Marvel Feature #1 (November 1975)
Roy Thomas-Esteban Maroto/Neal Adams/Ernie Chan
Doug: Since female fashion was among the lead conversations of our nominating process for our currently-winding-down Bracketology: Dressed for Success polls, I thought we'd check in on a couple of the ladies who were at the forefront of the discussion. Today, and scattered in the coming weeks, I'll be checking out (well, you know...) the she-devil with a sword, Red Sonja, and the Earth-2 Supergirl known as Power Girl. I'll actually give Red Sonja two reviews, as we don't see the penciler most associated with her, Frank Thorne, until Marvel Feature #2. So shall we get on with it?
Doug: Marvel Feature #1 contains two Red Sonja stories, each about 10 pages long. Since Karen and I are working on quite a few comics reviews for the coming weeks, I'm going to cheat you out of one of those stories today and review only the first one -- by Roy Thomas and Esteban Maroto, with Neal Adams and Ernie Chan on the inks. You're so deprived... By the way, the second tale was produced by Roy Thomas, Dick Giordano, and Terry Austin, with the title "The Temple of Abomination!" I'm using Dynamite Entertainment's The Adventures of Red Sonja, Volume 1 tpb as my resource; you'll notice that it's been recolored, similarly to the content in Dark Horse's Chronicles of Conan series of trades. Due to the panel lay-outs of the story (which was originally presented in the B&W mag The Savage Sword of Conan #1 -- Red Sonja's fourth overall appearance), I'll be providing a few full-page samples for your viewing pleasure!
Doug: We pick it up with Red Sonja on mount, leaving the gates of a city. As she rides slowly by, two guards try to draw her attention; but she's in no mood to converse -- instead her mind drifts back to her arrival in the town of Pah-Dishah, and a meeting with its king, Ghannif. King Ghannif was served by an albino strongman, Trolus, ever by his side. Red Sonja was charged with going to the sister-city of Makkalet and stealing a serpent-tiara, that had been part of Ghannif's daughter's dowry. Ghannif charges her to bring it back -- and she'll get the richest reward he can bestow. Ever the mercenary, Sonja accepts the offer. She rode with other mercenaries, and arrived to Makkalet as if she was its protector. However, meeting a northerner named Conan, she tricked him into burglarizing the city's treasure tower -- here we get a recap of "The Song of Red Sonja", complete with images of Red Sonja in the full chain-mail shirt. As others have commented during our Bracketology series on Bronze Age costumes, this is a much more practical look.
Doug: Once the tiara was in her hands, and not without much trouble, she rode back to see King Ghannif and collect the fee owed her. Unfortunately (for someone, you know), Ghannif orders his guards to seize Sonja. Her prize will be to become a member of Ghannif's harem! And to show that he has a heart of gold, Ghannif offers Sonja's "services" to Trolus, after the king has had his own way. Trolus seems somewhat reluctant... Ghannif orders Sonja to be taken away, to be cleaned and prepared. Once with the handmaidens of the court, Sonja still displays her fire, but soon decides to go along with it all -- for now.
Doug: Brought back to the royal chambers, it's a new Red Sonja who begins to cuddle with King Ghannif. She questions why Trolus remains in the chambers, but is told that he is never out of Ghannif's sight, nor vice versa. Sonja rolls with it and begins to press up against the king. There is much innuendo in this portion of the script, and I was surprised at how steamy it was getting, given that this was on sale in a standard four-color comic -- it certainly played as if it was created for the B&W line (which, as I said above, it was). Sonja asks about a "small dagger" tucked in Ghannif's mid-section -- he tells that he only uses it for "certain ceremonial purposes". She draws it, and jumps away. He reacts, but she asks why one appointed by the gods should need fear such a small knife. The next thing Ghannif knows, that small knife is embedded in his throat and he breathes his last.
Doug: Trolus comes near, screaming at Sonja for her actions. He is furious, not so much for Ghannif's death, but because of his death he fears he'll lose his place of privilege. He fights as if possessed. Sonja steals a broadsword from a guard, guts him, and engages Trolus. The albino slave really never had a chance. While he rails against her, saying he'll die now a toothless beggar, Sonja says she'll spare him a long life -- and crashes her sword against the back of Trolus' waist. After leaving the royal bedchambers, she locates and changes into her own "clothes", then mounts her horse and rides through the city gates -- where this tale began.
Doug: This was a nice story -- nothing out of the ordinary for a Marvel sword-and-sorcery mag. I was a little disappointed that the plot never twisted -- I thought it was pretty predictable all the way through. I think it would have been a good entry point for readers who'd missed Red Sonja's earlier appearances in Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword... -- it's all here: her seductive looks, the bit about no man being allowed to touch her lest he best her in combat first, etc. The art was very good; this is Esteban Maroto's first work to be discussed on our blog -- further research shows that he began his career with Warren's magazines before moving to the Marvel line around 1973. I'd almost have rather seen him inked by someone other than Neal Adams -- I see so much Adams, it's difficult to tell anything about Maroto. I'd solicit some help from our readers in finding any presence by Ernie Chan on the inks -- I just don't see him. However, it's possible that he only inked the backgrounds while Adams did the figures. That was not uncommon as practice back in the Bronze Age. At any rate, I'll be back in two weeks with a look at Red Sonja's second solo outing, this time under the penciler most associated with her.
Post script (Thursday evening, 9:30 PM) -- I just purchased a used copy of The Chronicles of Conan, volume 4 (on bookbyte.com) after a week of searching both online and through a couple of LCSs in the Chicago southland. While I have a B&W reprint of "Red Nails", I'd wanted the color version -- and this book also contains "The Song of Red Sonja" -- be looking for a review of that story in the coming months!