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Saturday, February 20, 2016 

What business did Scott Allie have working on this type of story in Conan?

I found a post by Rachel Edidin on the now defunct Girl Wonder site about one of disgraced Dark Horse editor Scott Allie's earlier efforts, the company's own adaptations of Robert E. Howard's Conan tales. The focus is on issue 12, which was written by Kurt Busiek, guest starring a character named Janissa, who was the victim of rape by demons, and the commander who sicced them against Janissa, get this, was another female named the Bone Woman (the story can be found reprinted in The God in the Bowl TPB, second volume for their series). And in light of the new discoveries about Allie's own felonies, that's why this storyline could rate as a goldmine of irony. Here's some excerpts from the tale. For example, how Janissa began:
“Once upon a time, there was a silly, stupid girl, the daughter of a wealthy merchant in the Zingaran city of Ceodiz.
“Her father was blessed with wealth but cursed with lack of sons, and thought to use his daughters to bring the family into the nobility.
“But while the girl’s sisters were content to think of little but the latest fashions, the balls they would attend, and which lordlings they would be chosen to marry–
“–she burned with anger at the thought of being a possession, to be used, bartered or sold like an expensive horse.
“She wanted freedom. She wanted to make her own way in the world, by her own wits, her own skills–
“–rather than a life of silks and satin to be chosen for her by men.
“And so, one night, the girl crept from her father’s manor–and made her way, free and daring, into the wider world.
“She’d heard of a sorceress in the hills. A woman–a woman!–with great power, who answered to no man.
“The sorceress was known only as the Bone Woman. And the silly, stupid girl found her.”
So she's fashioned as the kind of girl who was dimwitted, and it sounds like they're saying she made a mistake to seek an independent path in this violence filled world where Conan resides. Not exactly the best way to introduce her in the narrative.

The Bone Woman goes on to use a sleeping potion on her, then tosses her into a pit where she's to combat demons who do something very nasty:
“It was a demon. Its matted hair smelled worse than goats, and its breath stank of sulfur. It leered at the girl, licked its cankered lips–
“–and leapt.
“The creature tore her garments from her and raped her, scarring her flesh, her soul.
“It took her repeatedly, until she passed out from the pain.
“And when she awoke–
“When she awoke, she was still there.”
And she had to fight more sexually abusive demons until she'd proved herself an effective combatant. On the surface, it might sound like something fit enough for Conan's world, if only because some of the past material, both by Howard and the adapters in comicdom, does contain pretty grisly stuff. Even Roy Thomas said in one of the afterwards for the reprints of older stories from the Bronze Age that there were morally questionable moments, if anything. But it still sounds awfully ludicrous to have a woman subject another to rape as way through which to prove herself a combatant. Edidin herself says:
No one thought it was a pretty story. One member of Conan’s creative team, Thomas Yeates, was so bothered by some of the content that he declined to work on the issue (Yeates left the title soon after, for reasons unrelated to Conan #12). There was little argument that the sequence depicting Janissa’s backstory was profoundly disturbing.
I think this is perfect proof that there's more than enough sensible men out there who find sexual assault repulsive, especially if it's done in as one-sided a manner as Identity Crisis did.

Edidin also presents an excerpt from a letter they got from a guy who said his wife was furious, and that having a woman raped for several years by demons was ugly and weak. But he screwed up with the following:
Can you imagine the appeal of cinematic characters such as Conan or Han Solo if they got casually raped as a plot device? Most men would walk away in disgust at the thought of their favorite male role model hero being used as a sex slave, condemning the character as a homosexual… This only happens to heroines though.
Say what? Is he saying men would think of the heroes as homosexual because they were victimized? I've seen plenty of blame-the-victim mindsets in motion, but this is particularly hideous, and again, we have here a case of the writers being exonerated for any error they could commit. And the guy spoke for his wife, rather than the lady writing in to vent her own opinions, which is pretty clumsy. If I threw down a story like that, it would be because I found the whole notion of subjecting either hero or heroine to rape repellent, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and certainly if the story were badly written sensationalism. But, if it matters, with all the political correctness now destroying comicdom, that's why you may not see a story where a male hero falls victim to homosexual rape, because PC dictates that gays not be the villains. However, I do recall seeing a few TV shows in the past where lesbians, by contrast, were depicted as baddies. Now isn't that odd? When it comes to lesbians, they have no problem depicting them as willing to kill, say, another woman who rejects their advances, but gays usually aren't seen in such situations. Peculiar? Of course. Not to mention one-sidedly cheap.

On which note, we now arrive at a little commentary Edidin reprinted from Allie, which says:
I wasn’t the only person who noticed the skewed gender dynamics. In his response to the letter that appeared in Conan #21, editor Scott Allie wrote, “This sort of thing exists in fantasy literature because of less than savory tendencies in our real culture. You suggest a male victim of rape would be considered gay by some readers. Those would be some stupid readers, but even you aren’t willing to consider that a male victim of rape might have a female aggressor. The sexist, inequitable relationship is there, and even when you try to see around it, you can’t.” Scott went on to request more letters on the subject: “If I get any replies to this letter, I will bump them up in the queue, because I’d be very interested to see a dialogue on this one.”
After a decade, what might've looked like a sensible argument at the time rings pretty hollow today. For somebody who's pointing out how ridiculous it'd be for readers to think victims are gay because they were exploited by those who actually were, the irony here is that, as some in the audience probably long guessed, Allie himself may be bisexual, if not exclusively homosexual, and, as has already been told, acted like some of the nasty ogres seen in these fantasy tales around his co-workers. It goes without saying any positive impact these books involving sexual abuse might've had in the past will be cheapened today. Certainly if Busiek hasn't distanced himself from Allie. But as mentioned before, the comics press has to shoulder some blame too so long as they're resigned to accepting Allie's continued employment at Dark Horse and make no further attempt to campaign for his dismissal from their payroll.

To think that somebody that vile was overseeing the production of tales involving serious issues. A pure head-shaker.

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How dark were the original Conan stories again? (The ones written by Robert E. Howard, not all the spin-offs and adaptations that came afterwards)

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