- In the Red Sonja ongoing series, which depicts Red Sonja's life as a wandering adventurer, Sonja has made a powerful enemy of Strabonus, the insane ruler of the kingdom of Koth, who has put a price on her head.
- Sonja is currently under the employ of a merchant named Osric, who hired her to protect his caravan as it journeyed to Luxur, the capital city of the desert realm of Stygia.
- During the journey Sonja fought and destroyed Akim-Mekht, the chosen champion of the ancient Scorpion God.
- She then helped Osric outrace a rival merchant's caravan to Luxur, only to be confronted by armed guards at the gates of the city.
- In the Queen Sonja ongoing series, which depicts the royal stage of Red Sonja's life, Sonja liberated the downtrodden kingdom of Sogaria from the oppression of the Emoran Empire and became Sogaria's queen.
- After successfully defending her people from the threat of Thulsa Doom, Sonja made plans with her ally, Zartur, to protect Sogaria from Emoran reprisal.
- Sonja and Zartur launched a covert operation to cause a war between two opposing factions within the Empire while also instigating a slave revolt, throwing Emora into chaos. In retaliation, Emoran Emperor Antonious marched his vast army to Sogaria with the intention of crushing Sonja's kingdom. Sonja countered by leading a daring raid on the Emoran capital of Nicola and seizing the Imperial treasury.
- Sonja then challenged Antonious to a duel for the possession of the Empire's riches. Antonious unwisely accepted the challenge and Sonja killed him in personal combat.
- With the victory, Queen Sonja has become Empress Sonja, but she must now defend her new title from Imperial wizard Koliostri, who is determined to destroy her.
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."
Though the comic book version of Red Sonja was created 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. Sometimes they would even come 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 2008, the original Red Sonja character met her apparent death in Red Sonja #34, and journeyed through the underworld while contemplating her life and destiny. She was then reincarnated into the body of a different woman of another time and place in Red Sonja #35, beginning a new continuity in the series.
Her reincarnated form was that of a married noblewoman named Lady Sonja of Dorn, living a wealthy and sheltered existence and longing for the return of her beloved husband, Lord Daniel. She was a distant relative of the original Red Sonja, who was now legendary for being the most beautiful and fearless woman in Hyrkania. Upon Lord Daniel's return, the couple was betrayed by Sonja's own sister, Verona, and her husband, Lord Lucan Martur. In a bid for greater power, they had arranged for Lord Daniel and Lady Sonja to be attacked by a ruthless band of pirates. Taken by surprise, Daniel was slain and Sonja was brutally assaulted and left for dead. Her life was saved by Osin, who was a bard companion in Red Sonja's previous life and now a seasoned warrior. After the original Sonja had died, Osin had accepted the curse of Claw the Unconquered in exchange for the ability to locate Sonja's reincarnated form and train her to be the invincible warrior she once was.
However, the reincarnated Sonja now only had the physique of a sheltered noblewoman, making Osin's task difficult. Though she was able to exhibit flashes of her former reflexes, she no longer possessed the peak-level athleticism or formidable powers granted her by the goddess Scathath (whose own divine powers had also faded due to belief in her having waned). But like her original incarnation, Sonja proved to be a quick study and regained considerable fighting skill faster than expected. She then disguised herself and infiltrated Lucan Martur's gang of pirates in order to get closer to her husband's assassins and exact revenge, which she eventually accomplished.
