When I was a young kiddie I never knew how the Fantastic Four became the Fantastic Four. I new some of the basic super-hero origins, Superman, Spider-man, Captain America, something about Bat-man and his parents, but there were plenty I didn't know about. Did that stop me from enjoying their exploits? Not in the least. Did I need to know that the FF received their powers by being blasted by cosmic rays before I read their battles with Doc Doom? Not really. They were good, Doom was bad. Simple.
I bring this up because of the Solomon Kane movie and the upcoming Conan flick and their need to tell the origin of both characters.
Does knowing if full detail a character's 'origin' enhance the character's story?
At times, yes and at times no.
Sometimes it's better not knowing, leaving it a bit of a mystery.
Superheroes almost beg for an origin story, it's part of the genres mythos. We've seen it in most hero movies. So I can let that go most of the time. But remember Tim Burton's first Bat-man movie? Bat-man good, Joker bad, Bat-man kicks Joker's ass. Bat-man's origin (thus motivation) was woven into the story with flash-backs and character connections. Sure, it was part of the story but it wasn't the centerpiece of the move. I think that worked great.
Now, why can't something like that be done with Howard's characters? Where the origin takes a back seat to the story. I'm not saying eliminate the 'origin' and motivation altogether, but weave it into the story. Let these characters be a bit ambiguous to the audience. Let the audience decide on their own if these 'heroes' are good or evil or something in-between.
Take for example Sergio Leone's 'Man with No Name' spaghetti western trilogy staring Clint Eastwood (For A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly). Now what side of the 'law' is he on? Who knows and who cares. He's a bad-ass with his own moral code. Now who does that sound like? Maybe a couple of Howard's characters perhaps?
Did we need to know that Eastwood's Man with no Name had a troubled childhood or that his parent's were killed by bandits and since then he's had a mad-on? No, and we don't care. He's just a guy in the world living by his own code and us as the audience either has to travel with him or not.
I think a take on Howard's characters can lift a thing or two from these films mentioned above.
The 60's and 70's were a much different time. The anti-hero was all the rage. The law was just as crooked as the 'bad-guys'. These days, the lines between good and bad are more 'clearly defined', at least in most media but that is just an illusion. George Bush's "you're either with us or against us" philosophy defined the beginning of this century but on either side of that line is both good and bad. And who's to judge? This thin line is where our heroes lie, Solomon Kane, Conan, The Man With No Name.
I know Hollywood is scared chicken-shit to take any chances and to leave the audience with any ambiguity of where a 'hero' stands these days; case in point, Han Solo from the 70's as opposed to the 90's Han Solo. But these ambiguous anti-heroes are iconic as who they are.
The Man With No Name, 1970's Han Solo; these are our heroes and these are very Howardesque characters.
I don't need their origins, leave that a bit of a mystery. I just need them to kick some ass on both sides of the law and take what they can get because we know that who ever they kill most likely deserved it.
Sometimes it's better not knowing everything.