Red Sonja: what works about this character?


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With the publication Pathfinder Worldscape, we now have pathfinder stats from the She Devil with a Sword. Now, Red Sonja is a controversial character, not the least because of her armor.

  • What about the character works?
  • Are there some other female literary characters that share those features?


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    Keep in mind that the Red Sonja from literature is not the chain mail bikini creation of Marvel Comics. Red Sonya of Rogatine is a leather jack pirate who wields a cutlass and three flintlock pistols.

    THAT character with the addition of a laser pistol to the flintlock collection, was recreated as Maria of the Tres Pistolas, captain of a flying dimensional traveling pirate ship for a Stormbringer module, daughter of her world's version of the Eternal Champion.

    Incase anyone is wondering. the reason Maria uses both a laser and the flintlocks is because she has no means of recharging the former's power pack, and so is very sparing in it's use.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:

    Keep in mind that the Red Sonja from literature is not the chain mail bikini creation of Marvel Comics. Red Sonya of Rogatine is a leather jack pirate who wields a cutlass and three flintlock pistols.

    THAT character was recreated as Maria of the Tres Pistolas, captain of a flying dimensional traveling pirate ship for a Stormbringer module, daughter of her world's version of the Eternal Champion.

    You are correct. The Red Sonja that appears in Worldscape is based on the Gail Simone reboot of Roy Thomas's character (and Esteban Maroto's artistic interpretation).

    However, I still want to restate what I asked above.

  • What elements of the character actually work? (Is the visual the only reason the character remains popular?)
  • What other female protagonists have similar attributes to what works for the character?


  • Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

    Well, Deja Thoris also engages in swordplay in a state of partial undress...


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    Lord Fyre wrote:
    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:

    Keep in mind that the Red Sonja from literature is not the chain mail bikini creation of Marvel Comics. Red Sonya of Rogatine is a leather jack pirate who wields a cutlass and three flintlock pistols.

    THAT character was recreated as Maria of the Tres Pistolas, captain of a flying dimensional traveling pirate ship for a Stormbringer module, daughter of her world's version of the Eternal Champion.

    You are correct. The Red Sonja that appears in Worldscape is based on the Gail Simone reboot of Roy Thomas's character (and Esteban Maroto's artistic interpretation).

    However, I still want to restate what I asked above.

  • What elements of the character actually work? (Is the visual the only reason the character remains popular?)
  • What other female protagonists have similar attributes to what works for the character?
  • 1. It's a character whose outfit is essentially a bikini, she has the fetish Amazon element in that she won't do the thing with a man who doesn't conquer her in fair combat, and lots of skin in a comic book magazine marketed mainly to undersexed boys. I think you can figure out the rest of that answer.

    2. Wonder Woman... various minor female characters in pulp inspired comics... Vampirella..

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

    Cole Deschain wrote:
    Well, Deja Thoris also engages in swordplay in a state of partial undress...

    True, but everyone on Barsoom fights that way.

    Also, in the Edgar Rice Burroughs's original stories, she did very little actual fighting.

    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    1. It's a character whose outfit is essentially a bikini, and lots of skin in a comic book magazine marketed mainly to undersexed boys. I think you can figure out the rest of that answer.

    So she is purely her visual image. :(

    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    2. Wonder Woman... various minor female characters in pulp inspired comics... Vampirella..

    Okay. Not the answer I was hoping for, but probably true.


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    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

    If we're not using the original Red Sonja, no need to be tethered to the original Dejah Thoris...


    Cole Deschain wrote:
    If we're not using the original Red Sonja, no need to be tethered to the original Dejah Thoris...

    Except that the iconic Red Sonja is the comic book version - the original is little known.

