Kaching Comic Reviews

Published on April 19th, 2024 | by Jules-Pierre Malartre


Review: Red Sonja: The Ballad of the Red Goddess

This is the way Red Sonja books should always look—not like something out of an
Archie comic, but a masterpiece of graphic storytelling that fully captures the savagery,
grace and beauty of the Red Goddess in the best tradition of the Marvel Comics days of
Frank Thorne and Roy Thomas..

I had free access to this book through Kindle Unlimited, but after glancing at it on my
Kindle app, I felt I wasn’t doing the book justice by reading it this way. I immediately
ordered it online, and I don’t regret the expensive price tag of this oversized hardcover

The Ballad of the Red Goddess is a graphic storytelling tour de force. Originally
published by Planeta Comics in Spanish, this original graphic novel was crafted by none
other than renowned Red Sonja and Conan writer Roy Thomas and artists Esteban
Maroto and Santi Casas.

Dynamite Entertainment republished this graphic novel in English and hardcover format
in 2019. Dynamite has been the home of Red Sonja since 2005. In 2021, Dynamite tried
its own hand at publishing Red Sonja stories in nothing but black, white and red. The
series had a few good issues, but very few came close to the same graphic
awesomeness of Ballad of the Red Goddess. The Thomas, Maroto and Casas team is
the ideal mix of talents to create the best possible Red Sonja story. Roy Thomas is
unequivocally one of the best Conan and Red Sonja writers in the history of comics.
Esteban Maroto has a way of picturing Red Sonja that very few artists can manage.
Maroto, upon seeing Barry Windsor Smith’s original portrayal of Red Sonja wrote that
she had “a head of hair that reminded me of the painting of Pre-Raphaelite virgins.” This
must have had a strong influence on how he draws Red Sonja, with hair displaying a life
and a character of its own, and when said hair is underlined by Santi Casas’s artful
application of red, a truly awe-inspiring and unique graphic novel is created.
This book is a return to form for the She-Devil with a Sword. Esteban Maroto’s art is
simply stunning. The Red Goddess hasn’t looked this good since her Frank Thorne
heyday. Maroto’s black and white art complimented by Santi Casas’s touches of red
simply jumps off the page. There are many full-color Red Sonja books that do not
succeed so well graphically.

This is the way Red Sonja books should always look—not like something out of an
Archie comic, but a masterpiece of graphic storytelling that fully captures the savagery,
grace and beauty of the Red Goddess in the best tradition of the Marvel Comics days of
Frank Thorne and Roy Thomas.

Red Sonja has gone through several iterations since her Marvel Comics days. Dynamite
Comics is to be commended for reviving the She-Devil with a Sword and keeping her in
print since 2005. Issue 0 seemed a good “reboot” of Red Sonja, but I never got over her death in issue #34 and the introduction of her “reincarnation” in the following issue. I am
not a big fan of reboots, and this was definitely not the best way to reboot Red Sonja.
The quality of the various Red Sonja books Dynamite has published over the year
varies greatly. It must be said that it’s difficult for any publisher to keep a comic book
fresh and interesting over such a long run. Dynamite took Red Sonja down new roads
after her reboot. There were some interesting crossovers. She even hooked up with
Conan in a couple of crossover series published in collaboration with Dark Horse
Comics who owned the Conan rights at that time. And as improbable as it sounds, the
multiple crossover series Prophecy that saw the She-Devil team up with Ash (of Evil
Dead fame), Vampirella and a number of other pop culture characters was pretty good.
Maroto is no stranger to Red Sonja, of course. His collaboration with Roy Thomas on
Red Sonja goes back decades. The story of Maroto’s association with Red Sonja is an
interesting one that is also at the source of Red Sonja’s signature chainmail bikini. In the introduction to Ballad of the Red Goddess, Thomas writes about receiving a Red Sonja pinup drawn by Maroto back in the days when he was editor on both the Conan the Barbarian comic book and its companion Magazine, The Savage Sword of Conan.

Maroto pictured Red Sonja in an iron bikini. At that time, Marvel Comics had already
printed the first Red Sonja story in the pages of Conan the Barbarian #23 (with Barry
Windsor Smith as the artist). Thomas was not too thrilled about the She-Devil’s
chainmail shirt and “hot pants” getup as depicted by Smith. Thomas showed Maroto’s
sketch to new Conan artist John Buscema who then adapted Maroto’s take on Red
Sonja’s getup into Red Sonja’s trademark chainmail bikini. The rest is comic book

When Planeta Comics obtained the rights to publish this story, editorial director David
Hernando gave Maroto the opportunity not only to work on Red Sonja again but also to
collaborate once more with Roy Thomas.
In the epilogue of the book, Maroto wrote, “rarely are we given the opportunity to return
and relive episodes of the past, but of course, always without the power to change it.”
Well, it looks like Maroto grasped that opportunity to return to the great days of Red
Sonja and change the way she is portrayed today.
The story doesn’t break new ground. Once again, it relates Red Sonja’s “origin” story. I
could have done without the rape scene that Maroto devotes so many pages to. It’s
extremely graphic and gut wrenching. The book then explains how Red Sonja obtained
her “powers” and goes on to tell an early tale of her adventurous life not unlike many
we’ve read before. As such, this story brings nothing new to Red Sonja. However, in its
graphical treatment, it makes everything old new again, and every page is a true
wonder of graphic storytelling.

This is an expensive book. It’s hard to justify its purchase for readers who already
spend a lot of money each month on comic books. But if you are a Red Sonja fan, this
is definitely not a book to miss.

Title: Red Sonja: The Ballad of the Red Goddess
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artists: Esteban Maroto, Santi Casas
Format: Oversized hardcover, 92 pages

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About the Author

Jules-Pierre Malartre currently resides in Rigaud, Quebec, which is cold enough to save him from big-ass spiders, but as close to The Great White North that he will ever dare go. In 2005, he quit a promising aerospace engineering career to go into freelance copywriting. Since then, he has become considerably poorer, but much happier. When he is not writing technical manuals, newspaper articles or online features, he is busy working on his first novel. His first short story, “The Rest Was Easy,” was published by the online literary magazine Amarillo Bay in 2013.

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