Eric Trautmann's more realistic costume for Red Sonja

Inspired recently by a fellow Viner's blogs I decided to take a quick look back through some of the more recent issues of Dynamite's Red Sonja title that I have laying around. See I have collected Red Sonja (and Conan) since my childhood days back in the seventies and Sonja is one of my all time favorite characters. Unfortunately the stories surrounding this awesome character are usually poorly written and if I am being honest, Red Sonja is more of a visually interesting character to me and has been since I was a kid. This means that I am woefully behind in my reading of the title. But something recently jumped out at me, and that was a change in Sonja's costume.

Now anyone relatively familiar with comics knows the iconic Frank Thorne metal bikini. Entire anthologies have been written with titles like "Chicks in Chain-mail" etc. And there are many discussions concerning the impracticality of this chain-mail bikini and how it is just a manifestation of fanboy fantasy. I can attest that just a cursory reading of the articles in the early pages of Savage Sword of Conan by Roy Thomas and Frank Thorne do nothing to counter the debate. They are quite unapologetically enthusiastic over the Sonja character and the early costume related fun at 1970's comic conventions. Indeed it is early "cosplay" complete with photographs and actually quite a bit of varitey. In fact Elfquest creator Wendy Pini features quite prominently in this early Red Sonja cosplay.

In a recent article here on Comic Vine with current Red Sonja writer Eric Trautmann he discusses some of his thoughts on Sonja's iconic costume and lets us know that there will be some changes. True to his word by issue 51 we can see Sonja's costume move from the iconic to the more historical and in my opinion the more practical. Here are a few examples:

Red Sonja Issue 54
Red Sonja Issue 62

Now these variations only seem to last until issue 63 just as Trautmann states in his article and again the costume changes to one quite reminiscent of Xena's by issue 67.

Red Sonja Issue 67

Now I personally really like the first two images. In fact I was very excited about the possibilites that opened up upon seeing them. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing and sexy as all get out, they are also practical and look bad-ass. Might something like this free Red Sonja as a character to become something more than a sexual icon? Might we get to really look beyond the exterior and get to really see the formidable character who is the equal of the iconic Conan the Cimmerian? Might it enable new generations of readers to become interested because Sonja is no longer a fanboy's dream and a disrespected laughingstock in some circles?

However, the third image troubles me. On the whole it does look pretty cool and is also fairly historical and practical. But you probably notice what I am talking about. The "panty-peak". In fact the entire issue is loaded with them. They make me uncomfortable and seem quite gratuitous and grade school. It is probably just an artist thing, but it is one I wish the artists would avoid. It seems like a set back in my opinion.

I have yet to sit down and read the full story arc but I plan to move it up on my list of priorities now. I know the iconic chain-mail bikini will never completely go away, but I am gladdened to see someone experiment and make some in roads by ironically increasing the overall appeal of a great character by reducing the juvenile appeal of a 1970's throwback.

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7 Comments
Edited by lykopis

Very interesting read. For me growing up, Red Sonja made me very uncomfortable for the overtly sexual posturing and yes, that iconic chain mail bikini. I do love the first two panels, even from a fashion stand point, the loose tunic-like chain mail top is gorgeous, along with the Xena-like skirt. But of course --- panty alert. I mean, really? And FYI -- if us women were going to wear a skirt that has the potential to flash our panties, it definitely would not be the colour of tight-whities. **rolls eyes**

Red Sonja is on my to-get-to list though. Thanks for the heads up in that its worth it.

Posted by Glitch_Spawn

I actually love this now one. But the testosterone in me is like " Where did the side boob shots go?!"

Edited by kuonphobos

@Glitch_Spawn said:

I actually love this now one. But the testosterone in me is like " Where did the side boob shots go?!"

Don't worry about that. Red Sonja will forever be linked to the chain-mail bikini. She's back in it by issue 63 and in flashbacks. However Trautmann did say he would keep experimenting with variations. One example is the third pic which only appears in the intro stoyline set in Khitai beginning in issue 67. She is in the chainmail bikini for the remainder of 67 and 68.

@lykopis said:

And FYI -- if us women were going to wear a skirt that has the potential to flash our panties, it definitely would not be the colour of tight-whities. **rolls eyes**

LOL! In Issues 67 and 68 I counted seven more tightie-whitie flashes! I can only imagine if a character like Hercules or Conan (who both wear a variation of a tunic skirt or "fuzzy undies") went about in bright white undies!

Makes me think of this fellow:

Edited by mercuryeric

No disrespect intended to the various artists who've worked on the title, but I tire of the "panty peeks," too. There's occasionally a language barrier between me and the artist, and they are (presumably) looking at prior iterations of the character and mirroring what's been established. I can do a fair amount, but there's a limit to what I can and can't change.

Mostly, I switch her costuming around from time to time because, in the context of the setting, it's not a "costume"—it's clothing. During my first arc, you see the Barry Windsor-Smith costume (to anchor it in a specific, pre-meeting-Conan timeline), and slowly adjusting it as situations demand she don more effective armor. I switch back to the "bikini" in the Stygia storyline because it IS a part of her visual "history" (and because the warm climate made it seem more appropriate—albeit still impractical, but there's a certain license one can assume in a Hyborian tale). By the time she gets to Khitai, she's shipwrecked with limited supplies so handy changes of clothing are absent.

I'm monkeying around with it a bit more in the next arc, as well, and I'm hoping (knock wood) to introduce a plate mail design I ran across that looks really interesting. Fingers crossed.

Best,

-E

Posted by kuonphobos

@mercuryeric:

Well I know that the metal bikini is intrinsically linked to the character and will never fully go away. Personally I don't mind it so much as (like you said ) there is some wiggle room in the Hyborian setting. Plus it is kinda sexy.

I was wondering if there were any pressure on you "from above" or "from fans" to keep her in the iconic get up at all times?

I do appreciate the efforts to change things up every now and again. (Again like you said) we are talking about clothes after all. She can wear what ever she wants or what ever she can get her hands on.

Thanks for your input. You have a great character there and we readers appreciate what you are doing.

Posted by mercuryeric

Absolutely none, in the case of Red Sonja. I altered her attire in my first issue of the title and no one seemed to care or indeed even notice.

On Vampirella, on the other hand... phew. Boy howdy did I get pressure from fans. One guy called me "a Hitler" because I put pants on Vampi.

Late in the Vampirella run was the first time I've been hit with editorial mandate on a character's costuming. It was intensely frustrating, because it occurred at the worst possible moment in the run I was on, so it was problematic just to make it work on the page, but that's part of the deal doing work-for-hire.

-E

@kuonphobos said:

@mercuryeric:

I was wondering if there were any pressure on you "from above" or "from fans" to keep her in the iconic get up at all times?

Edited by kuonphobos

Well that is great that there is no pressure to conform as far as Sonja goes. I for one look forward to more stories with costume variations. For me the same is true for Conan. Whe he shows up on the page in some historically probable emsemble and not his "fuzzy undies" I am very excited. I guess I bring some of my amateur historian to bear. It just makes things seems more grounded.

And I really think it is interesting that there is a line to tow regarding Vampirella. I have seen some of the images of her in street clothes (it has happened in the past every now and again) and I don't see any problem with it. Actually it kind of modernizes her and she looks bad ass in jean and a leather jacket with sunglasses walking through a dark alley or some such. I mean really, didn't the 70's go-go boots go out of fashion a little while back?

Take care.