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
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
Red Sonja heads out with Mika, Kang, Solath, and an old ally, Osin. They head into the forest where they have to leave their horses due to terrain problems. They finally arrive at the idol, Sonja then takes the blade out of her chest when Solath betrays them, killing Kang and Mika. Sonja is forced to stab Solath with the blade in her neck, killing her quickly. Sonja then passes out once again. Osin tended to her wound and eventually Sonja would re-awaken. Osin wants to exact revenge for his fallen friends, and continues the journey with Sonja. Sonja and Osin then run into the savage bandits that Sonja saved the messenger from earlier. Fa emerges from the group and Sonja is angered that Solath was a spy for Celestial. Fa said that he knew her since childhood and would’ve trusted her with his life, but it does not calm Sonja down. Fa then reveals that the Zedda had come to them for help since the Celestial One opened the dam and destroyed their homes. The Zedda leader is angered that they are allying themselves with the woman who saved that Celestial messenger and killed many of his men. He challenges Sonja to a fight, but Sonja backs down after Fa convinces her it is not the time. However, the Zedda leader thought otherwise, he leaps at her while her back was turned. Sonja turns in time to catch him while stabbing a knife in the Zedda, killing him. The others bow to their new leader, Red Sonja. Fa goes over the attack plans with Sonja and one of the Zedda. Afterwards, they prepare for a big feast. Later that night, Osin and Sonja talk to each other about the Celestial. They begin talking about her travels and how big of a legend she is. Osin then mentions that he likes that “she will not sleep with a man until he has beaten her in battle” part. He then tries to sucker punch her but she catches it and flips him on his back. Later that morning, they begin their assault on the Celestial One’s kingdom. Sonja, Osin, and a Zedda named Borg were able to enter the kingdom easily. They kill all the guards that are in their way, afterwards they see their ally Borg hurt. They pick him up and they are all ready to fight to the end. They hear children screaming for help in the dungeon, to which they tend to. However, the Children were some kind of demons and they are trapped inside with them. At first, Sonja could not bring herself to kill the children, however they turned out to be demon spawn so there was no guilt in killing them. As they headed up stairs, they encounter a giant snake-like monster. Borg would sacrifice himself for Sonja and Osin to continue on. Sonja eventually arrives at Celestial’s room, where he is ready to battle her. They begin battling each other and Sonja would be able to knock off his helmet. She discovers that Celestial is really a Zedda in disguise. She then grabs a sword and slices his neck, she then cuts off his arm and knocks him off the ledge. Sonja and Osin fall off the ledge also, but Sonja lands in the water. She searches for Osin but could not find him.
Sonja goes to a bar and gets drunk again. She gets into another bar fight with the drunk men there. After she humiliates them, she talks to a young man named Ander, who is seeking her help. He asks her to help him escape from the pirates keeping him, to which she agrees. They run to a harbour then grabbed a small boat to sail off in. They were able to escape and land nearby safely. They walk through the forest and he tells her that he is trying to find out what his father had learned, but Gorkon (the pirate leader) told him that his father died at sea, to which they both did not believe very much. They enter a cave and discovers the treasure chest. The only thing inside it was a small stone, but it was activated when he touched it and he saw what really happened to his father. It was Gorkon who murdered his father. Gorkon and the pirates arrive and Ander is ready to fight them. Sonja defeats the other pirates while Ander battled Gorkon. Ander was able to stab and kill Gorkon. Afterwards, they part their separate ways.
More Celestial Followers
Sonja runs into an area where some of Celestial followers are performing a ritual on a girl. Sonja kills them and demands to know more about other Celestial generals. However, the man was killed before he could say anything. Sonja travels to a nearby town to discover a massacre, everyone there was dead. She discovers a surviving girl buried under rubble. She takes the young girl to a house with survivors to tend to her wounds. Sonja begins reminiscing through her memories about the time she played with her father’s sword. Later, Sonja decides to go after the men who did this to the village. While she was sleeping, the girl named Karena she saved followed her, wanting to exact her own revenge. Sonja decides to teach her how to fight, later that night they sneak into the men’s camp and attack them. Karena turned out to be a very good archer, however, in the shadows a mysterious man is lurking, ready to attack Red Sonja. She teaches the girl a more on strategy now, and they ready their attack again. Both of them snipe the guards from afar. They continuing picking the guards off, however, Sonja was attacked by a mysterious stranger. The stranger then flees after he misses his attack, Sonja heads inside to where Karena was. She had the leader tied up already. Later that morning, Sonja and the girl part their separate ways. Karena takes the heads of the men and the leader back to her village as a trophy.
