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Mary Robinette Kowal – Fantasy’s Male Warriors Kick Butt (While Baring Butt)


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In fairness to the ladies’ armor (or lack thereof) that we discussed last week, today we’ll take a look at menswear. Or lack thereof. There are indeed lots of men who wear full armor in fantasy — although they do have a disturbing tendency to throw away their helmets — but I have to wonder what’s going through the heads of some of these guys when they get ready to do battle: Sword? Check. Horse? Check. Armor? Er…

Conan, Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Born a slave and trained in gladitorial combat, you can forgive Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) for fighting without armor in the arena. It was a brutal time designed for exploitation and bloodshed. I mean, how else could fans watch the slaves bleed? You’d think Conan would remember what happens to someone who lacks armor, but no: When he gets out on his own, Conan “upgrades” to a leather weightlifter’s belt and the world’s largest codpiece. Exactly what sword is he planning on fighting with?

Dar, The Beastmaster (1982)
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Embracing the natural order, Dar (Marc Singer) runs around in as little as possible. But see how he’s got a gauntlet on his wrist for his eagle to land on? That’s because the bird’s talons would shred his arm. And we’re talking about a bird that likes him. What does he think will happen when he meets someone with a sword? I give him kudos for not being afraid to wear a skirt, but battle is not the time to display your fashion sense. And really, what does he think the studs are going to protect? All the bad guy has to do is aim higher than his waistline at his totally unprotected torso and it’s bye-bye nature boy.

Kull, Kull the Conqueror (1997)
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Our title character (Kevin Sorbo) actually owns armor. Even if it leaves part of his arm bare, it’s still more than most of these men can claim. The problem is that he doesn’t wear it except for ceremonial occasions. For fighting he prefers boots, leather pants, a weight-lifting belt and body oil. Let’s see… he’s in such a hurry to get to a fight that he forgot to put a shirt on, but he has time to oil his pectorals. Nice. Thanks for taking the time to wax too. The greasy, hairless chest would, I’m sure, come in handy in a wrestling match. Unfortunately, Kull is facing people with swords.

The Spartans, 300 (2007)
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All these years I thought “spartan” meant austere. Apparently it actually means insane. I could see one man deciding to face an overwhelming force while wearing leather briefs and a red cape, but 300 of them? That’s crazy talk. Sure, I understand they weren’t expecting to survive, but you’d think that wearing more armor than a helmet would lengthen the amount of time they lived and thus the number of fully armored foes they could take down. I suppose the bright red cape is nice because it doesn’t show blood, but look at the length of the thing: Any comrade behind them would be walking all over it.

He-Man, Masters of the Universe (1987)
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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), who sort of sets the bar for the manly man warrior archetype. The movie is a truly bizarre mixture of fantasy and science fiction, which is how you get a guy wearing leather shorts and metal shoulder pads doing battle with men who wield guns. Yeah. He’s facing people who have distance weapons and decides to put on “armor” that leaves every vital organ exposed. The armor he does have — did I mention the shoulder pads? — is only going to impede movement without doing anything to actually keep him alive. I guess he’s really confident in the power of Grayskull.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Talon, The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982): He tries to make us believe that leather diapers are a timeless look. We don’t.

2. Perseus, Clash of the Titans (1981): There’s a reason this was called a sword and sandals epic. That’s basically all Perseus is wearing.

3. Flash Gordon, Flash Gordon (1980): Track suit and go-go boots are the future. I can’t wait to see what the remake brings.

4. Lord Kalidor, Red Sonja (1985): Oh Kalidor, lapels that wide won’t protect you. Even if they are red leather.

5. Feyd-Rautha, Dune (1984): Feyd-Rautha (Sting) tries to prove that, no really, leather diapers are a timeless look. We still don’t buy it.

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Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a professional puppeteer. Her first novel Shades of Milk and Honey is being published by Tor in 2010.

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