I find myself amused that I feel the need to defend a comic that I was mostly indifferent to. But since another writer's work has painted a picture of the issue that I feel is manipulatory at best and that someone whose work as a critic I respect has been persuaded to ignore Red Sonja completely because of that review, I thought it fair to explain what this other critic failed to.
This is for you, dane, who said "I don't read Red Sonja, so I don't know why, um, NOT being raped and having your parents NOT die would make you evil, but going with that plotline, I'd like to see how much of the original Red Sonja exists". Rest assured - you DO get to see that.
This is for you, buttler, who said "I don't know who the heck that's supposed to be, but it's no more Sonja than it is, say, Wonder Woman. Which is to say, not at all.". No it isn't. But it isn't meant to be OUR Sonja.
And mostly, this is for kalinara, who has steered me clear on listening to one bad review in the past before. I hope that this may return the favor. This isn't the usual creative team. This isn't a usual storyline. And this is the very first "What If?" story the series has ever had since being revived at Dynamite. Go read Red Sonja #31 - it was a lot better.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the Red One, let me sum up.
Sonja was a tomboy peasant girl. Her entire family was killed by soldiers in the service of an evil god, imaginatively named The Dark God. Raped and left for dead, Sonja was visited by a goddess (mostly known as The Goddess) who promised to bless Sonja with supernatural warrior skills to aid her in a one-woman war against evil. Sonja would keep these gifts so long as she kept to an oath that she could not physically love any man who did not prove her better in battle.
Dynamite's Red Sonja series, separated firmly from the Conan mythos that inspired it, has centered upon Sonja's adventures as she gathered allies and fought the minions of The Dark One. But in Sonja's haste to stop The Dark One from being born into a human body, she accidentally fulfilled a prophecy that said that the death of a god in her plane would bring about the return of the Sorcerer/God Kulan Gath. Gath's evil proved to be even greater than the evils inflicted by The Dark One and Sonja gave her life to see him defeated.
For the last few issues, we have been treated to a number of one-shot stories as Sonja - now dead, but still apparently with a destiny ahead of her - is guided down the river Styx by a familiar ferryman who recounts the deeds of Sonja's life. In the most recent issue, #32, The Ferryman showed Sonja what her fate might have been had her family not died at the hands of The Dark One's soldiers.
In this "What If?" reality, Sonja and her father are able to fight off the soldiers. Sonja then receives a message from The Dark God himself, promising her blessings equivalent to the ones The Goddess granted Sonja. Nine years pass and Sonja is a warrior of great renown but with two significant differences. First, her costume is of much darker aspect; her chainmail is made of black metal instead of silver and she sports a metal torc with The Dark One's symbol. Second, this Sonja is not hampered by an oath of chastity; something we discover as Sonja is having her way with the King of Pah-Dishah after entering his service as a general.
Long time Sonja fans will note that this is in direct contrast to the original story in Marvel Feature: Red Sonja #1 by Roy Thomas. In that story, Sonja was hired on as a general by the King of Pah-Dishah, spurned his advances and eventually wound up killing the foolish king after he tried to force her into his harem.
Assassinating the king in his bed and now sole ruler of Pah-Dishah, Sonja turns toward increasing The Dark One's power and eliminating the competition posed by a new god: The Celestial One. Ironically, this is the same being - a despotic god of purity - whom Sonja, as a hero in her real life, fought against in the first story arc of the current Red Sonja series. This battle leads Sonja to fight against many of her allies from her true life, including the warrior bard Osin.
This is where the review by mallet begins, showing the rape of Osin. While he scans the panels showing how effective this Dark Sonja has become in using her sexuality as a weapon, mallet neatly leaves out the panels where Sonja explains just why she feels the need to have her way with this man and why she gave herself over to The Dark God.
I will quote from the text here. I apologize for not having a scan handy but my scanner is kaput.
OSIN: But why? Why would you give allegiance to The Dark God?
SONJA: There are many reasons. But all can be tied into one word. Destiny. The Dark God's followers once tried to kill me. But they found themselves lying in a pool of their own blood. That was my trail. The God was testing me. I proved I was worthy of his blessing... and now I am here to carry out his will. You should be honored, Osin... Any other man would kill for this opportunity.
OSIN: You're insane, woman. You can kill me. Torture me. But I'll have no part in this madness.
SONJA: Fortunately, you have no choice. Suumaro says that you are the one. You cannot deny your destiny... or me.
OSIN: I told you... I... I'll have no part in this.
SONJA: Oh? And you believe you can resist? Your body betrays you, Osin.
OSIN: Damn you...
What gets revealed in the following pages is that Sonja has been given the honor of becoming mother of The Dark God made flesh. In essence, Sonja's only reason for raping Osin is because a prophecy said that he was meant to father the Anti-Christ (or the Hyborian equivalent) with her as the mother. That doesn't make it any less icky but it does give Sonja with a motivation past "Well, she's evil - so she must be a slut." - a subtext that I believe was mistakenly (although not, I think, intentionally) implied by mallet's original article.
So the baby Sonja is killing? That's the Anti-Christ. And Sonja quickly forgets doing the will of The Dark God when she realizes that the baby IS trying to kill her and that her faithful wizard Suumaro, has been planning to double-cross her this whole time.
Again, I quote from the text, as Sonja is going into labor.
SONJA: Summaro. It is time...
SUMMARO: Come. Sanctify this body. Bless this place with their blood!
SONJA: What? UNGH... What? What is this?
SUMMARO: Take of your mother's flesh as you will of the Earth! Baptize yourself in your mother's blood!
SMALL, CLAWED HANDS ARE SEEN TO PUSH FROM THE INSIDE OF SONJA'S STOMACH.
SONJA: No! Get out!
SONJA RIPS THE BABY FROM HER OWN WOMB.
SONJA: You... you tried to kill me!
SONJA RIPS THE BABY'S HEAD OFF WITH HER BARE HANDS.
SONJA: And you, traitor... you would have let me die?
AS SONJA TURNS HER BACK, THE BABY'S CORPSE BEGINS TO GLOW. EMERGING FROM THE GLOW IS KULAN GATH.
KULAN GATH: Yes.... Yes! Yes! The ultimate sacrifice has been made! The blood of a god has released me!
SONJA: What... are you?
KULAN GATH: I am Kulan Gath... and you are now my slave. I have planned this moment for ages.. and your life has been guided, designed for this moment.
Again, this ironically mirrors the events of the story thus far. Sonja is still responsible for bringing about Kulan Gath's resurrection, but this time she is forced into his service immediately and is destined for a dark end at the hands of the few remaining followers of The Dark One left.
Sonja herself, once this view of the world where she turned evil is finished, comments on how it seems that the ends were exactly the same. Her family still wound up killed. She still became a warrior manipulated by the gods. And she still died after having accidentally inflicted great evil on the world. The Ferryman agrees, but notes that Sonja's actions in the real world lead to Gath's defeat and also saved her from the path of damnation she could have followed.
So in conclusion, what is there to say?
Are these comic panels horrific? Yes.
Do they depict a Red Sonja who is out of control and fully given over to the forces of darkness? Yes.
Are they typical of your average Red Sonja story? No. And thank goodness for that.
I just wanted to include this here for the fans who don't read Red Sonja who might be biased by an account written by someone who - though they are reviewing a comic that has never been promoted as anything other than a Mature Readers title - concludes their review with the words "Hey Kids! Comics!". As if Red Sonja were on the rack with The Batman Strikes.