I decided to take a chance on The Beauty and bought it based entirely on the cover, the basic concept and all the positive reviews that it was receiving. I mean- it was about an STI that you want to catch- one that makes you extremely beautiful, so it sounded like it could have been an interesting look at the media’s unhealthy obsession with beauty. And after reading it? Honestly- I don’t get understand the positive reviews. I honestly don’t understand what it is that people see in this, because this lacks any nuance and the plot relies on all government law enforcement agencies acting unprofessionally and everyone being utter morons.
Why are people so drawn in? Well, I think part of it is because people are enamoured with the concept and because the cover art is consistently amazing:
It’s beautiful and horrifying, gothic and artistic- and not just this one; all the different covers and alternate covers for this book look bloody amazing. I mean, look at them:
The covers are fantastic and suggest a beautiful high art concept.The cover tells you this series’ whole premise. A ‘what if’- what if there was a sexually transmitted disease that everyone wanted, that made you beautiful. It raised so many what ifs- like there could have been discrimination against those who don’t contract, or an epidemic of people cheating on their non contracted partners… and then this happened.
It apparently makes your HEAD LITERALLY EXPLODE! Did this disease enter the human population when someone fucked a nucleur warhead? How could an STI possibly do that?
Yeah, fuck nuanced complexity. The obvious head exploding side effect takes away the potential for a more slow burn, complex exploration of society’s obsession with youth and beauty. It could still happen in later volumes-perhaps showing people refusing the cure because the thought of living without beauty is so unbearable that they’d rather live a short life than be anything less than physically perfect-but the campiness and the lack of subtlety of this volume do not bid well for the future.
This first issue doesn’t really explore the themes of beauty in much depth, but instead turns into an action thriller with two police detectives going up against a massive conspiracy.
And heavens, the action is silly. The characters act unprofessional- this was less like a police agency and more two maverick detectives running around doing what they felt like with no input from any superiors- and the conspiracy to keep the negative side effects of The Beauty hidden felt contrived. I’m sorry, but IF SOMEONE’S HEAD EXPLODES AFTER COUGHING ON NATIONAL TV, AND PEOPLE ARE SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTING IN PUBLIC then you can’t keep that shit covered up! Especially since this is set in America and anything that encourages people to have pre marital sex would have a massage back lash from powerful members of the religious right (many of whom are wealthy and are in positions of power), so there would be hundreds of wealthy organisations looking to play up a negative angle of the beauty.
Furthermore, when one of your agents in charge of investigating the Beauty after the event is clearly trying to say something about the Beauty and THEN IS SUSPICIOUSLY DRAGGED OFF BY OTHER AGENTS TRYING TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT IN THE MOST EYE BROW RAISING WAY POSSIBLE, THEN THE CONSPIRACY IS OVER! Seriously, they were so blatantly covering it up… the fact that no one catches on defies suspension of disbelief more than the alien cactuses did from the Silver Age Batman comics. I mean, there are people who theorize 9/11 is an inside job based on the emergency service response time, and yet someone’s head explodes on tv, the FBI acts really suspiciously and they have a punch up in the corner and no one suspects a thing? Seriously?
It reached Batman villain levels of insanity when we had a guy in a mask ripped straight out of The Book Of Life shooting a major celebrity and going after two FBI agents in broad daylight. Why would you hire a crazed serial killer to cover up a conspiracy? Why not an SAS trained soldier who is proffessional, and can stick to the mission and carry it out in a reasoned and dispassionate way?
Also, is there any chain of command- any accountability? Task Force? Because the whole story revolved around two government agents running around blindly.
It may explore some themes later, and there are a few with potential to be explored in later volumes. The religious right’s objection that was briefly shown is a realistic consequence to The Beauty… afterall, they hate any kind of sexuality that isn’t very tightly regulated, and marital sex is the enemy of the highly puritanical religious reiche in America. However, since the glimpse we did get was of Westborough style fanatics with a ‘God Hates Beauty’ sign, the chances of this being done without delving into full Mr Burns level cartoon villainy is very slim. Yeah, it’s easy to mock the Westborough, but there’d be a lot of more mainstream Right Wing churches up in arms against this who are less obviously hateful and crazy, so the only objectors shouldn’t just be those who’ve gone off the deep end.
However, I do like the fact that the self hated closeted religious conservative has become such a cliche, that whenever we see a religious right wing fanatic we automatically assume that he must secretly be craving the dick in his life .
Another idea this graphic novel had going for it was the motive the enemy organisation had for their actions (I don’t want to spoil it here but it was a really convincing motivation and well thought up)- but the antagonists have gone sub Bond villain mustache twirling level evil and, with their employment of crazy masked serial killer, I have doubts of this being handled in any kind of sensible way.
However, with all the negatives, there are some things I liked. I think it treated the women in this novel equally to the men, and I like the relationship between the two cops. They had a good dynamic, were equals, and Vaughn (our heroine) was supportive of our male lead’s marriage. I hope they stay friends- because this is such a good and equal friendship- though I suspect that it might turn romantic at some point because his bond with her is so much stronger than his bond with his wife.
I also like how this novel seamlessly includes LGBT people in the novel as characters who are unstereotyped and fully integrated into the plot with no fanfare, although i did see a happy scene between a gay couple and thought ‘oh shit, we’re heading for gaydeath aren’t we?’
SPOILER FOR THE LESS CYNICAL I was right. This was annoying, especially since our leading heteros make it out okay, but at least with all the death in the novel it didn’t feel egrerious and I’m glad LGBT people were at least acknowledged and treated as human like everyone else.
Honestly, for the artwork was decent and yet disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well drawn, the colouring’s good, it has a great use of shadows and the character models are fine, but it was always more realistic and restrained which was a bit disappointing. I personally believe the cover art should represent the artwork of the story inside, and I was hoping for more beautiful artistic images like the cover promised; maybe with a less realistic and more dreamlike style, the siliness of events wouldn’t have seemed so jarring. Or it could have at least distracted me from the weaknesses of the plot like how J H. William’s artwork on the Batwoman comics kept me enjoying the series even when it became silly and incoherant.
It’s more realistic artwork jars with the more insane elements of the plot, and its world and writing doesn’t have enough character to make it compelling. Also, I found the faces to not be particularly expressive- which is fine for those with The Beauty, as I guess they were meant to look artificial and like they had been botoxed the hell out of, but even the non Beauties don’t look very expressive. I mean, judge for yourself from the panels’s I’ve showed you, but I just don’t get a sense of character jumping out at me like I did when I was reading say, Saga or Ms Marvel- which I think is due to its more realistic style. I’ve hopefully shown enough of the artwork to give a general flavor (and if you think I’m full of crap, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments), but it just isn’t what I was expecting from the cover.
VERDICT: This is a fast paced thriller, and while it wasn’t memorable, for all its flaws it isn’t dull either. However, the action was so implausible and the villains so ridiculous and moustache twirlingly evil that it did destroy any suspension of disbelief I had. It is a first volume and it could get better when it explores its central concept (the depths people will sink to for beauty), but so far this series does not display the depth and nuance necessary to do its central concept justice and I just don’t understand where all the positive hype is coming from.
2 gorgeous covers out of five: