Why Conan (the Cimmerian) Sucks, except when he doesn’t

I’ve embarked on a new project–a video review of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The first stage of it is re-watching the trilogy (of which I own the extended editions), and recording timestamps of all the scenes that stand out as being either really great, or (more often) really, really bothersome. I got about fifty-five minutes in, to a point where the ringwraiths are right on top of the hobbits but somehow said hobbits still escape… and this was just the latest stupidity I was forced to remember in what had been basically a one-problem-per-minute viewing. It was giving me a headache, so I went on to something else.

Fortunately, a book I ordered, a fancy-shmancy new Lovecraft hardcover, arrived in the mailey-oh.

So naturally, I’m going to talk about Robert E. Howard’s Conan character!

As it happens I own all three of the Del Rey/Wandering Star volumes (this is the first) and lately I’ve been perusing them, largely just because I wanted a break from all my usual gaming and cartooning and stuff.

Let me be frank: the Conan stories can be pretty fun. Essentially, what REH does is creates a world that is part pre-history, but also part-Lovecraftian. The best way to put it is imagine Middle-earth if it had Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu wandering around, and the nations of men (no elves or dwarves here) were not led by divinity but were instead just primal creatures who evolved into societies, like in the real world, except here civilization is seen as something aberrant.

This is the attractive power of the stories. They create a world that is dark, dangerous and mysterious. That’s not to say its evil–if you’re thinking of something like a Frank Miller or Alan Moore comic, you’re on something of the wrong track. There are virtues in the Hyborian Age, but they are more primal, driven partly by survival instinct, and virtues that are the result of civilization are seen as annoying at best due to how they can confound what should be straightforward matters (the opening of “Queen of the Black Coast” is a case in point).

Conan, then, is a traveller from Cimmeria, a land where civilization never reached, except in tales and rumors. He was born to a warrior culture, and for reasons never given has decided to go through the lands south of his home and see what they hold for him… and they hold plenty.

Conan is, in essence, the ultimate male power fantasy. He does what he wants, and has the muscles and skill with weaponry to back himself up. If he is to go down, he would prefer to go down fighting. He is neither good nor evil, but rather is something like an animal in man’s form. He is pretty much the man all nerdy teenage boys wish they could be. That he exists in a world full of dark tombs of eldritch abominations and pagan sorceries just makes it all the better.

…Then there’s the women, and we get to the part I hate.

Now, to Robert E. Howard’s credit, his females are usually not “damsels in distress,” and in fact are usually strong-willed and proactive, capable of fending for themselves whether or not Conan is there to save them.

That’s all well and good, but would it kill them to get dressed? Invariably, the women of these stories either start out completely naked, or else become so at some point in the narrative (and when they are dressed, its usually not in anything much better than being stark naked to begin with). And of course, these are always the most gorgeous women ever.

If I may rant for a second, I understand that fantasy is largely written for a male audience (or was back then). The problem I have with the fantasy genre is that the males in question are interpreted, at least by the authors, as being horny adolescents who will like anything with a decent rack. I remember reading the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, and after awhile it turned out everyone was having sex–not romantically, and in fact (if I remember right) without any real sort of buildup or development, just suddenly they all started doing it. Except Tasslehoff, of course, since hobbit sex would likely be seen as child porn by some nitpicky conservatives.

Even Robert E. Howard himself seemed to have this issue, since he wrote several disparaging comments about the male gender, and also expressed pride whenever he sold a story that “had no sex in it” (his words)–one such one being “Beyond the Black River,” one of the better Conan tales.

Am I a prude? No. What I am is a thinking creature, and whenever I see parts like this, I feel like I’ve been insulted. Like “Yeah, we know you’ll like this because it has tits!” When things treat me that way, it diminishes my will to keep on going. I’ve dropped plenty of anime for a similar reason.

This is just one part of the problem. Like I intoned earlier, I love the mysteries and places and cultures of the Hyborian Age, and I like hearing about the man who traverses them… but all too often, all the stuff that is actually interesting gets buried under the male pandering. Not just the sex, but also the “look at how handsome and strong this guy is.” The fighting and killing is all well and good but sometimes, it feels like the testosterone eclipses all the parts I really care about.