The Next God Trouble
As Red Sonja watches Karena head back to her village, she is attacked by that same man that attacked her earlier, and he drops a decapitated head next to her. They eventually begin battling each other. His swordsmanship rivalled Red Sonja, and as they clashed swords and struggled, he bit her arm, to which she bit his shoulder back. However, she quickly discovers living vines coming out of her hand, similar to the way the messenger died. He knocks Sonja onto the ground and reveals the decapitated head to be Karena. Just as he was about to slash Sonja with a sword, Osin arrives and distracts him. Osin then engages against the monster as they fall into a temple in ruins. However, before they could fight more, a giant behemoth comes crashing in, causing them to fall underneath to a hidden area. Sonja was knocked unconscious, but she would eventually reawaken after she dreamed about the time when she was raped, and her first time meeting the Goddess. After Sonja wakes up, the man reveals his name as Suumaro, and that he was once a prince. He also reveals that he sent his behemoth in to save them from being killed, but the behemoth was killed protecting them. He tells her that his Goddess told him to seek out Red Sonja to help him with his problem. His father, King Quillo, has been taken over by a great evil. He reveals the Dark Shadow that has taken over his father, and it surprises Sonja. The Borat-Na Fori is the Dark God who his father fell in love with. Luckily for Suumaro, Sonja had been seeking out this God her whole life, killing all those loyal to it. She agrees to help Suumaro and mentions that they have to destroy the baby the Witch is bearing, which is the son of a terrible God named Kulan Gath. They begin to go after the Dark God, as they were resting, Sonja asks Suumaro about the Goddess that helped him. It surprises her that it might be the same Goddess that granted Sonja her powers. They quickly finish up and head off again, as time is running short for them.
They finally arrive on the mountains nearby the castle, and are scouting the area. They decide to just burst in and kill anyone in their way. Meanwhile, the Witch just gave birth to Kulan’s son, as he bursts through his mother’s stomach killing her in the process. Sonja and the others are being chased by guards and are forced to fight after they kidnapped Suumaro’s possessed father. Her horse’s head was decapitated but was quickly possessed by Kulan’s son and threatens Sonja. Suumaro tries to snap his father out of it but is unsuccessful, then the Goddess shows up. However, only Sonja and Suumaro sees her and Osin does not. She tells them that they must seek out the Old Gods and wake them from their slumber. They start their journey, looking for the Old Gods. Traveling through snowy mountains, their horses would eventually die from tiredness. While climbing the mountain, Osin was carrying the mad King, but he struggles too much and Osin drops him. Sonja catches him safely, but they are interrupted by an avalanche. A monster then rises out of a pond nearby controlled by the Kulan’s son. The monster crashes into the icy walls and causes them to collapse, Sonja and the others are forced to run from the area or else they’d be crushed. They were able to avoid getting crushed and they prepared to fight the monster. Sonja charges in and stabs it in the face, defeating it. The group continues forward and discovers heat leaking, eventually finding the entrance to the temple. Suumaro’s father this pokes his own eyes out and kills himself in order to be free. Then, Kaleval emerges and demands to know what they want. Sonja pleads for help but he attacks them because they are not Gods. Sonja then jumps and attacks him, however he defeats her easily. They finally convince him after telling him about the new evil and how he can be praised and worshipped if he helps them rid the world of this new evil. Sonja tells Kaleval about a blade that is in her homeland of Hyrkania. He tells her that they will go there and get the sword, while Suumaro forms an army with whatever they had.
They arrive back at her homeland to discover the river is covered in blood. Sonja jumps into the river of blood to go after her sword, to which she does successfully and then emerges. Later that night, Sonja talks with Kaleval and mentions that he already knows what happened to her in Hyrkania, and that a man finally defeated her in battle. The two of them make love near the fire. Sonja and Kaleval head back to the gathering place to prepare for battle. The next day, they take their armies and battle against the evil forces. Sonja and Sumaro headed straight for Kulan’s son. Sonja and Suumaro engage against Kulan’s son and their fight begins. Sonja would be overpowered by the demon, but Kaleval was able to come in and aid her. Unfortunately, Kaleval was not strong enough and had his heart pulled out by the demon’s bare hands. Just as he taunts at Sonja and eats the heart, she sneaks up behind him and decapitates him. Meanwhile, Osin is forced to battle against the mysterious man that kept ambushing Sonja earlier. Osin gets his left arm cut off, but luckily, after Sonja decapitated the demon, the man Osin was engaged with began to lose his mind. However, killing Kulan’s son did not do any good, as it opened the door for Kulan Gath himself to enter. Osin grabs Sonja and escapes as the place is being destroyed. Sonja wanted to finish off Kulan as it was her destiny. They continue running as the place continues to collapse. They arrive at a boat and takes it down stream. However, Sonja was grabbed by the mystery man and is forced to battle against him. Osin jumps off the ship tied with a rope to go after Sonja, just as Sonja was about to deliver to killing blow, Osin grabs her and pulls her back onto the boat. Some of them decide to sleep while the current takes them somewhere, however when they wake up, they discover a water fall right in front of them. Everyone falls off the water fall but were able to survive. Sonja feels that she has failed her mission, however, there was nothing they could do but rest for now.
