Reviews: Exiern

Gets better as time goes on

Exiern starts out fairly generic, but for a bit of gender swapping, which is Played for Laughs. It's amusing, but little more than that. After a while, however, it grows into a serious, intelligent examination of any number of issues, including gender dysmorphia, struggles with sexuality and internalised misogyny, married to a complex plot (don't dismiss the throwaway gags - you never know when they might carry a degree of Foreshadowing).

Also of note are the intricately woven subplots, and the story, though becoming more serious, never loses its humour, often drawn from a wry awareness of genre archetypes. Yes, it is full of copious amounts of T & A, which is not to the taste of some, but that tails off after a while (even with Peonie) after the sense that Naked People Are Funny wears off somewhat, but while the divide isn't perfectly even (the particularly fanservicey parts tend to end up with the women), both men and women end up naked.

To be honest, it mostly reminds me of a fusion of Questionable Content and The Order of the Stick, with the former's human touch and the latter's affectionate parodying of genre tropes, and in my view, it's worth sticking with, for a little while at least. That said, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.

An alternate point of view...

While the "other review" appears to be from the point of view of a prude, obsessed with panning the series just because there is T&A involved that has to be unlocked, (or perhaps from the point of view of a cheapskate who doesn't want to have to pay to unlock T&A), This review will concentrate on the actual story elements.

Exiern takes the cliche' elements of swords-and-sorcery, and turns them all back-to-front. It has several quite interesting subplots going on, and is NOT just an excuse for the artists to draw boobies. The dual nature of the site actually improves the story's accessability. The main storyline is PG-13, while adults can pay to see what's "really going on"

The background of the world is clearly well thought out, as elements of the mythology and cultures of the world are being revealed. We have a culture of shapeshifters, a Fantasy Kingdom, a "The old gods are dead, so now what?" plotline, as well as Tiffany having to come to grips with being female, and from a culture where Females are basically eye candy.

Fayden, the presumed Big Bad, is eventually done in by the princess and not her rescuer as would normally be expected, It appears that the barbarian may wind up marrying the king, and the hero of the story has no interest in slaying dragons.

All in all, an interesting subversion of the "magician versus Barbarian" storyline. If you don't like the members-side eroticism, just don't unlock the members side.

Wavers between inane and obnoxious

"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.