We immediately picture the recognisable red-haired warrior who has grown to be a legendary figure in popular culture when we hear the name “Red Sonja.” The question is, who is this persona known as the “she-devil” exactly? In the short novel “The Shadow of the Vulture,” written by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja was first introduced as a sword-and-sorcery heroine.
The ‘She-Devil with a Sword’ was the name given to Red Sonja when she was later introduced into Marvel Comics in 1973. Let us investigate the beginnings of this beautiful yet powerful fighter who was regarded as the best swordswoman of the Hyborian era!
Brigitte Nielsen scorched the screen opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger as Red Sonja
Brigitte Nielsen played the title character in the 1985 movie “Red Sonja,” which was directed by Richard Fleischer and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the male lead. The imaginary “Hyborian Age” that Robert E. Howard constructed for the film was inspired by the Red Sonja comics.
Sonja’s life was chronicled in the film beginning at a young age, when she was attacked by soldiers of the “Queen Gedren” and left for dead. Sonja’s entire family was slaughtered by Gedren, a despotic monarch, when the little girl turned down the Queen’s demands for sex. The crimson goddess “Scathach” responded to Sonja’s cries of pain as she was drawing her final breaths and bestowed upon her a number of abilities, including speed, strength, and the capacity for combat. Scathach granted Sonja these abilities, but only under the condition that she would not bed any man unless he could outmatch her in combat.
Sonja then started her training with a sword master, remaining away from all men. She also had a sister named “Varna,” who served as a priestess at a neighboring temple dedicated to expelling the mighty “Talisman.” This talisman formed all beings, but it was now imperative to confine it in total darkness before it grew too potent to manage. Before they could defeat the Talisman, Queen Gedren’s army reached the temple’s priestesses and killed some of them while capturing the rest.
Sonja then set out to find her sister with assistance from “Kalidor,” the Lord of Hyrkania. She eventually located her sister, who had suffered severe injuries and was in danger of passing away. Before the darkness annihilates the planet, Sonja was instructed by Varna to locate the Talisman and send it into the darkness.
Sonja was given the option of having Kalidor join her on this quest, but she turned him down and traveled alone to the “Hablock” kingdom’s wreckage. Here, she met the young Prince Tarn and his servant ‘Falkon,’ who told her that Gerden used the Talisman to destroy Hablock when they refused to give up their kingdom. Prince Tarn invited Sonja to work for him, but she refused the offer and then set out to ‘Berkubane,’ where she would find Gerden.
While Sonja travelled to Berkubane, she came across a mountain gate that could only be accessed with some keys owned by ‘Lord Brytag.’ Brytag refused to let Sonja pass just like that, and she had to kill him in order to take the mountain keys. However, Brytag’s troops cornered Sonja after she killed their leader, and she found herself in a tough spot. Finally, Kalidor came to Sonja’s aid and revealed that he had been secretly following her all along. The two continued the rest of the journey together, and Sonja once again came across Prince Tarn and Falkon, who some bandits had now captured. They freed the two men, and the entire party of four set out to Berkubane.
While near the land of the Perpetual Night, Gerden’s radar picked up on their presence, and she allowed Sonja to enter her territory unharmed. Gerden then used the Talisman to create a storm, which left them with no choice but to seek shelter in a watery cave in Icytan. Here, Sonja and the others were faced with a ‘Killing Machine,’ and Sonja and Kalidor defeated the beast together and managed to escape Icytan.
Sonja even got to know Kalidor a little more and then declared that he could not have her unless he defeated her in a sword fight. Kalidor then challenged her to a duel, but it resulted in a draw. After some moments of relief, the group arrived at Castle Berkumane, and they decided that Prince Tarn should stay back while the others ventured inside.
Sonja confronted Gerden in her chambers, while Kalidor and Falkon got rid of her guards in the other parts of the castle. One of Gerden’s men, ‘Ikol,’ had a plan to escape the castle with all the gold they had seized from Hablock, but Prince Tarn got a hold of him outside the castle gates and crushed him to death by the castle’s door.
Sonja and Gerden finally faced each other, and the evil Queen realized that she was no match for Sonja without some help from the Talisman. Gerden rushed to the Chamber of Lights to find the Talisman, but its powers caused the chamber’s door to fling open on its own. Moreover, the Talisman had cracked open the castle’s grounds, and a chasm of hot lava flowed beneath the floor.
Sonja finally used her sword to corner Gerden and pushed her through the floor and into the hot lava. She even flung the Talisman in the lava, thereby destroying it and sending it into darkness. All these events also caused the castle to fall apart, and Sonja, Kalidor, and Falkon rushed out of the place just in time. While Tarn and Falkon headed back to Hablock with their rightful gold, Kalidor managed to defeat Sonja in a duel, and the two shared a kiss as the movie came to an end.