    While Dejah Thoris tends to be known, if recognized at all, as John Carter's love interest, maybe with a hint of wearing nothing but jewelry. :)


    Just a quick correction about that not being with a man u less he conqures her. That was the gimick with the old Sonja.The Gaiman Sonja is more like Conan in how she conducts herself, which is a breath of fresh air. There is even a scene where she insults a man who conducts himself by her old incarnation's credo. This verson even wears armor more often than not, although this seems to depend on if she wants to leave an impression or just kill someone who needs killing.
    From what I understand, this is the Sonja we're dealing with here.
    As for Dejah and John, idk.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Captain Kuro wrote:

    Just a quick correction about that not being with a man u less he conqures her. That was the gimick with the old Sonja.The Gaiman Sonja is more like Conan in how she conducts herself, which is a breath of fresh air. There is even a scene where she insults a man who conducts himself by her old incarnation's credo. This verson even wears armor more often than not, although this seems to depend on if she wants to leave an impression or just kill someone who needs killing.

    From what I understand, this is the Sonja we're dealing with here.
    As for Dejah and John, idk.

    Though, it appears that Dynamite Entertainment has gone back to the "chainmail bikini" look.


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    Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
    Lord Fyre wrote:
  • What other female protagonists have similar attributes to what works for the character?
  • There are some similarities to Telerie Windyarm, from Larry Elmore's SnarfQuest comics.


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    What about this character works?

    What is that question supposed to mean?

    Works as a successful literary character?

    Works as a trope?

    Works as a marketing tool to sell comics?

    I mean, it is a sort of vague question. Red Sonja, as a comic book iconic character, is popular because of the way the character was drawn and written (you can look at several comics featuring female characters in the 1950s thru the 1970s and see that not all of them stood the test of time). Many comic books have presented scantily dressed, provocatively posed female characters on their covers and in their pages, and this will, generally, sell comic books, but it requires both art that catches the consumers interest, and writing that catches the consumers imagination, to keep selling comic books, and in that regard, Sonja hit a mark that not all similar comic books achieved.

    So while it is easy to say, "she is drawn in a way that is not overtly "too" sexual (think Rob Liefield)while still suggesting the generally accepted form of a young male fantasy," you would need to take a look at the stories themselves to see what elements were included that captured the readers imagination, and kept them buying the books issue after issue.

    I own several Red Sonja comics, and I can tell you that my opinion is that the Marvel Comics of Red Sonja in the 1980's were formulaic, simple, and entertaining. The art was not especially unique for the time, and the character was written no different from any other Marvel, female, protagonist (she may as well have been Carrol Danvers, or Jennifer Walters, wielding a sword in a savage world).

    So, maybe break down your question into specifics, and you might see better answers.

    I'll Start

    "Does Red Sonja, as a representation of an unattainable female partner, work only because she is not given a specific love interest, or does the character "work" as a protagonist regardless of the wish fulfilment aspect of generally represented female characters in early to modern comics."

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Terquem wrote:
    I mean, it is a sort of vague question. Red Sonja, as a comic book iconic character, is popular because of the way the character was drawn and written (you can look at several comics featuring female characters in the 1950s thru the 1970s and see that not all of them stood the test of time). Many comic books have presented scantily dressed, provocatively posed female characters on their covers and in their pages, and this will, generally, sell comic books, but it requires both art that catches the consumers interest, and writing that catches the consumers imagination, to keep selling comic books, and in that regard, Sonja hit a mark that not all similar comic books achieved.

    This is the most "on point" answer to my question.

    You have refined the question to "why has she stood the test of time?" So, it is now clear to me that it was a combination of three factors.

    • Sexy artwork.
    • Connection to an even more popular character at the time (Conan).
    • Above average writing.

    Then after a certain point, the character reaches a "self-sustaining" level of popularity.

    Terquem wrote:
    So while it is easy to say, "she is drawn in a way that is not overtly "too" sexual (think Rob Liefield)while still suggesting the generally accepted form of a young male fantasy," you would need to take a look at the stories themselves to see what elements were included that captured the readers imagination, and kept them buying the books issue after issue.

    Her "unattainability"?

