|here in the "Reactions" section.|
|Original review author:||Yaoi Huntress Earth in mid 2013; images, captions and some commentary by Lesbot; major changes by Shan from the 21st to 31st of October 2015.|
|Author:||Drowemos (06/09/05-03/05/12); Chemiclord (03/06/12-02/07/14); Scott T. Hicken (03/07/14-ongoing)|
|Start Date:||Originally June 9th, 2005 and present reboot September 6th, 2005|
|Summary:||New owner, author, and artist. It's changed a lot since it's started. Tonally more serious overall and tackling many complex issues in the world it's set in which wasn't so much the case at the start.|
As hard as it is to believe, the transgender market is a very popular one in the webcomic world. Counting this one, I* know five (as of 2015, that number is the Thin Edge of the Wedge). Usually transgender comics seem to be set in a high school environment; one assumes for the promise of short-skirted fluffy-haired young schoolgirls to transform one's character into. Exiern breaks this mold a little by choosing 'generic medieval magic land' as its setting, and Conan the Barbarian as its unwitting man-turned-lady main character.
(*in this case either Yaoi Huntress Earth or maybe Lesbot wrote this. This part of their review as well as the top two images and captions has largely been left intact)
An earlier version of this review made the observation that "And this isn't transgender as in people who believe they were born the wrong gender and how they cope with it; but more in the lines of masturbation fodder where men get turned into women, get poked in the boobs a lot, get into weird trouble and realize they kinda like it." To be fair, that's not always wrong in the general sense as the above link leads to some examples that very much fit that description (approach with appropriate caution as there's some very NSFW at the links from that page, link page itself is fine).
However, to be equally fair, even from the beginning this webcomic could never be simply reduced to just that. Concerning the lead character, even from the very beginning; this really should turn him on but it's not a throwaway gag, there's a very good and simple reason for this which is revealed later on.
There's going to be some unavoidable spoilers from now on.
Disclaimer from review updater:
I (Shan, who's going to be your first person pronoun from now on) first discovered this webcomic through this site. I went on to read it all, like it, and eventually sponsor it on Patreon. I've also had extensive email contact with Scott, the current owner/writer. I have absolutely nothing to do with the writing of this webcomic and did not talk with Scott about how I was going to edit this review beforehand. Storyline, Characters, Miscellaneous Details, and Overall were earlier rated 1/5. In my opinion, I believe all these categories to now be rated 3/5 and I'll be making my argument as to why below. This is just my opinion and not necessarily shared by anyone else on this site (in fact, more than likely not. If it helps, I'm playing Devil's Advocate - except for the genuinely liking it part). Contributions and advice from Sindy, Kraken, plarblman, oddguy and the rest of the forum as well as the original reviewers noted and appreciated.
Story and plot
Our story begins in the world called Exiern, specifically the fortress known as Asylum. Once home of the gods but now is the fortress of the evil wizard Faden, who has kidnapped the heir to the throne of the Southern kingdom, Princess Peonie. We enter the scene in the middle of a rescue attempt by the Northern mercenary barbarian and lead character Typhan-Knee (or Typh for short). A running gag is how Northern barbarian warrior names (Typhan-Knee = "He who hunts by the piercing light of the Northern ice stars" have quite different meanings in the South ("She who hunts diamond charm bracelets with her daddy's money") and yes the other part of the gag is that it's pronounced a lot like "Tiffany" and even more so in the South. Yes, I also appreciate your mileage might vary on this one.
After accidentally casting the wrong spell and summoning a unicorn instead of the intended Uricarn demon (a nod to The Wotch) and the presence of said unicorn neutralises all of Faden's dark magic, effectively leaving him defenceless. As a last ditch move, he casts an overloaded white magic spell on Typh which has the unexpected (by everyone spell caster included) effect of turning Typh's body into a female one.