Finding their next Journey
Sonja, Suumaro, and the remaining of their army arrive at the area where Suumaro’s kingdom was being held. It was being held on a lone piece of land with vines wrapped beneath it. Suumaro agreed to just cut the vines and let it fall, as it is better then letting it continue standing the way it was now. Quickly afterwards, a group of flying beasts attack Sonja and company. Some where captured by a net, but Sonja was able to escape. The man beasts do not follow them into the jungle as it is already a death sentence. The group is attacked by living vines again, killing some more men. Luckily, some beings that reside in the jungle save Sonja and her men, then they took her to their village. Sonja learns more of the man beasts called Leijona. They also tell Sonja about an Old God that has been dead in their pond for a long time, and that she should seek it out for help. Sonja decides to jump in the pond and grab the key down there. However, after she grabs it, she is attacked by a sea-beast. It knocked her out but she was rescued quickly. Sonja and her men then went to seek the help of Gaimad, the lord of the El-Hazar. Gaimad then gives them some information before he teleports them unknowingly to their captured friends. They were easily defeated and have become the prisoners of the Leijona. Sonja convinces the Leijona leader to allow them to live for a bit longer, to which he agrees and sent them to the dungeon. In the dungeon, Sonja uses the smoking pipe she received from Gaimad and figures out what to do. Sonja and the others set up a play for them, performing a story that the Leijona absolutely loved. The play was successful and the Leijona allowed Sonja and her men to leave. The play also helped the Leijona and the El-Hazar to be in speaking terms with each other again. The next morning, they prepared their ship and sailed off.
- Gender: Female
- Height: 5' 11"
- Weight: 130 lbs (59 kg)
- Eyes: Blue
- Hair: Red
- 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
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.
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 film received poor reviews and was a commercial failure despite the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, co-starring as a thinly disguised version of Conan.
Conan The Adventurer (1998 TV series)
In 1998, Red Sonja made an appearance in the short-lived live action Conan the Adventurer television series, in the episode appropriately titled Red Sonja. She was portrayed by red-haired actress/model Angelica Bridges. Sonja wore bikini armor in this appearance, though it was made of leather, not scale mail. She was sent by her village to aid Conan in a quest to rescue a kidnapped young wizard. When Sonja arrived, one of Conan's companions asked why the village sent a woman instead of their best warrior. Sonja shot back, "They did send their best warrior, mule brain."
Red Sonja (proposed remake)
More recently a completely new Red Sonja feature film was announced, originally scheduled for release in late 2009 or early 2010. The film was to be produced by Robert Rodriguez, directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, and actress Rose McGowan was cast in the title role. It was intended to be a full reboot that ignored the 1985 film, with Sonja's arch-enemy Kulan Gath featured as the film's main villain. At least three different promotional posters for the film were released, all featuring McGowan wearing a chain mail bikini (which differs from the scale mail usually depicted in comics). A completed script was confirmed, but filming was postponed by various production and funding delays. The project was then cancelled when McGowan suffered an injury that caused permanent strength and mobility loss in her right arm (which would have been her sword-wielding arm when portraying Red Sonja).
Afterward, Nu Image/Millennium (the studio behind the 2011 Conan the Barbarian remake) bought the film rights to Red Sonja from Rodriguez's studio. New producer Avi Lerner tabbed Simon West (director of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) as the director and reportedly wanted actress Amber Heard to star as Red Sonja, though the role has not been officially cast. The studio hoped that the Conan remake would do well enough that they could release Red Sonja as a follow-up. Unfortunately Conan was a box office failure, which did not bode well for the prospects of a Red Sonja remake. However, in February 2015 it was announced that Christopher Cosmos was hired to write a new script for the film, indicating the project is still under consideration.
Awards and Honors
- 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.