s estate. Thomas, collaborating with artist Barry Smith, modified the story to introduce a new red-haired swordswoman, Red Sonja, in the pages of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #23 and #24 (1970). The rest is history.

To celebrate the early era of Red Sonja, Dynamite Entertainment acquired the rights to some of the character’s appearances in Marvel. These appearances are collected in a three-volume set titled The Adventures of Red Sonja. I borrowed a digital copy of Vol. 1, which collects the character’s appearances in Marvel Feature #1-#7, all published in 1975, plus the “Red Sonja” story from Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #1 (1974). Up until the Marvel Feature issues, the character had only appeared nine total times – five in Conan the Barbarian (1970), twice in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian (1974), and twice in Kull and the Barbarians (1975). So, in essence, this collection feels like a terrific landing spot for new Red Sonja readers.

The collection begins with a three-page introduction written by Roy Thomas explaining how he created the character from Howard’s original “The Shadow of the Vulture” story. This intro is a great timeline of the early appearances of Red Sonja and Roy’s collaborations with artists like Neal Adams, Barry Smith, Ernie Chan (Ernue Chua), Dick Giordano, and of course, Frank Thorne. 

Roy’s commentary is followed by the eight-page story “Red Sonja”, which was originally published in Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #1 (1974). The original story was black and white (reprinted in color in Marvel Feature #1), and this new version is colorized by Glass House Color Design. I like all three presentations, but I find myself enjoying this new colorized version (why do I feel guilty though?). The artwork by Esteban Maroto, Neal Adams, and Ernie Chan is really something special. The story has Red Sonja on a mission to earn money working for King Ghannif in a teeming city state in Hyrkania. But the King wants to add the fiery-haired She-Devil into his harem, which backfires in a big way. Sonja is also forced into a fight with the King’s albino musclebound bodyguard. 

Marvel Feature #1 follows with Thomas using an unfinished Robert E. Howard manuscript called “The Temple of Abomination” to frame his eponymous Red Sonja story. That story, originally published in the 1974 Donald M. Grant hardcover Tigers of the Sea, featured Howard’s Conan-like hero Cormac Mac Art. But, Thomas’s version has Red Sonja in a rural stretch of Nemedia forest when she stumbles upon an abandoned temple. Inside, she frees an old man chained to the wall and battles a small army of man-goats (yes man-goats!) that are sacrificing people to a slithering monstrosity in a pit. The art was created by Dick Giordano, which according to Thomas, was a guy who loved drawing women.

Some of Red Sonja’s best presentations are through the creative hands of artist Frank Thorne. He collaborated with Bruce Jones on Marvel Feature #2 “Blood of the Hunter”, #3 “Balek Lives”, #4 "Eyes of the Gorgon”, and #5 “The Bear God Walks!”. Of these stories, I found “Eyes of the Gorgon” to be the best of the bunch. Thomas returned for #6 “Beware the Sacred Sons of Set” and that story's continuation in #7 “The Battle of the Barbarians”. This last story features Red Sonja competing with Conan and Belit on a quest to recover a page from the coveted Book of Skelos.

The major complaint this volume receives is that the last story, “The Battle of the Barbarians”, ends with a cliffhanger. The story isn’t continued in this volume because Dynamite didn’t have printing rights to Conan the Barbarian. The story was continued in Conan the Barbarian #68, published by Marvel in 1970. That story, which also featured Howard’s hero King Kull (and Brule), wrapped up the arc introduced by Thomas in Marvel Feature #6. So, it’s quite a letdown to get this far into the volume and discover it unfinished. But the second volume of The Adventures of Red Sonja features a written recap of those events.  

Overall, I’m delighted with his volume and found it a nostalgic and enjoyable romp through the ages with Red Sonja. If you are interested in more, The Adventures of Red Sonja Volume 2 features Red Sonja #1-#7 (1977) and Volume 3 features issues #8-#14. Dynamite also released a volume titled The Further Adventures of Red Sonja which features more appearances of her in later issues of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Red Sonja #04 - Endithor's Daughter

This fourth installment in Ace's Red Sonja paperback series places the fiery-haired swordswoman in the city of Shadizar, the sister city to Zamora. She's in town searching for work, but struggling for fair payment. Mostly, the jobs consist of guard duty for the various merchants and shippers traveling from Shadizar to neighboring cities. As proficient as Sonja is with a sword, she faces discrimination for being female. The lack of securing a job keeps her planted in this urban city for the entirety of David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney's novel.

In the book's beginning, a man named Endithor is attempting to sacrifice a virgin by stabbing her with a knife. Guards, and a city leader named Nalor, break into the room and arrest Endithor before the girl is stabbed. Endithor declares that Nalor betrayed him, and that the whole ritual was planned by Nalor in an effort to supernaturally dispose of a political rival named Kus. Endithor is placed on trial the same day, found guilty, and then is tortured to death in the city square as an entertaining public spectacle. Endithor's daughter Areel watched the execution while also planning her revenge on Nalor, thus she gains the book's title.

