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Red Sonja #1

Red Sonja #1
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Illustrated by Aneke
Colored by Jorge Sutil
Dynamite Comics

A couple of years ago, I hosted a panel at the North Carolina Comicon to talk about Women In Comics, and I was so excited to get to sit next to Gail Simone, a writer who coined the term Women In Refrigerators to spotlight the mistreatment of female supporting characters, a writer who got my brother to read Batgirl, a writer whose work brought representation of transgender, bisexuality, and polyamory in an unfailingly feminist voice. And I was loving everything she had to say, and I was feeling complacent, so I asked Jamal Igle, the artist who put modest shorts on Supergirl, about costumes on female characters being ridiculous and objectifying. And the room got quiet. And everyone looked at Gail. Because she was writing Red Sonja, the woman in the chain mail bikini. I blushed and went numb – had I insulted an industry great? She answered the question perfectly, saying that she was put off by the bikini but loved the challenge of getting to know this amazing woman and her rich history, and she understood the character as feeling uncomfortable in excessive clothing. She took a cheesecake icon and allowed the character to assume ownership of her look, shifting the book out of the male gaze. Gail Simone went on to write a critically celebrated run on the character, culminating in Dynamite’s massive Swords Of Sorrows crossover last fall. But I admit I was too embarrassed to pick any of it up.

This week, the book relaunches under the pen of Marguerite Bennett, a woman who wrote Ultimate Comics’ recently-reviewed erotic horror series, Insexts, and the delightful 40s-era DC Bombshells. I don’t have a ton of experience with the character, and this issue was a perfect starting point. In it, Sonja slays a monster but fails to use its body to heal her king. As he dies, he offers her the throne, and she declines, knowing her She-Devil skills wouldn’t translate well to political games. A year later, she returns to find her kingdom prospering peacefully under a mysterious new king, and the reader is treated to several funny scenes of how bored she is with nothing to smash before the final scene reveals a darker side to Hyrkania’s good fortune.

Three things sold me on this book. First, it was accessible and fun. I haven’t read any Sonja or Conan books and didn’t think I’d like a barbarian comic, but Bennett loves this character and obviously enjoys showing her humor and power. Second, Sonja is an openly bisexual character, made explicit with a few illustrated daydreams, and I am always happy to support sexual diversity in my comic books.

Third? As you can see from the cover, Red Sonja is now wearing a tank top instead of a bikini. I loved Gail Simone’s ownership of the bikini top, but now I have a comic I wouldn’t have to explain if caught reading. Maybe that makes me shallow, but I love how sexy Sonja is even without seeing her belly button.

Come on down to Ultimate Comics, where you can pick this up alongside a copy of Bennett’s Insexts. And get ready for more panel discussions at the Oak City Comic And Toy Show April 16 at the Raleigh Convention Center – I can’t promise it will get awkward, but let’s just say the odds are good.

-MATT CONNER for Ultimate Comics