    Terquem wrote:
    "Does Red Sonja, as a representation of an unattainable female partner, work only because she is not given a specific love interest, or does the character "work" as a protagonist regardless of the wish fulfillment aspect of generally represented female characters in early to modern comics."

    You're right.

    The second part of my question should have been: "Does the character 'work' as a protagonist regardless of the wish fulfillment aspect of generally represented female characters in early to modern comics?"


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    One critical, and often overlooked aspect of the typical comic book female character presented as "unattainable" is the subtle promise that only the "right" type of man will win her heart. Each reader is supposed to assume that they possess those qualities, projecting themselves into the story, in their own imagination and in their own way, so that they feel that, they are the one who will be the greatest lover she has ever known, while maintaining a belief that it is actually something very unique about themselves that makes this possible.

    So even if a young male or female reader reads

    "only if you defeat me in single combat"

    other clues will be suggested that imply that there is another way, and the reader will transfer these clues, often vague and highly undefined, onto traits that they see about themselves that they believe others do not see in them, thus creating a psychological connection to the story that is real and very strong.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    So, I need to re-ask:
    "Does the character 'work' as a protagonist regardless of the wish fulfillment aspect of generally represented female characters in early to modern comics?"


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    Lord Fyre wrote:

    So, I need to re-ask:

    "Does the character 'work' as a protagonist regardless of the wish fulfillment aspect of generally represented female characters in early to modern comics?"

    No one else with an opinion?


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    Heh.

    My first exposure to her was in the old (terrible) film.

    My views were always on television, and I never saw the beginning - for the record.

    To me, she was awesome because she was a powerful, skilled blademaster who was (relatively) clever and actually seemed to have a code of honor.

    (I was young. Please be gentle.)

    Those were the traits that made me think she was cool - that, combined with the fact that she was a woman, made me like her for those reasons.

    It was very similar to the reasons I liked Conan, except Conan was a man (and thus cool for that reason).

    So... that's my reason for liking her. The film is objectively bad, and, now that I've seen it, I can't believe I ever got that impression... but there you go. I've never actually read the comics, and was only vaguely aware that such things existed. I've never been interested, really - books and films are good enough.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Tacticslion wrote:

    Heh.

    My first exposure to her was in the old (terrible) film.

    My views were always on television, and I never saw the beginning - for the record.

    To me, she was awesome because she was a powerful, skilled blademaster who was (relatively) clever and actually seemed to have a code of honor.

    That was my feeling. And you (we?) are not alone. When Gail Simone took over the project, she was surprised by the number of women who were (or wanted to be) fans of the character.

    The biggest stumbling block for many women was the rape and that she "magically" gained her strength and skill - rather then gaining them the old fashion way (i.e. training). Note that this was the primary thing Gail Simone changed.

    This is/was an even bigger issue that the "infamous" chainmail bikini (Remember, Conan - in the comics - normally wore only a loincloth). But, a problem for many female fans is that artists (especially at MARVEL) most often drew her in "sexualized" poses, rather then "strong" poses (like a male character would seen in) - but that was not unique to this title.


    Makes sense; I actually never saw the rape or magic stuff until many years later, - I always came into the film too late for that - and I still haven't read the comics, so it never influenced my take on the character. To me she was always just kind of a solid swordswoman.

    I was actually introduced to the concept of a chainmail bikini mostly by the jokes about such things in a generic sense among D&D nerds when I got into that. And, I guess, Lia when she was a slave? I don't know if that counts (whatever that outfit is).


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    Gail Simone Sonja = best Sonja.

    She, it seems to me, behaves like a barbarian swordmistress would behave, essentially doing whatever she likes and not giving a flying **** what you think.

    Frank Thorne Sonja was good as well, but much more... '70s.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Ummm ... why was this moved?


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    good question

    It's a discussion about the character, not the Paizo Licensed Product that includes the character

    Hmmmm

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Terquem wrote:

    good question

    It's a discussion about the character, not the Paizo Licensed Product that includes the character

    Hmmmm

    Of course, then it would be under Comics. :)


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    Well, it was a good discussion while it lasted

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Terquem wrote:
    Well, it was a good discussion while it lasted

    I think commentator Tacticslion, nailed it though.