Red Sonja also appeared in other media, such as the cartoon show ‘Conan: The Adventurer’ which was also set in the Hyborian age.
The rich comic book history of the character
Sonja’s origins could be traced back to the Hyborian age, wherein a gang of mercenaries killed her parents and brothers when she was just seventeen. These men even raped Sonja, burned down her house, and took away all their possessions before leaving her behind in shame. Sonja was then bestowed her powers by the goddess ‘Scathach,’ and she soon became a fierce, red-haired warrior who could defeat just about anyone in combat.
Though Sonja was initially a supporting character for Conan, her swordswoman persona paired with her striking bikini-clad appearance became a massive hit with the audience. Sonja was famously known for her red hair and bikini armour, and she was brought in even more frequently in the Conan comics.
By 1975, Sonja’s character became even more popular, and Marvel comics decided to give her a feature in the Spider-Man comics in 1979. Red Sonja later got her own comics that ran for 15 issues, while she kept being a part of the Conan series.
In the Spider-Man comics, Sonja’s character travelled through time to modern-day New York after her body was switched with that of ‘Mary Jane.’ Here, Sonja fought along with Spiderman to defeat ‘Kulan Gath,’ a fierce adversary from Sonja’s time. Sonja and Spider-Man defeated Kulan together, and Sonja then returned back to her own era.
In the 1980s, Marvel issued two miniseries as well as a complete volume of Red Sonja comics. Her appearance was altered from a bikini armour to a blue tunic, and this reboot went on for thirteen issues before it ended. In 1995, Marvel released the last ‘Red Sonja: Scavenger Hunt’ comics, and ‘Dynamite Entertainment’ then brought back this character in the 2000s.
Dynamite Entertainment got the rights to publish a Red Sonja comic, and they even brought back her classic bikini-clad look for this series. These comics were a huge hit and marked Red Sonja’s return to popularity. In 2007, Marvel partnered with Dynamite Entertainment to issue a miniseries featuring Red Sonja and Spider-Man.
In 2008, her character was killed off in the 34th issue of the Red Sonja comic series, after which she travelled through the underworld for a brief period. In the next issue, Sonja returned to life as a different woman from a different time and place. Her reincarnation was known as ‘Lady Sonja of Dorn’, and she lived a comfortable life waiting for her husband’s return. Lady Sonja was also related to the original Red Sonja, who was referred to as a legendary warrior in Hyrkania. This version of Sonja had the physique of a noblewoman and did not possess all the same abilities as her older versions. However, she soon picked up her fighting skills and unleashed her terror on ‘Lucan Martur’ and his gang of pirates who had seemingly killed her husband.
In 2014, Red Sonja comics were rebooted by writer ‘Gail Simone’ who altered Sonja’s origin story and gave her a new background. In this reboot, Sonja was named ‘Sonjita,’ and she was the Hyrkanian village chief’s daughter. After some raiders attacked their village, Sonjita remained the sole survivor of this attack and learned to survive on her own in the wilderness. Sonjita learned to hunt and even tracked down all the raiders that attacked her village and killed them one by one. She was later captured and put in an area to fight for about three years, where she picked up on incredible fighting skills and took on the name ‘Red Sonja.’
Let us now explore some of the major story arcs from the Red Sonja comics that display the strength and ferocity of this mighty warrior.
While Sonja was travelling around the world, she came across a bunch of bandits who were trying to attack a messenger. Sonja intervened and got rid of these bandits, almost taking them out from a distance using her bow-and-arrow. She then approached the man, who told her that he was a ‘messenger of Gathia’ and was trying to convey a message to the Zedda tribes. Sonja sets out on a journey with him to Gathia, and the messenger tells him that their city has become quite pure and that she is only allowed there because she saved his life.
However, the messenger soon started choking after drinking some water from a pond, and a strange monster started slithering out of his mouth. Sonja had to kill him to stop the monster from coming out of his body, and she later visited Gathia all alone. She had carried the messenger’s decapitated head as proof, and the citizens of Gathia even seemed to recognize her.
However, they refused to believe that there was something impure or corrupt about the waters or even their city. They believed that she was trying to stir up trouble, and the soldiers of Gathia soon launched an attack on Sonja. While Sonja tried to kill off these soldiers one by one, she fell and slipped through a trapdoor. Sonja found herself trapped within this city, and she passed out only to wake up and find that she had been chained. Sonja was then brought in front of a priest who asked her to worship the ‘Celestial One’ that had allegedly purified the entire land of Gathia.