I’m not asking for a bowdlerization. Hell no–that would result in something as terrible as the Marvel Comics version of Conan, or the later L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter published fanfics. All I’m asking is for the camera to shift its focus a bit. To use an analogy, remember in AVGN’s “The Wizard” review when he expressed annoyance that the movie was showing two people talking when what he actually wanted to see was what game the kids were playing in the background? That’s sort of what I’m getting at here. Not just for Conan but for the fantasy genre as a whole.

The problem is not “sex is icky” or whatever the thirteen-year-old Tropers reading this blog are already thinking, the problem is that its mundane. Imagine watching an intense F1 race and all the sudden the race stops so they can talk about how green the grass is. I read fantasy for the fantastic–starfish aliens, magic rings, lands that never were (or maybe still are?) or new insights into the workings of the cosmos, and a mundane fact of life rearing its ugly head is an intrusion. Fantasy authors don’t feel the need to describe using the bathroom (well.. Stephen King does, but he’s a hack) so why this?

So, yeah, in a nutshell:

Conan is great fantasy, but it starts to suck when the “fantasy” gets overshadowed by other matters. Just like most authors who aren’t Tolkien.

(And how much you want to bet people are going to read this as prudishness despite my three paragraphs of extrapolation, because we all know the internet is mostly populated by half-literate teens whose brains are in their dicks?)


Slow Month, PC Gaming, and plugging another internet review show

So, okay, I’ve been meaning to do another video, but I just haven’t felt the inclination. I’ve made a few but they all feel like they lack heart.

So instead I think I’ll mention what I’ve been doing lately. Now, as I said earlier, I don’t do good in the cold so I’ve been staying home a lot, getting cozy with Mazinkaiser, and I wound up discovering an RPG that I missed back in its own time: Dungeon Master.

Actually, I’m not playing the original game, but rather one of its fan-remakes, “Return to Chaos,” as well as another one called “CBSwin.” I’m not gonna say too much because I might do a video on it, but in essence “Return to Chaos” is more beginner-friendly while “CBSwin” is more for the purists. Such purists could also download an Amiga emulator and play it that way, but then you have to deal with disc-swapping and stuff and honestly I can’t see anyone putting up with that.

I’ve also lately been watching another review show which I just discovered, called Ancient DOS Games. Unlike most reviewers, this guy has a focus on being informational, and his shows follow a strict format which goes over things like supported devices, commercial availability and even recommended Dosbox settings, in addition to commenting on the actual games. I highly recommend him.

Oh, another thing I should mention real quick:


Anyway, hopefully the cold weather will end soon. I’ve also been visiting my IRL friend George a lot more often, and that tends to help me feel inspired, so hopefully things will get rolling.

Other things:

* Been reading the manga of Fist of the North Star. If I like it I’ll buy the DiscoTek DVDs of the anime.

* I lately realized I love Scott Pilgrim. It’s funny because, like Harry Potter, Scott Pilgrim was a series I initially thought couldn’t possibly be any good. Lesson learned: Any time I think something might suck, I should try it out.

* Recently bought Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Gotten as far as the rematch against Piston Honda and now I’m up against a wall.

* Me and George watched my “Introducing Mazinkaiser” video and I noticed a hilarious flub that I somehow missed all those months ago. Also, I promised a follow-up to that video which I never got around to making, and since some things have changed since then, I probably should make it…

* Still sucking: MLP.

See ya next time, gamers!

Problems with Watchmen – Final Comic Book Ramble

One thing that occurs to me is that people might miss the message because they’re too distracted by Yoyo. That suits me just fine! Anyway yeah, this is a followup to this which is in turn a followup to this, and as I said I’m done talking about comics after this post.

In other news, yesterday I was at Goodwill and… well, I got lucky. Goodwill had the following:

(these are all PC games)
Star Wars: Dark Forces
Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (plus an expansion pack)
Hexen II (plus an expansion pack)–this is one I wanted for awhile
Heretic II–I just grabbed this because it was there

They also had anime, both DVD and VHS, and some of their VHSes were subtitled editions. I didn’t buy any of the VHS tapes (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Cat Girl Nuku Nuku OVA, first two volumes of Fushigi Yugi, and “Macross: Clash of the Bionoids” if you were curious) but I did buy a tape they had of VR Troopers… which, surprisingly, I still enjoyed.

I bought all three of the anime DVDs I saw though, which were:
Inuyasha Movie 4 – Fire on Mystic Island
Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 1
D.N.Angel volume 1

All three were… fresh. The Inuyasha movie included a playing card, the FMA disc included a kinda-thick booklet, and none looked like they had been watched.