A valid point was raised in the previous version of this review as to how unlikely it is that the lead shrugs of this sudden major change in his body so easily and doesn't seem to worry about it. The story does quickly establish that in this world, magical transformations aren't uncommon and that means exist to easily reverse them. As Typh has both captured Faden and rescued the princess for a big reward from the king for her safe return, he expects this is a minor inconvenience that can be rectified fairly soon.
It's only when it's discovered that this particular transformation is both up to now seemingly irreversible to the point of blowback and even contagious under certain circumstances that the character has a quite believable breakdown when realisation of his situation hits him all at once.
Just in my opinion, I don't believe this webcomic ever had an irredeemable downfall. I like all of it for different reasons depending on which story arc is being referred to. However it's quite possible that the tone of the original story arcs with its high quotient of overt farcical comedy and strategic clothes shredding isn't for everyone and just because I don't believe it's had one means everyone shares that view (big of me, I know). Tonally it's initially all quite lightweight and plot wise, it's fair to say it isn't really deep to start with, nor was it trying to be in the beginning.
There was criticism levelled at the character of Denver being part of the downfall in the earlier version of the review. Drowemos said in a posting to this site's forum that he originally planned to have the character killed off fairly soon after he appeared (that may well be why he first presented as the stereotypical fantasy world hot scholar behind those glasses, the intent may well have been to pull the rug out from underneath the audience by bumping him off) but ended up not doing so because he quickly became a fan favourite (one of the risks of potentially representing some of them), even though Drowemos said he hated the character.
In all fairness, it happens a lot in television when the planned future death of a new character is postponed or even cancelled because of the fan response. It even gets reversed in some cases like Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1 or what is most likely the most infamous example, retconning of an entire season of the major TV show Dallas leading to the notorious 're-emergence in the shower' scene of a particular character, so it's hardly unique he finds himself in not wanting to risk putting some of his audience offside.
Yes, he initially does come across as a male Mary Sue (an intellectual variant of the Marty Stu to be more specific) and he does kiss Typh but that did come about due to a misreading of the situation followed by Typh throwing him into a tree. So it's hardly like he got away with anything that others hadn't. It is also true that Denver comes across as noble and knowledgeable to a fault (for a while and ignorant of Typh's past history, he's the only one who's a perfect gentleman at least in the beginning) and his character is one that still has much more room for more facets of his character to be developed, he's presently been packed off to dragon school and hasn't been a direct part of proceedings for a while. Even as it has been so far, Drowemos said in his opinion a better job had been done with the character than he had since he handed over the reins. As of yet, it's not known when or even if Denver will return (though I'd say it's a safe bet that he probably will one day).
It was also raised in the earlier version of this review about the fact that Typh let Denver kiss him (when he actually didn't that time) "... When it would surely make more sense for Tiffany to be a lesbian since she’s a straight man trapped in the body of a woman. Unless of course Tiffany was once a big gay barbarian."
This probably says a lot more about many readers that the former is the default assumption as it turns out the latter one is correct. Typh is gay. In fact he's very unambiguously gay. This didn't come out of nowhere either, so it's not a 'shock' reveal just for the sake of it, it's increasingly become a core part of the story and was part of the long term scripting well before being confirmed. It's also never been played for cheap laughs either.
If as a reader you felt it had a downfall due to the first arcs execution both its overall style and tone not appealing to you and specific events being nothing more than cheap gags and even cheaper soft-core titillation; my argument is that over time its tone became more serious and its treatment of the subject matter became more complex. More serious issues were dealt with in greater depth and hence maybe you might find it's dug itself out of the hole you thought it fell into to start with. If that case is applicable to you as a reader, potentially this webcomic could be seen as an example of one that elevates itself from its origins. Or at the very least is trying to do so.
This webcomic has had three major authors. Drowemos (Eric Kimball) was the first and his pseudonym just came from someone suggesting he should get one and use 'some word' for it. Which is what his is when you spell it backwards. The reason for this anecdote is to explain that he didn't pick the name to be some kind of pretentious goth hipster, he picked it to parody pretentious goth hipsterism. At least that's my take on that anecdote extrapolated past the point that is supported by the evidence.