Sonja refused to accept the Celestial One as her god, and the Priest declared that she had to die in that case. Though the Priest killed Sonja by stabbing her in the chest, he later came back to revive her using dark magic. The next day, Sonja woke up in perfect condition, and the Priest then introduced himself as ‘Fa.’ He stated that they needed her help to get rid of the Celestial One and told her that he used a ‘Blade of Vaven’ to kill her before bringing her back to life to ask for help. Though Sonja felt fit, the blade of Vaven was still wedged into her body.
The Priest further told her that the blade must be returned back to the Idol where he got it from, or else she would surely die. Sonja was initially reluctant to help him, but the Priest told her that he also wished to take down the Celestial One. Finally, Sonja agreed to help him, and the two set out for the ‘Idol’ along with Mika, Kang, Solath, and an acquaintance named ‘Osin.’
When they finally reached the Idol, Sonja removed the blade from her chest when Solath showed her true colours and betrayed the team. She killed Mika and Kang before Sonja stepped in and killed Solath in an instant. Sonja later passed out, and Osin took care of her until they could continue the journey together. Priest Fa later reappeared and talked to Sonja about how Solath was working as a spy and that even he had no idea despite knowing her for a very long time.
Moreover, Fa told Sonja that the ‘Zedda’ leader needed help defeating the Celestial One since he destroyed their houses by opening up a dam. However, the Zedda were then revealed to be the same bandits that had been attacking the Gathia messenger initially, and they turn up their noses at the thought of accepting help from Sonja. The Zedda leader challenged Sonja to a duel and later sneakily attacked her when she looked away. Sonja’s reflexes acted quickly to deflect this attack, and she even killed the Zedda leader by stabbing him with a knife.
The rest of the Zedda then bowed down to Sonja as their new leader, and the entire group even prepared for a special dinner. At night, Sonja got some alone time with Osin, and the two talked about the Celestial, Sonja’s travels, and the condition that she cannot be with any man unless he defeats her in a fight. Osin then jokingly tries to defeat Sonja, but she deflects his attack.
The next morning, the group prepares to attack the Celestial’s kingdom. Sonja, Osin, and one of the Zedda easily managed to enter his kingdom, and they killed all the guards when they heard the cries of trapped children. Sonja discovered that these noises were coming from a basement, but they reached the place to find that the kids were demon spawns. Though Sonja was hesitant to kill them initially, she eventually got rid of them and finally arrived in the Celestial’s room. The Celestial was already prepared to duel her, but Sonja used her powers and knocked his helmet off.
She then learnt that the Celestial was actually a Zedda in disguise, and she quickly killed him with her knife. Sonja first cut his neck open and then cut off his arms before flinging him off a ledge and into a water body. However, she also lost her balance and ended up falling into the water with Osin, and she was later unable even to find Osin.
Sonja’s mission was successful, and she then headed to a different town where women and children were being mistreated after the men had gone off to fight in wars. She offered to help them, but the women turned down her help, and Sonja decided to head to a bar instead.
At the bar, she was given some spiked drinks that caused her to fall unconscious, and some men then showed up to kill her. It seemed that the villagers had a plan to kill Sonja, but she somehow managed to regain her consciousness and killed all the men present there. She then left with all the village’s children, but not before tying up the bartender that served her the spiked drinks.
Sonja later went to another bar and picked fights with random men before running into a man named Ander who needed her help. Ander asked Sonja’s help in escaping from some pirates, and she agreed to accompany him to the harbour. They set off in a tiny boat and then walked through forests when Ander revealed that he was on a mission to find some information about his father.
The pirate’s leader ‘Gorkon’ had told Ander that his father had died at sea, but the boy believed that there was more to this. He and Sonja finally came across a cave and discovered a treasure chest. Ander even picked up a stone that showed him what had truly gone down with his father. Ander learned that Gorkon had killed his father when the pirates themselves arrived at the cave. Sonja helped Ander defend himself against the pirates, and finally, the boy killed Gorkon and avenged his father’s death. Sonja helped get rid of Gorkon’s group of pirates, and the two then parted ways.
Sonja later ran into a group of people that worshipped the Celestial and even carried out rituals on other people as a part of their worship. Sonja killed all these people and then travelled to a village where she discovered that everyone had been killed off. She only found a young girl named ‘Karena’ who some men had attacked.
Sonja then decided to find the men responsible for massacring the entire village and even attacking Karena, and the young girl also followed Sonja to the men’s base camp. Sonja even helped Karena with some basic training, and it turned out that she was quite skilled at archery. The two of them got rid of all the men and soon parted ways after Karena returned to her home.
After Karena returned to the village, a strange man sneaked up on Sonja and tried to attack her. While Sonja fought him off, she saw that the man had Karena’s decapitated head in his hand. While Sonja was disturbed to see this, Osin reappeared by her side, and the two of them escaped this mystery man by taking shelter in a temple’s ruins. A ‘behemoth’ saved them, and a man later showed up and revealed that he had sent the behemoth to save their lives.