    Tacticslion wrote:
    To me, she was awesome because she was a powerful, skilled blademaster who was (relatively) clever and actually seemed to have a code of honor.

    Her artwork served to draw buyers to the comic, but it would not have kept them if the writing was not also strong.


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    Hey! I helped! Yay!

    (Also, didn't see this after it got moved. Not that I could have added much... XD)

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Different Question:

    Does Red Sonja have any recurring supporting characters?

    Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

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    Yeah. A few, though far far fewer than you might expect. Especially if you don't count Conan, who features in about half of her classic Marvel adventures. Gail Simone's second Dynamite Dynamite arc introduced a series of artists and friends gathered by Sonja that seemed to me to be clearly intended to fill-out Sonja's supporting cast. Six issues after that, Marguritte Bennet incorporated a couple of these characters in fairly minor ways, but after her run it's been a bit of a dry spell in terms of a "main" Sonja ongoing, with the focus on crossovers (including mine, woo hoo!) and one-shots, so far as I'm aware. Her new ongoing sends her to modern day New York City, so while that series has a background cast, it'll be new to the character. Who knows? Maybe she'll stay in New York forever! :)

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Erik Mona wrote:
    Yeah. A few, though far far fewer than you might expect. Especially if you don't count Conan, who features in about half of her classic Marvel adventures. Gail Simone's second Dynamite Dynamite arc introduced a series of artists and friends gathered by Sonja that seemed to me to be clearly intended to fill-out Sonja's supporting cast. Six issues after that, Marguritte Bennet incorporated a couple of these characters in fairly minor ways, but after her run it's been a bit of a dry spell in terms of a "main" Sonja ongoing, with the focus on crossovers (including mine, woo hoo!) and one-shots, so far as I'm aware. Her new ongoing sends her to modern day New York City, so while that series has a background cast, it'll be new to the character. Who knows? Maybe she'll stay in New York forever! :)

    Sadly, that makes sense. Her "unattainability" (her vow) was a selling point during the Marvel run, but it would make remaining part of any adventuring fellowship a problem.


    I liked it when Marvel took her out of the chainmail bikini (after being the ones who put her in it), and quite frankly, I consider Pathfinder's new venture for this character, a giant step backward for a company that's so progressive in other venues.

    I'd have prefered a Seelah solo series myself.


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    Limeylongears wrote:

    Gail Simone Sonja = best Sonja.

    She, it seems to me, behaves like a barbarian swordmistress would behave, essentially doing whatever she likes and not giving a flying **** what you think.

    Frank Thorne Sonja was good as well, but much more... '70s.

    Save that Red Sonja in all her incarnations, was not a barbarian, but either a fighter or swashbuckler depending on what source you're using. It's one of the things that highlights the difference between her and Conan, who IS a barbarian.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    Limeylongears wrote:

    Gail Simone Sonja = best Sonja.

    She, it seems to me, behaves like a barbarian swordmistress would behave, essentially doing whatever she likes and not giving a flying **** what you think.

    Frank Thorne Sonja was good as well, but much more... '70s.

    Save that Red Sonja in all her incarnations, was not a barbarian, but either a fighter or swashbuckler depending on what source you're using. It's one of the things that highlights the difference between her and Conan, who IS a barbarian.

    Except that Red Sonja (at least in the Marvel version) did Berserk. The Barbarian (or Bloodrager) are the only Pathfinder Classes with that ability.

    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    I liked it when Marvel took her out of the chainmail bikini (after being the ones who put her in it), and quite frankly, I consider Pathfinder's new venture for this character, a giant step backward for a company that's so progressive in other venues.

    My opinions on this issue are (for good or ill) well known.

    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    I'd have preferred a Seelah solo series myself.