He said in the Reactions section that art sales and membership were being reinvested back into the comic to keep it afloat. He also said he wasn't doing this for the money and he did put a lot of his own money into it for much longer that you'd expect if it was just meant to be a moneymaking venture as opposed to just cutting his losses and closing it down. He also ultimately ended up selling the rights on for the nominal sum of $1 when he decided to cease involvement. On that basis, I don't think you can rule out that he really just likes creating things and that's the reason why he supported this title despite the overall personal expense. History has shown he's acted similarly with future titles after he moved on with this one.
His story arcs start begin with the rescue of the princess and follow Typh's attempts both return her safely to the king as well as take dark wizard Faden to face punishment for his crimes. The story continues once arriving at the kingdom, Typh has to negotiate court politics and help fight off a covert infiltration of the palace by multiple enemies of the crown attempting a subversive takeover. This ends with Typh accepting a request from the king to act as Peonie's guardian as she does seem to get abducted fairly often.
Chemiclord (Thomas Knapp) was the second person to write Exiern. He's also the other person following Drowemos to send in a letter which is in the Reactions section. His contribution picks up a few months later in the timeline of the story where an assassination attempt on Typh leads to a return back North. It's a combination of a mystery as to whom ordered the attempt on Typh's life and settling unresolved family business. No-one and nothing is as they seem. The story reached a new depth of complexity and characterisation in this arc. It's also where the story has hit peak Rashomon so far with an enterprising use of multiple unreliable narrators as they try to recount the events of the past that have led to the present confrontation.
The new more serious tone is definitely more evident in the flashback story of how the outing of the lead character led to death of dozens if not hundreds or more people shortly afterwards and ultimately sparked the series of events that led to this story arc of death, betrayal and a lot of political intrigue. I'm not kidding when I said it changed a lot from its much more comedic and lighthearted beginnings. Things ended up getting very dark compared to how it started. Exiern still hasn't lost its sense of humour though.
Scott T. Hicken is the current owner and writer of Exiern and his ongoing story picks up after the return from the North where the king is engaged in a power struggle with the all powerful Church. He currently handles all the logistics of running Exiern and its spinoffs.
Presently, Exiern is funded by a combination of Patreon sponsors (which is still gradually increasing for now) and advertising. It's worth noting here that especially considering that many webcomics listed in this wiki have a history of the creators actively combating their readers, this one actively engages its readership in the comments section in a helpful fashion regardless of whether they're a Patreon member or not. They're also very approachable on email. Additional benefits for all Patreon users include new pages (all from page 46 inclusive, everything previously is free on the public site) from an alternate world spin off the main comic called Dark Reflections and all $5 or more a month contributors get an additional story called Neese also written by Scott Hicken and drawn by Shipeng Lee featuring some minor characters from the main story involved in a murder mystery whodunnit.
They also work hard at keeping the readership up to date with current developments and actively seek feedback. Chemiclord still participates in the comment sections on occasion and answers questions but since his run finished, he makes it a point clearly stating he has no involvement in the current running of the comic and knows no more, nor seeks any more influence on the story that the rest of the readers in fairness to Scott presumably. Scott as the current owner and writer regularly posts update both in the comment and journal sections of the site about the most recent developments both with the story and otherwise (at the time of writing he has sought feedback on the current ad service and whether or not to change or eliminate it for example). They also hit their 3 times a fortnight update schedule on time like clockwork.
They've both also taken on board the criticism from this very wiki which they've welcomed and made changes based on it.
Chemiclord to me:
"the badwebcomics wiki is one where you can find quite a bit of good criticism, providing you’re willing to sift through the snark to find it. I actually had more than one correspondence with the reviewers at that site, and a great deal of the feedback was useful in helping polish the work I did during my run.
The only thing that I kinda find irritating is that the wiki never really follows up their initial review… which in the spirit of fairness is understandable considering that they really don’t have that many people who contribute, but regardless can lead to a lot of people forming opinions that might not be accurate between the time of the original review and how a comic is progressing currently."