The man introduced himself as ‘Suumaro’ and told Sonja that the ‘Goddess’ sent him to find her. It seemed that Suumaro’s father ‘King Quillo’ has been possessed by the ‘Dark Shadow’ after his father fell for the Dark God known as ‘Borat-Na Fori.’ Sonja agreed to help him and wondered if the Goddess that directed Suumaro to her was the very same Goddess who gave her powers.
Sonja and Suumaro finally reached the mountains around the Dark God’s castle, where they learned that a witch was giving birth to the son of an evil god ‘Kulan Gath.’ They first decided to kill this child when all hell broke loose, and Suumaro somehow located his father amid all the chaos. However, he was unable to get rid of the Shadow’s influence on his father, while Kulan’s son possessed Sonja’s horse and threatened her. Finally, the Goddess appeared at the scene and advised them to find the Old Gods and awaken them from their sleep.
Osin, Sonja, and the father-son duo travelled for a long time in search of these Gods and faced many attacks, especially by Kulan’s evil son. King Quillo eventually killed himself to free himself from the clutches of the Dark Shadow, and the rest of the group met ‘Kaleval.’ Sonja tried to persuade Kaleval into helping them and told him that he would be worshipped if he aided them in getting rid of the evil. They all decided to return to Hyrkania, where they could find a special blade that could summon an entire army.
Back at Hyrkania, Sonja managed to get her hands on the sword, but chaos soon ensued as Kulan Gath’s son showed up to fight them. Finally, the demonic son managed to summon Kulan himself, and Kaleval died during these fights. The mystery man who had earlier tried to attack Sonja once again made an appearance, and Sonja was forced to fight him.
Sonja got on a boat while fighting him and was almost about to deliver the final blow when the water current caused her to lose balance. Osin stayed by her side and helped her regain balance while the mystery man managed to escape. Though the boat seemed to be floating in risky conditions, Osin, Suumaro, and Sonja somehow made it through the journey and survived in the end. While Sonja was not satisfied with the mission ending on such a note, she knew that she couldn’t do much and decided to get some rest for a while.
What makes Red Sonja such a deadly warrior?
Red Sonja was bestowed with her powers by the red goddess ‘Scathach’ and was quite a deadly warrior as a result of this. Sonja was always at the peak of her physique and had super speed, strength, agility as well as inhuman reflexes. She was also a skilled swordmaster and had defeated various potent enemies with the help of her sword.
Besides the sword, Sonja could also get the hang of other weapons with little effort, and she was highly skilled in handling a variety of weapons and even constructing them out of minimal resources when required. She was also good at archery and could take down several opponents from a distance with just a bow and some arrows. Sonja was even skilled at hand-to-hand combat and had been trained in various martial arts forms.
When Red Sonja was put in a risky situation, her anger caused her to go into a ‘berserker fury’ which increased her strength and caused her to take out many opponents single-handedly. After years of travelling across the Earth, Sonja became skilled at navigating places, tracking down people, and even covering her tracks. She was even quite adept at disguising herself or moving in stealth without being detected by anyone.
She also had a lot of stamina and could endure pain and keep going in extreme conditions for much longer than humans. She could bear severe weather even in just her bikini armour and was immune to most human conditions.
Sonja was watched over by the Goddess Scathach, who acted as a guardian angel that protected this fierce warrior in risky, life-threatening situations. While Sonja was quite skilled at fighting battles on her own, the divine protection that was given to her by this Goddess only made her more powerful, and others greatly feared her.
Everything you need to know about the ‘Red Sonja’ reboot
Millennium Films announced a Red Sonja reboot movie in 2017, but the film had some trouble getting off the ground as there were some issues with the director at the time. The X-Men director ‘Bryan Singer’ was set to direct the movie in 2017, but he was dropped after some sexual assault allegations came up and the movie was put on hold. Later, Joey Soloway was set to direct the movie, but this did not hold ground either, and Soloway soon backed out as well. Finally, it was decided that M.J. Bassett will direct the film and that filming would begin in 2022.
In 2021, the Hollywood Reporter reported that ‘Hannah John-Kamen’ was selected to play the titular role, and that Sacha Baron Cohen was to play the role of the evil ‘Kunal Gath.’ However, later news reported that Hannah John-Kamen is also likely to quit this movie after Joey Soloway backed out of being the director in 2021. While there has been a lot of back and forth regarding the cast and crew, hopefully, the film will go into production soon, and then we can enjoy it in no time!
To sum it up, Red Sonja has been an integral part of pop culture and has quite a widespread presence across various comics and series for a very long time. Sonja has managed to stand the test of time and is still a widely popular character who is being written into newer series and comics. If done right, the new Red Sonja project can be a huge showstopper, and we look forward to it!