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Red Sonja: The Ballad of the Red Goddess (revisited) —“Borne on a raven’s wing”

Writer: Roy Thomas

Artists: Estaban Maroto, Santi Casas

Dynamite! Comics, collected as a hardcover April 2019

A SUDDEN INTAKE OF BREATH, a warm rush as the scene in RED SONJA: THE BALLAD OF THE RED GODDESS from 2019 emblazoned in black, white, and red only, opened into a grand stone hall with a tyrant slouched on a lonely throne on a dais presented with a princess from his last conquest while a female “minstrel or bard or whatever you call yourself” off to the side prepares to perform a ballad supposedly to his mighty deeds, though we know by her cunning manner and the title of the book that she is composing in her mind a ballad of our hero Red Sonja as she tests the tune with a finger on the strings of her lute. I felt it. This is where it happens.

Free Comic Book Day this year lured me back to Red Sonja, finding a Dynamite reprint of a 1976 Red Sonja issue from her earliest solo series by artist Frank Thorne, and writers Bruce Jones and Roy Thomas. The remastered colors on heavy glossy paper are a delicious treat. Dynamite revived Red Sonja in her own series in 2005, and diversifies today with some smashing roles as in The Ballad, and astonishingly nice classic reprints.

The rendition of Red Sonja in The Ballad of the Red Goddess by creator/writer Roy Thomas in a tall hardbound edition is made to be a lasting work of art, masterfully illustrated by Esteban Maroto and embellished in red with wonderful restraint and taste by Santi Casas. The tale covers the Red Sonja origin story of abuse with decency, necessary to instill the bile, the “stain of guilt and defeat” that must be overcome for many of us more than Sonja to rise and excel.

Red stamps the pages once goddess Morrigan appears bearing a raven on her arm foretelling a life ahead for Sonja as a warrior for right. Initially immersed in despair, Sonja now Red Sonja once she stands, swims to the surface as from a baptism, purified with a resolve to right wrongs done. The goddess bestows an enchanted sword and offers impenetrable armour, which Red Sonja refuses, choosing her signature bikini armour instead to make it clear to men that “a woman bears the sword that splits them.”

Rather than hide behind full armor or veils, Red Sonja confidently presents herself, and like her sometimes companion Conan the Barbarian wanderer thief conqueror king, expects others to be polite, or else. Odd really, a pair of scantily clad sword-wielding warriors expose us to an ideal of good manners and civility.

Reading lately about peoples in sub-Saharan African nations abused by local tyrants over the last fifty years funded by transnational corporations and criminals exploiting oil and mineral resources, made a solemn counterpoint to the tyrant in the ballad of Red Sonja and the moral outcome. Occasionally a blackened heart is removed in corrupt regimes, but more often in growing numbers poorer people are successfully harassed and herded to the fringes out of sight to fester as is happening today, too, on corridors inside and outside Portland, Oregon, like elsewhere in America swarming with impoverished multitudes.

The current age of crony capitalism and kleptocracy where a narrow elite of very rich persons and their minions thrive is not a matter of white or black supremacy, or male or female hegemony, but simply bad governance by bullies we fail to control in the contract regimes of corporate and landlord power draining riches upward while inactive governments fail to secure the welfare of all the people. An uncanny resemblance to the present may help explain the thrill in stories like this where Red Sonja deposes evil. The ballad satisfies a secret wish that an angry woman with a sword like blind Justice can help put things right.

In the end, the minstrel’s song soars. Beware lest she come for you!