So much for my plans to save up for a Neo-Geo, eh? (I might still be able to do it…)

Anyway, enjoy the video, enjoy Yoyo’s cuteness, and I’ll go enjoy Hexen.

Oh, incidentally I also saw the movie “JAKQ vs Goranger” yesterday… its a team-up of the first ever Super Sentai teams (and apparently “movie” means something different in Japan as its less than 30 minutes long). It’s… so seventies, but worth watching just for how silly the villains look. I mean, look at them! Oh, and this is their leader. Ah, the seventies.

Why I Hate Comics

This is a thing I wanted to explain for awhile–since back when this blog was known as “jispylicious” in fact–but just, I could never find the words for it.

You see, I’ve touched on some of the more obvious issues comic books have–continuity problems, retcons, macho attitudes, pithy attempts at “maturity” that are little more than hormone fantasies, writers who don’t understand that its a visual medium and they don’t need long paragraphs explaining what we see in the panel or metric tons of dialogue balloons, the amount of times I’ve had to re-read panels and even entire pages just because they were arranged in a counter-intuitive order rather than according to the natural flow of one’s eye–but all of these are basically, chocolate chips. They’re not the cookie.

If my problem with comics was just a few clueless writers, I’d eventually find one I liked. I’ve come close a few times, but its never lasted. But I’ve never been able to find a way to explain why, never a word that would sum up what the problem is.

A conversation last night revealed to me what the full extent of the jam is, and helped me find that word.

The word is introverted.

I’m gonna have to use a few examples to illustrate, so bear with me, even if it seems like I’m off on a tangent at times.

During the development of Resident Evil 4, one of their early plot ideas involved an actually paranormal threat, and was more psychological horror akin to Silent Hill. Now, there are plenty of people who saw previews and actually liked this direction, but even so, series creator Shinji Mikami vetoed it because he realized it was so out-of-touch with the series identity. (And while I have criticized RE4 in the past, I can not ever deny that it is a legitimate continuation of the series).

In one episode of Sailor Moon, the story involves animators who are working on an upcoming “Sailor V” movie. One of the animators gets possessed by one of Nephrite’s youma, and on the spur of the moment decides to change the movie’s ending, so that Sailor V dies. Everyone else is horrified, and tells her, “would you really crush children’s dreams?”

Now, for contrast:

The first (or maybe second or third) issue of the MLP comic has Queen Chrysalis killing a kitten, specifically to traumatize the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Everyone I’ve talked to who ever defended this scene said “I liked this direction,” or else “It made sense from the story’s internal logic.”


That right there.

American comics are written in a vacuum. They care only about themselves. They act like the world outside does not exist.


A person who does that is a sociopath. A story that does that is equally sociopathic.


If you reply WITHOUT reading the part below, I will delete your comment without hesitation

I know what you’re gonna say. People on the internet always reduce a person’s meaning to the barest, most simplistic concept they understand. In doing so, they often miss the point entirely.

What you’re thinking right now, is “Oh, so Moe is totally against individual creativity and completely in favor of charts, trends and focus-tests.”

No. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is understanding how it will come off to the people you’re showing it to.

For example, Back to the Future part III had a deleted scene where Biff Tannen’s ancestor (I forget his name) shoots the sheriff dead in front of his son. Director Robert Zemeckis realized that upon seeing this scene, audiences would expect Tannen to die in the film’s climactic showdown, and would feel cheated if he didn’t. Since that wasn’t the movie Zemeckis wanted to make, he instead just excised the scene in question.

It’s the same principle, really, as any sort of social tact. Its all about listening to yourself, understanding what you’re saying, and understanding what the person you’re talking to is gonna hear.

And its something comic book writers just don’t get.

In fact, to a large degree most American media just doesn’t get it. Sadly, America has been too indoctrinated with Public Relations spindoctoring that tries to tell you that crap is actually quality, just misunderstood. We get “it’s originality” or “I’m doing my own thing” from people who are too lazy or egotistical to actually try to improve. We get “art is subjective” from terrible artists who want so much to believe the problem isn’t that their painting sucks, its that the rest of the world isn’t open-minded enough to appreciate them.

America does have artists who know what they’re doing, just not in the comics field. That field went to madness and insanity long ago, and there’s no hope in sight.

If I haven’t been clear enough on any point, feel free to ask.