Fans spoke and Dynamite Entertainment answered - Red Sonja is hitting her 50th issue with Dynamite, and in the grand tradition of milestone issues, it's going to be a celebration of all things Sonja. "[Our goal was] to create a singular comic that sums up the past, present and future of Red Sonja," said Dynamite Associate Editor Joe Rybandt. "We're doing that with both new material and classic reprint material." The celebration issue contains over 100 pages of material, both old and new, for Sonja fans to sink their teeth into, featuring contributions from writers Kevin McCarthy, Raven Gregory and Arvid Nelson along with reprints of classic stories by sword-and-sorcery comic legend Roy Thomas.
As many readers might know, Dynamite ended the "Red Sonja" series proper at issue #49, directly following her epic battle with the sinister Kulan Gath, leaving many fans wanting more, even with the debut of "Queen Sonja." According to Rybandt, it was the support of these readers that made the 50th issue happen. "We heard from our very loud and loyal readers that to skip past the milestone of the 50th issue was something they were not at all pleased about," Rybandt told CBR News. "There was a definite sharpening of the axes and edged weapons out there, and we thought about it and decided to duck back into the main Sonja world to create this 50th issue."
"We had been assembling some short pieces for use in a Giant Size or Annual down the line and pulled them together for this when we made the decision to do the 50th issue," Rybandt continued. "We rounded it out with a newly commissioned piece from Arvid Nelson that was designed expressly for this issue." Nelson, having played in the Robert E. Howard universe before with "Thulsa Doom," told CBR News that he feels like he has a good idea of Sonja's character going into the story. "Having written the five-issue 'Queen Sonja' miniseries that's coming out next month, I think I have a pretty good handle on what makes her tick," Nelson said. "So that's what I tried to do - reveal something about her personality, in addition to writing what I hope is an exciting story."
"Sonja's a complicated person - she carries a lot of pain inside of her," Nelson said of the titular heroine. "But she's never going to admit it. She's too tough. I love finding ways to make it clear what's going on inside her head without coming out and saying it blatantly. Usually, it involves disembowelments and hacking off limbs!" While the writer certainly seems to have a good grip on what makes the red-headed warrior princess tick, he did admit that there were a few challenges in penning part of the milestone issue. "I'm doing a half-issue story, and in some ways it's a lot harder to do a story in twelve pages than in five issues. You have to stay focused. So the story exclusively focuses on Sonja," he said. "Any time you're writing genre fiction, the danger is falling into clichés and themes that better writers have already flogged to death. But the story has to stay familiar, too. So it's a fine line. That, and Sonja's tragic history can easily descend into maudlin, saccharine storytelling. Sword-and-sorcery has to stay lean and tough."
"I think it came out well," Nelson said. "I have high hopes for it, but I'll be interested to know what readers think."
While Sonja's 50th issue is certainly a cause for fans of the crimson-haired warrior to celebrate, Rybandt revealed that there will be even more in store as the original "Red Sonja" title will now continue to run past issue #50. "We'll be continuing the core Sonja title with a new creative team to be announced soon, beginning with issue #51," Rybandt said. "'Queen Sonja' continues along her pace as a series as well. With issue #51, we're stripping back some of the existing continuity from the Dynamite years and going back to the basics. Something for everyone in both titles is the goal."
As Dynamite's Associate Editor, Rybandt has been around for all of Sonja's points of interest during the series, and he happily revealed his favorite storylines. "I really like what we built to with the Kulan Gath reveal...it seems so long ago!" he said. "We need to get him back onto the page, for sure. I also really enjoyed the 'death' arc, in which we had a different creative team each issue over five issues, telling a different tale of Sonja. Good stuff in there as well. The launch and direction of 'Queen Sonja,' first under Joshua Ortega and now Arvid Nelson are the current high points."
At the end of the day, though, it's Sonja and her world that carries the book, and for good reason. "Part of it, of course, is her fantastic history; she was created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith, based on a character by Robert E. Howard," said Nelson. "So much of Sonja's world is visual, too - the barbaric splendor of it all." The writer also hopes that his addition to issue #50 will give readers a better idea of the character and her history. "I hope they come away with a deeper understand of Sonja as a human being, not just the 'She-Devil with a Sword,'" he said. "But mostly, I hope it's entertaining. I hope people think it was worth the price of admission."
"I think the genre endures even better when modern times present themselves as complicated as our times currently do," Rybandt said. "To go back to the simple and visceral times presented in books like Sonja are an exercise in simplicity that is rarely available in this modern world."
For Rybandt's part, he hopes that this landmark issue stirs the imagination of the readers to new heights in the Red Sonja universe. "[I hope the readers take] the urge to ride into battle, wind at their backs, and taking the heads off their opponents both left and right until they've ground the enemy under their feet," he said. "Not literally of course...let's keep all that ultra-violence on the comics page."