Friday, September 28, 2012

Red Sonja: She-Devil With a Chain Mail Bikini

Marvel Feature #1 (November 1975)
"Red Sonja"
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 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!


Edo Bosnar said...

Oh, man, that is some really pretty artwork. Earlier this year, I bought the first two Savage Sword of Conan phonebooks published by Dark Horse, and I can see why Marvel's sword & sorcery titles got so popular almost immediately: Smith and Buscema at the top of their game, plus occasional stories drawn or inked by Adams, Maroto, Kane, DeZuniga, etc.
By the way Doug, although Maroto and Adams certainly had similar styles, I can see quite a few specifically Maroto elements in the art: in the figure work (their poses and posture) and also the way he draws Sonja's face, especially on that first page.
As for the story itself, you're right: it certainly pushes the envelope more than even the Conan stories I remember reading in the spinner-rack color series. This is definitely Savage Sword material.

david_b said...

I agree, it's very pretty art, although I'd admit my eyes get distracted by how lovingly the main character's drawn, quite a feast.

(Take it away, Doug.. Sorry old friend, couldn't resist.)

I never noticed the rear shot of the ol' Red on the cover corner...

As for the story, it does seem pretty typical sword material. Aside from complaints from purist collectors, the updated coloring suits this very well, like with Smith on those Conan reprints.

Doug said...

Edo and David --

Thanks for the enthusiastic comments. I guess I grossly overestimated how this issue/topic would resonate with our readers! Shoot -- barbarians, bikinis, and swordplay... How has that not lit up a day-long discussion?

Anyway, I'll be back in a couple of weeks as I said with the second issue. I'm really looking forward to receiving the tpb I mentioned at the end of the post -- if I feel like there's a market out there, I'll review "The Song of Red Sonja".

Thanks again, good and loyal commenters -- and have great weekend!


J.A. Morris said...

Honestly, the only Red Sonja story I ever read was the Marvel Team-Up where Mary Jane gets taken over by the spirit of Red Sonja, here it is,featuring gorgeous Byrne-Austin art:

Edo Bosnar said...

J.A., I'm pretty sure that issue of MTU was the first Red Sonja story I've ever read; it's also my favorite single issue of that series, and one of those rare floppies that I actually took the trouble to repurchase. Yes, the art is just gorgeous, but it's also a pretty fun story as well - Claremont came up with a really clever, non-time travel, non-dimensional portal or whatever way to bring those characters together.

Doug said...

J.A. --

I have to confess that this was the 1st Red Sonja story I ever read -- and about a week ago! But, silly as the character's "look" might be, it was a fun read.

Be forewarned, though, that the re-coloring is very poorly executed in the next issue I'll review (MF #2 (1975)).


david_b said...

" Barbarians, bikinis, and swordplay..."...? Oh, heavens, count me in, I'm all for it. You know my eye for 'morning cheesecake'.

I think Red Sonja's great..!! As much as I've seen her on covers and FOOM write-ups, I'm just not familiar with her (nor most sword/sorcery genre) stories, so this has been a wonderful introduction. Love the overall majesty of the art, lushishly drawn.

Looking forward to more, and I definitely have to pick up that MTU issue.

Anonymous said...

Count me in as well. You know, Frank Thorne has a much more risque character named Ghita, who I think he somewhat modeled his take on Red Sonja after. I believe the stories with Ghita originally ran in Heavy Metal.

Thanks for the review, Doug. Good weekend to you, too!

Anonymous AKA Adam

Garett said...

I'm always impressed by Maroto's illustrations. His illustrations in the Conan novels were fantastic, my favorite work of his.

His comic work seems stiff to me, like the images don't flow as well as they should, or lack impact in the action. This story is probably the best I've seen, especially with Adams inking--looks great. And he certainly draws scrumptious women! Actually if he'd drawn Red Sonja full time, I think I'd've become a big fan.

Thorne's art was always distinctive. I remember reading a few of his as a kid. Kubert's art is rough and grew on me, Thorne's hasn't. Some of his erotic stories are interesting.

I think I like Sonja best when she guest-stars in Conan.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, I have this very issue (a reprint in black & white, not in colour)in a Savage Sword of Conan mag lying around here somewhere.

How many people know Red Sonja was loosely based on an earlier Robert E. Howard character called Red Sonya of Rogatino? I wonder if REH was alive today if he would recognize this modified version of his original character? Apart from the red hair and fiery temper? Hmmmm .....

Similarly, in REH's original Conan stories he was a crafty warrior, unlike the bare-chested loincloth wearing bodybuilder superhuman killing machine we have seen in recent decades, especially in the Marvel comics and the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring movies.

This is just my personal opinion, but I'm tempted to think that REH envisioned Conan as more of a pseudo-historical figure like Prince Valiant (square cut dark hair and all) than the pumped up superhero most people are familiar with.

Red Sonja (as opposed to Red Sonya) is really a creation of then-Marvel scribe Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor Smith. The iconic chainmail bikini is of course rightly credited to Spanish artist Esteban Maroto. While the mail shirt is more practical, let's be honest here folks - she's famous now because of the chainmail bikini!

Right now, I'm reading 2 Conan novels - Conan the Swordsman by DeCamp, Carter & Nyberg and also Conan the Avenger by REH/DeCamp. Good stuff.

- Mike 'barbarian in spirit, not in appearance' from Trinidad & Tobago.


Esteban Maroto obvious was a fan of Rachel Welch,in Bedazzled.She wears a bikini,that looks allot like Red Sonja's bikini.Check out art on my blog.


How many people know Red Sonja was loosely based on an earlier Robert E. Howard character called Red Sonya of Rogatino?WE ALL DO.Too bad Bob Howard wasn"t a Stan Lee and have all his creations in one reality,like Burroughs did

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