Friday, April 2, 2010

Return of the Comic Book Swordswomen!

This continues my examination of sword-wielding female leads in fantasy comics. The first installment can be found here.

As the seventies waned, so did comic book fantasy, and some of the swordswomen were victims of that dolorous stroke. Starfire didn't make it. Ghita would only later be found in collections. Red Sonja continued in a stuttering fashion in the eighties with three ongoings (one only lasting two issues) and a movie tie-in.

The old guard retired to comics' Valhalla, and others arose to take up the charge. The new swordswomen were somewhat less cheesecake-centric than their seventies fore-bearers, and often existed more detailed, better realized worlds.

The first of these, as mentioned last time, had a link to Red Sonja. In Epic Illustrated #10 (February 1982), Marada She-Wolf, written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Bolton, debuted. Marada fought fantastic menaces in the early Imperial Roman era with the aid of her companion, the sorceress Arianrhod. As initially written, Claremont's and Bolton's story had featured Red Sonja, but copyright complications triggered by the impending movie made that impossible. The story was retooled and Marada was born.

Marada She-Wolf fought evil sorcerers across the Roman world through a total of five issues of Epic Illustrated. The initial three-part arc was collected, colored and slightly modified for Marvel Graphic Novel #21: Marada She-Wolf (1985). A third story for Epic Illustrated was reportedly planned, but never saw print.

In 1984, Marvel's Epic imprint upped the ante with a whole island of swordswomen. Sisterhood of Steel was the creation of Christy Marx, and was drawn by Mike Vosburg. The series tells the story of Boronwe, a young woman coming of age as a member of a society of amazonian mercenaries. Sisterhood of Steel looked different from its predecessors--no chainmail bikinis here (though there is an awful lot of eighties' big hair). It also had more of a literary fantasy approach. The society of the amazons and how it interacts with the larger world are important part of the story. Then there was your standard epic fantasy who's who and pronunciation guide published in first issue, and essays about the Sisterhood's culture in later issues.

There was to be more of the Sisterhood of Steel after the initial limited series, but disagreements between Marx and her editors over content put an end to that. A graphic novel was published in 1987, in association with Eclipse, with art by Marx's husband, Peter Ledger.

There's a lull at the end of the eighties in our parade of sword-wielding heroines. Red Sonja appears again from Cross Plains in 1999, and then returns in an ongoing (and still going) series from Dynamite in 2003. But these are throwbacks--returns to seventies form with a modern veneer. In 1999, though, we got a swordswoman who would pick up where Sisterhood of Steel left off with more literary fantasy style storytelling and complexity--and the greater amount of clothing (mostly).

Mark Smylie's Artesia is an ambitious (and currently incomplete) epic fantasy series of six-issue limited serieses and annuals. It tells the story of the titular Artesia, a former concubine turned war captain, who is betrayed by her former lover. This starts a chain of events that makes Artesia the leader of large armies, and a player in epic conflicts on the world stage. Artesia is sort of like Queen Medb clad in Joan of Arc's plate armor. Her world, the Known World, is like the ancient world in fifteenth century drag, and recalls Glorantha in the way myth and religion are given prominent roles. It's no surprise, given the amount of detail Smylie has put into the world, that its made the transition to role-playing game setting.

Artesia, as a strong female lead, has seemed to appeal to a lot of female comic book readers (or at least, female comic book critics). No doubt fantasy fans have also taken to Artesia for its epic storyline and richly detailed world.

And then, of course, there's a lot of sex. No Red Sonja-esque prudery for Artesia.

Unfortunately, Smylie is still in the middle of Artesia. Responsibilities as publisher seem to be taking up his time. The fourth limited, Artesia Besieged, has been stalled since 2009 on the third issue.

Thus ends the tale of the swordswomen of comics--at least for now. Hopefully, the future will bring us a conclusion to Artesia's saga, and then another generation, so Red Sonja in her chainmail bikini doesn't have to fight the good fight alone.


James said...

I had forgotten all about Marada. Time to go dig out the Epic's!

Trey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trey said...

It's pretty stuff with that Bolton artwork.

Brutorz Bill said...

Thanks for posting these, several of them I was unfamiliar with.
Oh and I love your blog title.

Trey said...

Thanks on both counts, Bill.

I agonized a bit over a title before starting, but when I hit on that one I knew I had it.