The Allure of the Axe

Unrelated side note: I currently have 1337 lifetime views. I’ll heartily grant that this is a pittance of a number compared to the traffic several of my friends get, but it’s something for 13-year old Seth to be proud of.

Axes, dude. Axes are dope.

It’s probably no surprise that the specific impetus for this musing is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a film which I and my blushing bride thoroughly enjoyed. I imagine some folks will balk at the slow pacing which fills the end of the 2nd/beginning of the 3rd acts, but I think it made the final combat all the more exciting. Acting was great, vampire origin lore was dispensed with—something I’ve often wished more vamp movies would do so they could leave more room in the runtime for frankly anything else. The fights, though, sell the movie.

Granted, Abe does a fair amount of dispatching vampires in a montage-appropriate manner in order to both demonstrate his improvement as a hunter and give the audience some ironic deaths. His real knock-down, drag-out (or catch as catch can, which better suits the President in question) fights are limited, but no less satisfying for that. The martial art they developed for Abe makes for flashy clips, but there’s an elegant, whirling cohesion to the attacks that feels believable–or at least wuxia-believable. My favorite maneuver is when A-dawg completes a high strike, then whirls the axe around the back of his torso so that the head of the weapon crosses just above his hips and embeds itself in the gut of a vampire. Since they use that particular maneuver at least twice, it made Abe’s combat into what felt like an actual martial discipline, rather than haphazard swinging. While the axe certainly has some solid crunches when it slams home, the overall impression is much more graceful and swift than axes are generally depicted in fantasy lit.

Druss the Legend remains one of my favorite fantasy characters, and the Drenai series was my favorite in the genre until Joe Abercrombie dethroned it with some grimy-ass fiction. While Druss is also a tall, bearded axeman, his fighting style favors brutal strikes that chop through shields, combined with the occasional haymaker/headbutt/big man stomp. The achingly similar Kell’s Legend also presents a bearded axeman (whom Remic largely admits is a nod to Druss) who fights pretty much the same way, though possibly drunker.

DnDwise, the axe has traditionally been presented as more damaging but less accurate/precise than swords, and generally more options exist in the two-handed sphere (even if dwarfs could cheat that through center of balance). That lends itself to the same visual; chopping through people with nothing but mighty thews for defense.

What makes Abe: Railsplitter‘s combat so engaging is that you see a tall, skinny man whipping through multiple rotations with his weapon, using it more like a spear in Red Cliff without as much reliance on reach. The actual cutting edge of the axe is generally in contact with a foe for just a few seconds, rarely singing in and needing to be pulled free. He takes out legs, slaps aside weapons and claws, and generally weaves a wood-hafted sphere of defense around himself.

Makes me want to roll up a similarly-armed Avenger, perhaps a logger converted to the worship of Obad-Hai or another nature deity. I could still see wielding the comically-large executioner’s axe, but with an emphasis on his divine insight causing him to place the weapon exactly where it needs to be to preserve his health and steal that of his foes.

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