"Exiern" opens with a stock barbarian warrior rescuing a stock helpless princess from a stock evil sorcerer. The situation is then immediately turned on its head when a magical accident drains the sorcerer's powers and transforms the barbarian into a woman. While none of this is done particularly well, the simple fact that it starts off by subverting the usual paradigm suggests that the story will at least take us to interesting places. It doesn't. There's potential here, but it's all squandered through laziness and cynicism on the author's part. A big macho barbarian suddenly forced to live as a woman could go in all sorts of directions - it could be a redemption story, or social commentary, or a deconstruction of gender stereotypes in fantasy, or a comedy of embarrassment. But Exiern doesn't bother exploring its premise, and what we end up with is a tedious sword & sorcery pastiche that's just as hackneyed as the material it thinks it's parodying. The remainder of the comic - that's five years of strips - involves the barbarian, the princess and the sorcerer meandering around and encountering stereotypical fantasy characters in stereotypical fantasy situations, which are then "subverted" in one of two ways: Either they're "parodied" in the most inane way possible (ha ha ha, the guards are stupid, what a yarn), or someone gets turned into a woman because the barbarian's curse is contagious when the plot says so. Regardless of what happens, we always end up with at least one woman stripped naked, her nipples and crotch obscured by speech balloons and/or foreground objects... ...that you can pay $3.95 to remove. It's cynical, exploitative and sleazy - whoever called the fanservice "self-mocking" on the tropes page is wrong; the female characters are routinely stripped, leered at, tied up, groped and (implicitly) threatened with rape, all of which the author presents in loving detail, for money. Meanwhile, their personalities are defined by traits like "slutty" and "loves shoes". There's no other level to it, it's just straightforward misogyny. The author defends this as something he's required to do to keep the comic popular, poor him. In a sense, he's right: The porn is what's keeping people coming back, but so would - say - a story that's actually worth reading.
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