That's a lot to unpack, but ultimately Nalor felt that Endithor was becoming a fearsome political rival and just set him up to die. So who is this Kus fellow? That's the really cool part of the book. In flashback scenes, readers discover that Kus was an ancient warrior who fell to his knees on a corpse-strewn battlefield. Approaching death, Kus is “kissed” by a beautiful woman. Kus discovers that the woman was a vampire and that she cursed him with the eternal gift of draining victims of their blood to remain alive and ageless. With the gifts of immortality, Kus also has the ability to shape-shift, control minds, and fly around. Kus sleeps in a coffin in a cold basement because he can't be subjected to sunlight. Both Kus and Nalor form a partnership to protect each other's interests – Kus staying alive and preying on the city while also killing off any of Nalor's political rivals and foes. 

Where does Red Sonja fit into all of this? Since she is living in Shadizar at the time of Endithor's execution, she begins to find herself embroiled in the political rivalry. She crosses paths with Areel, learns of Nalor's nefarious ways, and discovers Kus's sorcery and vampiric nature. By teaming up with a local bartender, and a group of mischievous kids, Sonja discovers where Kus is sleeping during the day and then, well, I won't ruin this “fright night” for you. 

Needless to say, Endithor's Daughter is an entertaining combination of sword-and-sorcery and Hammer Horror in a not-so-traditional horror presentation. The book's first-half sets up the characters and political strife occurring in the city. The second-half is the quest to find Kus and dispose of Nalor, which takes some time. The book's last 50 pages were exceptional as the story hit its stride and the inevitable “the blade versus the fangs” finally rose to fruition. But, I stress that the reader needs some patience because the novel is heavy on dialogue, less on action. Prepare accordingly, and then enjoy the Hell out of it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Red Sonja #03 - When Hell Laughs

The fiery redheaded barbarian, created by Roy Thomas Jr. and Barry Windsor Smith, first appeared in Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian #23. Since then, she's flourished as a prominent character in Conan's Hyborian Kingdom, created by Robert E. Howard, and pop-culture. I've been slowly reading the Red Sonja paperback series, consisting of six original novels published by Ace between 1981-1983. Enjoying the first two installments, I was hoping the third entry, When Hell Laughs, would continue with the same quality. To my surprise, this is the best installment yet.

After a few pages of When Hell Laughs, I came to the conclusion that the book's authors, David C. Smith and Richard Tierney, were inspired by the 1981 theatrical film Escape from New York. In that film, all of Manhattan is surrounded by a wall and inside are the worst hardened criminals, each sentenced to life terms on the prison island. Inside the walls, it is a total martial law with prisoners having complete freedom to do anything they choose. No guards, no cells, just total anarchy. 

In this Red Sonja novel, the Isle of Os Harku, situated on the Shirki River in Aquilonia, serves as a giant prison isle. The worst traitors, thieves, and murderers are sent to life sentences at Os Harku. The island's prisoners are ruled by the prisoners themselves with a survival of the fittest way of life. In particular, readers are introduced to the novel's chief villain among villains, a Shemite sorcerer named Athu. He learns that a portion of the island is a shunned hillside called Swordskull. It is here that Athu makes a pact with an ancient god to free him from prison. In exchange for corpses and blood, this god will create a way for Athu to escape.

On the river, Sonja is enjoying some rest on a passenger ship sailing down the Shirki River. In these early pages, the character is perhaps the most “human”, enjoying comfy quarters and an actual bed. Further, she looks in a full body mirror to examine her figure and eats at a large buffet table with wealthy aristocrats. It is a really interesting aspect to the character that is rarely seen. But, the contrast plays into the narrative later as Sonja debates the posh life versus the unruly nomadic one. The ship's festivities come to a violent end when a storm, created by this ancient god, crashes the boat onto the rocky coast of Os Harku. 

Although it borrows from other stories, and the premise of Escape from New York, the concept of this ship and its passengers becoming trapped on an island of psychotic maniacs is really clever. As the ship washes up on the shore at night, the authors describe what the passengers immediately see – shadows with knives running in the horizon, figures walking towards the boat, crazy men with crude weapons falling on top of the boat from the darkened trees. Obviously, this is atmospheric survival horror at its best. 

As the panic begins to ensue, Sonja realizes she is the only one with a weapon. Eventually, the narrative expands beyond the confines of the ship to incorporate two rescue crews, internal strife between key villains, and Athu's frightening promise coming to fruition. The finale is rock-solid as Sonja and survivors fight a giant mud monster. 

Needless to say, the body count is extremely high with gory action and suspenseful adventure befitting of the book's ominous title. From the story's exciting premise and concept to Red Sonja's human elements being presented in a new way, this book is worth every penny. It will fetch a higher amount on the market, mostly for Boris Vallejo's cover art, but don't let that steer you away.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Red Sonja #02 - Demon Night

Created by Roy Thomas Jr. and Barry Windsor Smith, Red Sonja made her debut in Conan the Barbarian #23 in 1973. The fiery red-headed barbarian was placed in Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Kingdom as a companion to Conan, but she flourished as a lone hero in comics, magazines, graphic novels, and other pop-culture. She also appeared in a six-book series of Ace paperbacks in the 1980s. I read and enjoyed the series debut, 1981's The Ring of Ikribu, and was gifted four more of the paperbacks by my wife as an anniversary present. I celebrated by reading the series second installment, Demon Night, published in 1982.

