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Red Sonja #29

Posted: Monday, January 28, 2008
By: Ray Tate

Michael Avon Oeming, Brian Reed
Homs, Vinicius Andrade
Dynamite Entertainment
Robert E. Howard's "Shadow of a Vulture" introduced readers to Red Sonya. In form she was much like the character for which Roy Thomas and Frank Thorne became famous. She was lithe, had fiery hair and a warrior's spirit which she aimed squarely at the Turks. A Russian by birth, Sonya fought wielded saber and gunpowder while being fully clothed, decorated in furs.

The chain-mailed Hyperborean Sonja bore the spirit of Robert E. Howard's creation in terms of ferocity. She was a vengeance driven heroine patronized by a goddess and was mostly a paean to feminism.

Sonja's ilk was popular in the seventies. A woman would be raped. She would get tough then get even. Such examples of cinema include They Call Her One-Eye and I Spit On Your Grave. All grindhouse of course. Hollywood wouldn't touch such a thing. The twist of having no man having Red Sonja unless she was beaten also attempted to address an entrenched feminist movement. Whereas Wonder Woman at the time was still mooning over Steve Trevor, Sonja would moon over nobody. You wanted her? Fight her, if you dare.

Any feminist message from Red Sonja is now dead. Oeming and Reed murder any pretense of feminism in the finale of this much hyped arc that pits Sonja against her Marvel foe Kulan Gath. First a few words about the arc. Too damn long, and if this is the pay off, it was absolutely worthless.

Oeming and Reed make Sonja into a vegetable homunculus created by the Goddess who has now been relegated to mortal sorceress. Sonja is essentially a potato. I've encountered this trick before in the abysmal Doctor Who novels of Virgin publishing. The sterile Time Lords arose full grown from genetic Cuisinarts. Essentially, they were potatoes. The gimmick has a much older origin. It's really just adding a coat of black enamel to the gold of Wonder Woman's clay origins. Sonja's new origin fails therefore to break any ground, and we were better off with the widely known vengeance trail.

By removing the deific from the Goddess, Oeming and Reed turn Sonja's patron into merely a psychotic bitch out to get her ex, Kulan Gath. In the course of reading this hateful exercise, you will learn that the Goddess shaped Sonja's life in more ways than one. The Goddess we learn framed Gath for the murder of Sonja's parents. Gath didn't do jack to Sonja. The Goddess sent out the thugs who wore Gath's symbol, and the Goddess was responsible for Sonja's rape as well as the murder of her family. Gee, I guess "sisters really are doing it for themselves."

How is this story better than the simpler one? One may argue that it removes the chastity belt, but that device was only an impediment in the quality of the man. The idea was that only a man who could beat Sonja in battle was worthy of her. It wasn't going to be some slovenly thug like one of her rapists. It wasn't going to be even a cunning, evil warlord. No. Only the noble Conan and maybe King Kull, the Robert E. Howard heroes, could possibly have beaten Red Sonja. This makes sense given the divine intervention. Destiny would choose only the best for Sonja. This was a reward, not a punishment.

Oeming's and Reed's story really does forge the chastity belt Sonja wore all these years. In their story it wasn't a goddess who set these rules. Instead, a very mortal sorceress decided that if she wasn't going to have any sex, neither would Sonja. It's almost fundamentalist Christian in philosophy.

Is there anything good in this story besides the artwork? No. In fact, I'm striking Red Sonja off my pull list. I'll still pick it up for the art, but Oeming and Reed have ruined this character. They have taken away her humanity. They have robbed her of purpose. They have erased her history.



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