Move over, Conan! There’s something meatier! In this week’s Thursdays With Patrick, we take a long look at that sword-and-sorcery stud, Zahn, Son of Winter!
Appears In: Zahn, Boytoon Adventures, Striptease, Meaty
Zahn’s entire saga can be found on the CLASS COMICS WEBSITE!
Warning: Very much NOT safe for work!
In a time of myth and wonder, a mighty hero stands to face the forces of darkness and free the people of his lands from tyranny, oppression and non-consensual sex. And it’s not who you think. If you love Conan, but always wished he would just take off that loincloth already, or if you love Japanese RPGs, but hate all the inane dialogue and cut scenes with interminable J-pop ballads, Zahn may be the answer for you. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s baring it all, and he’s got a story that challenges your mind.
After a lethal battle, Zahn awakes a year later with no memory, on top of the mountain that should have been his grave. He soon finds that he has been granted elemental powers, specifically control over cold and ice. As he journeys to find out what happened during his missing year, he discovers a vicious threat to his native land, and with a motley band of allies, he sets off to fight it. Of course, if he has a little fun with some of them on the way, so much the better…for him and for us.
Dude. That’s cold.
If Naked Justice is Patrick Fillion’s take on the superhero comic, and if Camili-Cat is his answer to years of anodyne space opera, than Zahn is his homage to fantasy. It’s an action-packed, bawdy brawl of a comic, just as steeped in muscles and mythology as Conan, Beastmaster or any number of over-the-top sword-and-sorcery epics from the 1980s. The main difference is the books are self-aware (but not too) and humorous on purpose.
The first thing that sets the tone of the books is the language. There is little in the way of “By Crom!” faux-archaic declarations here. Yes, everyone still ends the majority of their sentences with exclamation marks, and Zahn does have his moments of what are best called “Storm-outs” (“The elements marshall their might at my beckoning!”). That’s just what you do in this kind of story. From page one, though, it’s clear that Zahn has no intention of being your typical epic fantasy. It may have all the axe-swinging, monster-fighting and magic-throwing trappings, but this is a very different, very satisfying story, filled with subtle humor, lusty encounters and a never-ending parade of gorgeous warriors. You know, everything that makes life worth living.
And also kittehs. Even Zahn loves kittehs.
Fantasy has largely been a male-dominated field, at least until recently. The classic fantasy stories tend to feature male protagonists and marginalized or weak females, usually for the males to save. Despite what Liv Tyler or Cate Blanchett may have you believe, women actually played a very small part in the Lord of the Rings trilogy…their roles were significantly beefed up in the films to reflect the changing cultural assumptions of gender roles. In the majority of films from the 1980s fantasy boom, women were either castrating villains (usually played by Sybil Danning) or questionably-armored valkyries, assuming they weren’t the old hag who helps and/or hinders the hero. And let’s not even get into Red Sonja…we could be here all day.
Zahn’s world is also almost nothing but men, but that’s the point (and the parody). In Zahn’s world of Varda, almost all women disappeared in what’s called the Great Vanishing, an event only hinted at but not fully explained. The sole exception seems to be Zahn’s mysterious ally Maymay, and she is far removed from being a damsel in distress. Given that, it makes sense that there are nothing but men in Varda, and it makes sense that with nothing but men around, attitudes toward love, sex and modesty would undergo a radical shift. It would be a necessity, in fact, and one that Varda seems to have quickly and whole-heartedly embraced. The homoeroticsm latent in gladiator and barbarian films comes rushing to the forefront, until it just becomes part of the scenery.
Hell hath no fury…
In an all-male world, gender roles become almost non-existent. Zahn’s paramour Jonah is the closest thing there is to a “save the princess” character, but even he isn’t a pushover. Zahn never seems like a slave to machismo, but he also never seems less than manly. He has a quiet strength that knows when to assert itself and when to clam down. He never feels the need to prove his masculinity, either by combat or by sexual conquest. He fights to save his friends and his lands, not just for the hell of it. He doesn’t so much make conquests as he makes connections. As in Camili-Cat’s world, only the villains ever force sex on anyone. It’s not a shock that most of the monsters here have more naughty, naughty tentacles than the Overfiend.
Zahn’s story also has a refreshing lack of pretentiousness about it. Fillion borrows liberally from the design of Japanese video games and anime for many of his characters. Maymay bears a strong resemblance to Darkstalkers‘s Hsien Ko, and check out those Super-Saiyan hairdos on the harpymen warriors Lyrus and Selar. owever, there’s none of the forced heaviness so common in many of those same things, even while the narrative hints at something much deeper than your typical fantasy. Zahn’s books have a playful sense about them, never flippant or silly, but it’s clear that this is meant to be a fun, exciting adventure and not a philosophical treatise on the power of the human spirit punctuated by Quickening chains. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Now this is what I call a party.
Fillion has, in fact, created what may be one of his most intricate worlds yet in Zahn’s Varda. Just enough facts are given out to pique interest, and the story never becomes slave to the setting. The entire story is told from Zahn’s point of view, and his amnesia makes him almost as much of an explorer as the reader. Yes, Jonah is very beautiful, but can he be trusted? We don’t know and neither does Zahn. What’s the connection between Zahn and Maymay? Only Patrick knows for sure. There are no third-person omniscient flashbacks, and hints are rationed out with extreme care. It’s a fantasy world as the ultimate tease, but like any good tease, it leaves you hungry for more.
Varda is a lush world, though, and Fillion’s art takes on a rich warmth here that’s a change from Naked Justice’s bold primary colors and Camili-Cat’s shimmering spaceships. The love scene between Zahn and Jonah in book #1 is full of inviting shadows and candlelight that almost flickers off the page. Meanwhile, book #2 has a deliciously chiaroscuro-esque encounter with the vampiric nymphmen, and an eye-popping (literally) summit between Zahn and a mystic of dubious ethics. Book #2, in general, is stunning, and is hands down some of the best art Fillion’s ever done, highlighted by dazzling, gorgeous color work by Golden Key.
Zahn’s world is fascinating and more complex than it appears. There is a story beyond what you see on the page, and it’s to Fillion’s credit that the secret behind Zahn’s powers or the beings threatening his home are never obvious or easily deduced. Perhaps more than any of his other books, Zahn feels like a true mystery, full of all the intrigue and shadow that implies. It’s entertaining to see Zahn and company duke it out with beasties and monsters from the pages of a role-playing game, but the real reward is the twisting puzzle at the books’ core and the seductive hints of what’s to come. Although Zahn is one of Class Comics’ more recent characters, he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite, and with very good reason. Battle on, Zahn!
(Cue the trumpets and the tribal drums.)
Calling: Peace of Mind
Abilities: Strength 7A, Agility 8D, Intellect 4X, Willpower 7C, Edge 2, Hand Size 4, Health 25
Powers: Cold Control 9 (Ensnarement, Ice Missiles, Ice Shield), Weather Control 7 (Flight, Limit: Can only control cold winds and air currents)
Skills: Brawling,, Clubs,, Spears,, Swords, Aerial Combat, Intimidation, Survival
Equipment: Club +3