The First Red Sonja in Conan the Barbarian #23, Up for Auction

Created by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith based on material by Conan creator and pulp writer Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja first appeared in comic books in Conan the Barbarian #23 and #24 — part of Thomas and BWS's landmark initial run that established the Conan in comic books, and would end up making Red Sonja an iconic comic book character as well.  A popular Bronze Age Marvel comic book key for decades, there's a Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973) CGC FN 6.0 White pages up for auction in today's 2021 December 12-13 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122150 at Heritage Auctions.

Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973) featuring the first appearance of Red Sonja.
Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973) featuring the first appearance of Red Sonja.

About Red Sonja and her origins, Roy Thomas would later recall in the endnotes of The Chronicles of Conan Volume 4: The Song of Red Sonja and Other Stories that the character was inspired by his early research on Conan, "One of the articles reprinted in that book, which I had purchased for research and inspiration was Allan Howard's "Conan on Crusade," which dealt with REH's fiction set during the period of the Crusades and a bit later. In it, he devoted precisely one paragraph to "Shadow of the Vulture," but that was enough, for it ended with these two sentences:

Von Kalmbach alternately and sometimes simultaneously roisters and fights magnificently throughout in company with a red-headed Russian she-cat who would have made a fit companion for Conan. In fact, she might have been a bit too much for him.

"This character—unnamed by Allan Howard, for some reason—sounded as if she were begging to be brought into the Conan canon. So I quickly got in touch with Glenn Lord, literary agent for the REH estate, who sent me photocopies of "Shadow." Shadow of the Vulture was a Robert E. Howard short story originally published in the pulp The Magic Carpet Magazine, cover-dated January 1934.  In the story, Red Sonya was the sister of the real-life historical figure, Roxelana:

Roxelana, also known as Hürrem Sultan (c. 1502-1558) began her political career as the favorite (haseki) concubine, and then wife, of Süleyman the Magnificent. She broke with Ottoman traditions and changed imperial norms on the status of women in the court. A woman of firsts, Roxelana was the first wife of a Sultan, the first enslaved court "favorite" to be manumitted, the first wife allowed to bear multiple sons, and the first to act as an advisor to the Sultan.

Hürrem's unique position in the imperial court made her an object of fascination beyond the Empire. Both she and her story—or rather, scandalous exaggerations of her story—were depicted in art and written about in pamphlets, plays, and musical works, including a symphony by Haydn. She was most frequently demonized as a sorceress with "boundless ambition." Her story was used to fuel Western European fears of powerful political women, while also depicting the Ottoman court as a type of "other:" a place where immorality thrived.

From those fascinating yet obscure historical beginnings, Red Sonja has taken her place as an iconic comic book character.  A 1970s-era Marvel comic book key that's always in demand, there's a Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973) CGC FN 6.0 White pages up for auction in today's 2021 December 12-13 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122150 at Heritage Auctions.

Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973) featuring the first appearance of Red Sonja.
Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973) featuring the first appearance of Red Sonja.

Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973) CGC FN 6.0 White pages. Brief first appearance of Red Sonja, adapted from the non-Conan tale "Shadow of the Vulture" by Robert E. Howard. Art by Barry Smith (except for one page by Sal Buscema). Overstreet 2021 FN 6.0 value = $30. CGC census 12/21: 29 in 6.0, 1078 higher.

View the certification for CGC Certification ID 1974569018 and purchase grader's notes if available.

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About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.
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