    The Paladin Iconic?

    Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

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    I'd be interested to hear where in the Marvel run Red Sonja "goes berzerk"? I've recently acquired every canonical appearance of the character from 1973 to 1986. I've read up through 1978 and no "berzerk" yet. Not saying it doesn't happen. If it dies I'd love to see how it's handled.

    Sovereign Court

    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Pawns Subscriber

    I think people are confusing Red Sonja with that lady barbarian from Harmonquest.


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    Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    Save that Red Sonja in all her incarnations, was not a barbarian, but either a fighter or swashbuckler depending on what source you're using. It's one of the things that highlights the difference between her and Conan, who IS a barbarian.

    Characterizing Conan as a barbarian in the D&D/Pathfinder sense - e.g. a raging berserker - is iffy at best, and a flash-point in debates. While some more recent incarnations (including those with game stats) have nodded in that direction, that's not really how Howard's original character is portrayed.


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    Alzrius wrote:
    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    Save that Red Sonja in all her incarnations, was not a barbarian, but either a fighter or swashbuckler depending on what source you're using. It's one of the things that highlights the difference between her and Conan, who IS a barbarian.
    Characterizing Conan as a barbarian in the D&D/Pathfinder sense - e.g. a raging berserker - is iffy at best, and a flash-point in debates. While some more recent incarnations (including those with game stats) have nodded in that direction, that's not really how Howard's original character is portrayed.

    Not any more than Sonja was a chain mail bikini pinup with an Amazon fetish... that's all Marvel Comics. Stormbringer! was the only RPG that did a true writeup of the original character, even though they couldn't use her actual name, so she became Maria of the Tres Pistolas.


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    Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    Alzrius wrote:
    Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
    Save that Red Sonja in all her incarnations, was not a barbarian, but either a fighter or swashbuckler depending on what source you're using. It's one of the things that highlights the difference between her and Conan, who IS a barbarian.
    Characterizing Conan as a barbarian in the D&D/Pathfinder sense - e.g. a raging berserker - is iffy at best, and a flash-point in debates. While some more recent incarnations (including those with game stats) have nodded in that direction, that's not really how Howard's original character is portrayed.
    Not any more than Sonja was a chain mail bikini pinup with an Amazon fetish... that's all Marvel Comics. Stormbringer! was the only RPG that did a true writeup of the original character, even though they couldn't use her actual name, so she became Maria of the Tres Pistolas.

    The differences between Howard's original "Red Sonya of Rogatino" and Marvel Comics' "Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword" can best be summarized as "completely different characters." That has nothing to do with the issue of whether or not Conan can be accurately characterized as a barbarian, in terms of what D&D/Pathfinder class you'd assign him, since the character of Conan in every incarnation can be directly traced back to Howard's original stories, whereas the same can't be said of Red Sonja (with a "j").

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

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    Erik Mona wrote:
    I'd be interested to hear where in the Marvel run Red Sonja "goes berzerk"? I've recently acquired every canonical appearance of the character from 1973 to 1986. I've read up through 1978 and no "berzerk" yet. Not saying it doesn't happen. If it dies I'd love to see how it's handled.

    Interesting, because Dynamite's own Red Sonja site specifically calls out that ability.

    Paizo Employee Publisher, Chief Creative Officer

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    Yeah, that's weird. It's literally not a factor in any of the Marvel _or_ Dynamite stories I've read, though in fairness I've probably read only about a third of the Dynamite stories from the pre-Simone run, so you never know.

    I honestly suspect D&D influenced that write-up of Sonja more than the comics did, but if I'm wrong I'll know soon enough, since I have pretty much all of these comics and will read them all some day! :)

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

    I have the misfortune of owning RS1 Red Sonja Unconquered. Needless to say, I do not have a good opinion of the adventure. :(

    This brings to mind a question, are there any good Pathfinder (including 3rd Party) that would be a better fit for a Barbarian hero(ine) like Conan or Sonja and his/her companions?

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