Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

You know, there aren’t enough female writers in comic books. I’m a fan of Gail Simone though. I feel like she gets it. Not only does she bring this sensitive and introspective view of the characters, she also knows how to just make comic books fun, you know? Bring back old bad guys and make them cool again, throw in some wacked out science fiction stuff. I think her run on Atom is highly under-rated. Now though? She's lending her talents to Dynamite Entertainment, writing Red Sonja.

I have to admit, I’ve always liked this character, although there’s always been a bit of confusion about where she exactly came from. She is NOT, contrary to popular belief, a Conan the Barbarian character in the classic sense. She’s actually a MARVEL COMICS character introduced while Marvel was writing Conan comic books.

To add to the confusion, Red Sonja actually had her own chain-mail clad feature film in the 1980s done in the style of Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer (which are INCREDIBLE movies; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). Initially, Conan was intended to make an appearance in Red Sonja’s film. For some legal reason, they couldn’t use him, but they still ended up putting Arnold Schwarzenegger into the movie as a barbarian-like character.

Most of the time, when Marvel picked up a license to write something other than their own stuff I didn’t see it go far. They aren’t Dark Horse comics, you know? But I think Conan is one of the few things they did pick up that they did some impressive things with. The Marvel writers just seemed to love Conan and they did a fitting job of making his world a nice blend of cool, incredible badass-ness and H.P. Lovecraft-like horror.

Red Sonja is just one aspect that Marvel added to the Conan lore that felt right (Kulan Gath is another, but that’s a whole other story). She’s mysterious, powerful and completely deadly. A sexual assault survivor, Sonja was given the power to avenge herself and protect the weak and downtrodden by a Goddess. She can wield almost any weapon with demi-god like prowess and is subservient to no man. At least, in her original incarnation. I think Dynamite’s Sonja is a distant ancestor of the original if I’m getting the story right.

Simone though is perfect for this book. She’s just the right writer to touch on some issues that an audience will take in without losing what makes the comic cool and fun to read. While her female characters are certainly strong centerpieces to her stories, I wouldn’t even say she’s limited to only appealing to a female audience. It’s a real Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of thing with Simone; something about her characterizations just feel sensitive and sensible to me.

Of course, Red Sonja isn’t exactly all about being sensitive and sensible. It’s about an inhumanely powerful woman who absolutely will not be chained or shackled to any cause, nation, or person. She’s the ultimate free agent. Sonja seems to attract a bunch of meglomaniac who want to control her (mostly men, seeking to wed--or at least possess--her). A lot of these guys are despicable warlords and killers.

It’s very ultra-feminist kind of stuff. Er, or maybe it’s a male fantasy of what ultra-feminism would look like. But I’ll be interested to see what Simone does with it. It could go either way. Maybe she’ll make Sonja someone to relate to. Or maybe she’ll really emphasize the sort of inhuman beauty and willpower of Sonja and make the story very classic.

Either way, it’s a big writer to sign up with Dynamite. These guys seem to be making some headlines lately. It seems more and more like DC and Marvel may have difficulty retaining writers for just them. Other companies are legit so to speak and can probably offer good money to top talent. Not to mention licenses for characters that writers will jump at the chance to write (I mean c’mon- if YOU were a woman working in the comic book industry, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to write a character like Red Sonja?).

We may be entering a time where individual writers and illustrators have a lot more latitude than they did in the past. You don’t have to own the rights to your own characters and own your own company anymore. You can kind of play the field so to speak and it’ll work for you. Because the writers and illustrators themselves have become as marketable as the characters. Anyone agree or disagree?