(Well, we're all working on it here now for what that's worth.)
Scott to me:
"I also referred to them for perspective, particularly in how Exiern could be viewed in the “worst” way – but I will always be a fan and grateful for Drowemos’ run despite what anyone else says (yours as well, Chemic).
That site is also in the Top 20 All Time Traffic Referrers to Exiern so I can’t possibly be mad at them!"
The reason for all these anecdotes are to contrast it to all the alternative outcomes which fill up a whole reactions section of this site as well as parts of the forum (Dresden Codak and Goblins first and foremost spring to mind as regular forum fodder). It certainly beats combating reviewers, critics and even fighting with your own readership while missing repeated deadlines on top of all that, that's for sure.
Even Drowemos, who has long since left this title is still approachable about it and will answer questions. I got in contact with him for the first time after starting this update and even exchanged a few messages on the forum here and even email later.
Yes, oddguy did kick his ass over his response to the original review here and he did outline his reasons as to why but Drowemos was still willing to discuss both that and the comic in a mature way with me instead of being in a permanent sulk and harbouring a grudge about it, which already puts him one up on a lot of people.
Furthermore, if someone applying to take over the writing of one of his other titles, Blade Bunny did this: "There was no "drama". I applied to take over Blade Bunny, and linked TWR as an example of my writing....the very first post on which at the time was me saying I'd never read Blade Bunny but heard it sucked and wanted to try to salvage it for the challenge, with a link to the BBW review. He took that as me fucking with him, which was hardly unreasonable, so I apologized, he accepted it, and we went on about our respective days and now I write a webcomic for him." and still had his application judged on its overall merits and got a job with him (a new project was created instead of taking over Blade Bunny), that at the very least makes him much more reasonable than most of the other people this wiki has crossed swords with. In fact that's much more reasonable and evenhanded than most job applications period. Here's more of Drowemos being reasonable in this very wiki's forum. We have done worse in engagements with webcomic authors we review - or in interactions with humanity in general.
I guess it can't be completely ruled out that at least one to all three of the writers past and present secretly have negative feelings up to immense rage and fury against all of us here right up to wanting to give us all a solid beating, though I really doubt that to be the case. However even if it were, they seem to be keeping it to themselves and being both civil and willing to engage in discussion and even take the results of that discussion on board (and all of us still remaining unbeaten as of now) as opposed to almost everyone else in the Reactions section responding with threats, insults, rants and even some very weird artwork with even weirder connotations. Kudos for that.
Initially, Exiern was both drawn and written by Drowemos. He then contracted the artists of Studio Boom to take over. Their first page was here and eventually all previous pages by Drowemos were rescripted and streamlined (with a lot of original plot points and events dropped). After their last page, artist Shipeng Lee took over. As of the 21st of June 2016, the current artist is Antonio Luis P. Silva (Antipus).
I really like the art in this webcomic and its the pictures on this review that first led me to going to read the webcomic itself. The art from Studio Boom definitely improved markedly over the time of their run as did Shipeng's which was always good but has been steadily improving since he started too.
I won't deny that there's a segment of the readership who have an interest in more revealing art than what's permitted in the public areas of the site. However these are available to even the lowest tier Patreon donors so it's not a money raising exercise. Neither are they gratuitous as they are in service to the plot. Also, the vote among the Exiern Patreon readership to keep advertising in some form and keep at least the current output versus drop the rate of output to compensate for the loss of advertising revenue and have totally uncensored pages went 11 to 5 to the former. So on the basis of that self selecting sample, it's not the primary focus of the majority of the site who as the old cliche goes, are there for the story presumably.
Events where a character loses their clothes in a gratuitously comic mishap or other over the top sexual innuendo have all but disappeared in the last couple of years, though I won't deny that there hasn't been a complete absence of it. Nowadays if something of that nature happens, it really has been because of more relevant plot derived reasons. This includes the most recent pages as of the time of writing when two characters stripped to have sex. It wasn't just for the fun of it (well, not just their fun), it's actually going somewhere integral to the future of the story, believe it or not.