Red Sonja is in Eastern Zamora when she awakens to find she is the prime suspect in the assassination of Captain Voss. In reality, Lieutenant Keldum killed Voss to gain one more rung of power, setting up the strange flame-haired warrior as the fall girl. Escaping the posse, Sonja journeys into the desert and rides upon a mysterious city called Elkad. Outlining the city's gateway are the bodies of six women, clearly tortured, mutilated, and very dead. 

Sonja is welcomed into the city and learns that the Elkad are a primitive people that sacrifice virgins to an ancient alien race called the Earth-Folk. Learning of this sort of nonsense, Sonja quickly leaves (in a roundabout way) and heads into the nearby mountains to find a magician that has some control over the Earth-Folk. Aside from a few events, this is really where Sonja's portion of the story leaves off.

I enjoyed the book, but my complaint would be that it was really about a young virgin named Tiamu, an Elkad servant. When Keldum and his henchmen pursue Sonja to Elkad, they enter the city and begin throwing around their weight. Tiamu is fearful that she may be the next sacrifice to the Earth-Folk (a horrible way to die), but is raped by Keldum's rival, and second-in-command. In a sequence of events that mirrors Sonja's origin (raped and then supernaturally gifted), Tiamu begins a reign of terror on Elkad and the invading military. We're talking Carrie at the prom sort of terror. She also has a love interest with a magician's apprentice. 

Demon Night is a weird book that incorporates a lot of sorcery and fantasy elements. I'm not a fan of magic, preferring sheer, sharp-edged violence to battle the monsters and dastardly villains of the Hyborian Kingdom instead. I kept picturing the Earth-Folk aliens, buried in their mountain hideaway, as an L. Ron Hubbard creation right out of Scientology 101. Not my thing, but it didn't detract from the narrative. The authors meander a bit here and there, but overall it's a satisfactory adventure tale worth the investment and exploration. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Red Sonja #01 - The Ring of Ikribu

A common misconception in fantasy literature is that the Red Sonja fictional character was entirely created by Robert E. Howard. The fiery red-headed swordswoman is often affiliated with Howard's own hero, Red Sonya of Rogatino, a female swashbuckler that was featured in the 1934 short-story Shadow of the Vulture. However, the Red Sonja (note the “J”) character didn't appear until 1973 and was created by Roy Thomas Jr. (Ghost Rider, Conan the Barbarian) and Barry Windsor Smith (Wolverine).

Influenced by Howard's Red Sonya of Rogatino, the Red Sonja character made her debut in Marvel Comic's Conan the Barbarian #23. Since then, the character has become a pop-culture icon appearing in numerous comics by multiple publishers and series. Along with graphic novels, action figures, television appearances and a 1985 theatrical film, Red Sonja was also a short-lived paperback series published by Ace. The debut, The Ring of Ikribu, was published in 1981 and kick-started a six-book run of paperback novels with covers by Boris Vallejo. The books were authored by fantasy authors David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney.

The Ring of Ikribu is a powerful gem that can crush or create kingdoms. A powerful sorcer named Astoth is pursuing the ring in hopes of ruling a portion of the Hyborian kingdoms. His search for divine power brings him to the city of Suthad. Off page, Astoth and his army decimate Suthad leaving their King Olin and a thousand soldiers fleeing from the city. It's in this part of the book that Olin meets Red Sonja.

Through alternating chapters, the authors retell Sonja's origin story originally presented in Kull and the Barbarians #3 (1975). Before being raped repeatedly, Sonja watched invading marauders murder her family. After wandering into the forest, Sonja is empowered by a spirit/deity that provides her an uncanny, supernatural swordsmanship. The curse is that she can never love anyone unless they can best her in swordplay. Swearing vengeance, she is now a drifting adventurer that conveniently serves as a blank page for creators to craft countless stories and adventures around. Just like Conan. After hearing of King Olin's losses at Suthad, Sonja teams with the brutish warrior to retake Suthad.

The Ring of Ikribu is similar to a traditional western tale - an action-packed road trip that features a lone hero assisting the downtrodden to overthrow the town bully. In this case, the bully is a sorcerer that conjures plagues of undead combatants, ghoulish worm creatures and phantom ghosts. Sonja rides tall, speaks the truth and shoots straight. Only with a lightning quick sword instead of the six-gun. The authors weave a romantic notion that Sonja and Olin can truly fall in love, but the concept drowns in a murky black swamp (you'll never guess who dies!).

Paperback Warrior covers very little Fantasy, but we seem to be drawn to the pulpy, men's adventure styling of heroic icons such as Conan and Red Sonja. While serving as pillars for the Fantasy genre, the characters themselves could seemingly be interchanged with Ben Haas's Fargo, Jon Messman's Trailsman or Barry Sadler's Casca. The Ring of Ikribu displays the same literary style. If you have avoided the series due to the sword and sorcery wrapping paper, I urge you to rethink your position and try again. Red Sonja can be as badass as Mack Bolan.

Buy a copy of this book HERE