We had a group discussion in the forums about the art so this a combined opinion from many people. The prior version of this review gave the art a 4/5. I think that from the time of that review in 2013, the art has improved further. Collectively, it's agreed that the inking and coloring reaches Marvel entry level and that rarely some pages are worth a 5 and most are sitting around a 3.5-4. However, a lot are still a 3 or even a 2 on the grading scale.
These scores were for such things as the balloon boobs (though in the case of the princess at least, that has been a recurrent running gag) and sameface chicks (doe eyes that often times are too far apart, small nose, small chin, which is why it was said they can look like they have excessive derpface often and difficulty sometimes in telling the characters apart. Even though I'm the more partisan one here; as much as I like this page which was the latest at the time of writing (quite a lot), I found in the first panel that the jawline's a bit too sharp and the chin a bit too pointed. Certainly just enough to be distracted from the intent of an otherwise great piece of work here (also displayed in the section below).
I also have to agree that can be a problem because of a significant prior scene as well, there was genuine confusion in the comments section over whether the supposedly missing queen was also the head of the order of assassins known as the Theater that the king went to meet. It was eventually decided over a couple of comment sections that no it was probably not (we think. Well we're fairly sure now. Almost certain even.) but that's not the kind of confusion you want to engender in your readers over such a major plot point. Also, if the regulars are having these problems, it doesn't bode well for new readers.
However, overall we're giving it a 4.5 on the basis that the initial reviewer gave it a 4 and it has improved since. It still has some mistakes, hence room for improvement and a higher score as the consensus is that the artist isn't demonstrating enough variation for faces and bodies for girls so far, but overall it looks like a B title you might pick up from a comic shop. It gets points for improving over time, and even if the style or the cheesecake isn't your cup of tea, you have to admit it's in the top 10% of webcomics and far better than almost all the other titles on this wiki and probably the best art from a review we have here at present.
As said above, the comic was initially very light in tone and having plentiful examples of slapstick comedy. All in the service of poking fun of typical tropes in the fantasy genre. I quite liked it but I'm aware that my opinion isn't everyone's, I enlisted a few people I knew to have a look who made the fair criticism that the early pages have a lot of telling when they could potentially benefit from less of that and more showing. Extremely wordy pages do still occasionally crop up but not very often. In my opinion, both the art and the execution of the narrative improved even over this first era of light comedic storytelling.
Still during Drowemos' run, the story became relatively more serious as the king was introduced and the Machiavellian maneuvering he had to engage in to preserve the safety of the kingdom and defeat potential threats. Most notably involving a masked nonhuman intrusion by a group called the Fracture in alliance with a member of a diplomatic delegation from another kingdom not in favour of the negotiations. There was room for more development as the origins and motives of this action were not deeply explored and up to now has not been revisited since their attempt was foiled. They basically just suddenly appeared and then just as quickly disappeared after being dispatched, yet to be seen again. Their arc was however treated with more gravitas than the events leading up to the return to the kingdom and part of an ongoing shift in the tone of the story which is still happening now.
The plot point and story that has been clearly made most front and centre is that of the lead character, Typhan-Knee himself. Over the course of the story, even though one of the rewards offered for rescuing the princess was a royal hand in marriage, he showed no interest in her. He's gone on to make it clear he's attracted to men and the writers have made it clear that they know that being a gay man neither means that they want to get a female body, nor does it solve any problems for them if they unexpectedly find themselves in one. If anything, it makes at least some problems even worse.
Regardless of the fantasy setting and past more overt comedic past history of this webcomic, this major part of the character is fundamentally not being played for cheap laughs and if anything is being brought even more to the forefront of the story. There should be at least some acknowledgement for its much more serious and thoughtful take on this issue than a lot of other even real world fiction ends up managing. There also is clearly even further for this very personal issue to go to from here in this narrative.
It's also worth noting that initially and for a long time after the change, both the characters referred to the lead character as Tiffany and used female pronouns, not out of any sense of malice but just based on the perceived appearance of the character (as well as magical transformations in general being really common in this world) and a lack of objection by him. The same went for the readers in the comment section. Also, even though the amount of sudden gender swapping isn't at El Goonish Shive levels, it does happen quite often so it seems most practical in this world to go by what people most likely look like at the time until they make their intentions clear as to what their preferences are, especially as more often than not people get themselves changed back to how they were when they want to be, our hero's repeated failed attempts so far notwithstanding.
That's what happened when Typh made a clear statement of reaffirming his gender after the magic transforming him extended its reach to turn anything he wore that was too masculine into the sluttiest outfit imaginable and the resulting furious reaction, all the characters adjusted to the correct pronunciation of his male name as requested (and to stop using Tiffany) and male pronouns with no fuss whatsoever, starting with the king. Interestingly enough, so did almost all of the readers in the comment section from that point on almost immediately without anyone ever asking or telling them.
The point being made here is that the story is increasingly moving into a serious examination of identity, both about how the main character sees and expresses themselves as well as how others see them over time, especially in respect to their wishes. Despite the fantasy setting, there's a lot of real world parallels being examined here, the most immediate signs being the immediate adjustments of the people in the comment section tracking with that of the characters but also the addressing of these issues in general, many of them apply in the real world as much as this fictional one.
Lest we forget, there's also more going on with the main character than the ongoing battle to define his identity. He's also discovering through his own personal experience which that women can be equally capable and of value as men, something he didn't even consider for a long time after coming to the kingdom and even the importance of education (also the set up for a joke at least five years in the making) in the least likely places, also something he didn't put so much stock in back in the days he was primarily hitting things. This webcomic has certainly also grown a lot along with its main character since it launched in many different ways too.
The lead character of Typhan-Knee (also referred to as Typh and formerly as Tiffany for a period of time) has been the most developed and of the others, some such as Denver and Princess Peonie have further room for expansion but given this comic is both ongoing and willing to play the long game, these and others may well see a lot more development in future. There's already been groundwork laid for this over several years. Even the king's seemingly identical pair of bodyguards that are perpetually hidden behind their armour have been shown over a long time to have both a complex and distinct characterisation. Given the work done so far and potential future of this comic if it continues, I have raised all the categories other than art (which was already 4/5) to 3/5 (from 1/5) to reflect that this webcomic has both changed and has potential to get even better.
However, the scores also reflect even though acknowledgement there's been improvement over many areas, there's also elements that still need work and there is a lot of room for improvement. The key thing is that the possibility exists that they could do it if they keep heading the way they are. This is not despite opinions to the contrary a hit job site, wherever there is a possibility with the entries here we always genuinely hope it happens (the motto here is Control the Bad, not Kill It With Fire - though we're not kidding ourselves, that's often the more appropriate and even only option). Our frequent disappointment in this department is another issue entirely.
Exiern has come a long way since its beginnings. I think it could definitely go on improving and has even more untapped potential. It's clearly widening its scope and becoming more ambitious in both expanding the depth of its characters and developing its plot. It's also handling a lot of serious themes now including political intrigue, abuse of state and church power and the complex nature of sexual orientation and gender identity which has been moved to the forefront of the story and at least trying to treat it very respectfully but neither is it trying to shut down debate on the topic either. There's certainly still scope for the story to be streamlined and polished even further in many areas including the execution of plot and characterisation though.
If on the other hand it's still not working for you, it could be said it's at least trying to be different from its origins and it's just failing you in a different way now. It is trying to evolve, even if ultimately you think that its evolution is leading it up a blind alley.
Other comics by this person reviewed on this site
- The Solomon review
- Antonio Luis P. Silva's website (current artist as of the 21st of June 2016)
- Another website for the current artist
- Current artist's Deviant Art page
- Shipeng Lee (third main artist) Deviant Art page
- Jos Fouts (second main artist) Deviant Art page
- Exiern: Dark Reflections