The Beauty

The Beauty

Volume One

Book - 2016
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"Modern society is obsessed with outward beauty. What if there was a way to guarantee you could become more and more beautiful every day? What if it was a sexually transmitted disease? In the world of The Beauty, physical perfection is only one sexual encounter away. The vast majority of the population has taken advantage of it, but Detectives Vaughn and Foster will soon discover it comes at a terrible cost. Now, they'll have to find their way past corrupt politicians, vengeful federal agents, and a terrifying mercenary out to collect the price on their heads."-- Page 4 of cover.
Publisher: Berkeley, CA : Image Comics, [2016]
ISBN: 9781632155504
Characteristics: 1 volume (unpaged) : chiefly color illustrations ; 26 cm
Alternative Title: Beauty. Volume 1


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Jun 19, 2018

The premise: an STD has appeared in the human population that reshapes those infected to look more like current Western conception of attractiveness: younger, thinner, etc. (It's not stated explicitly in the intro text that this is culturally specific attractiveness, but it clearly is, and that gets even more interesting in the second volume). The book begins as a pair of detectives investigate what they thought was the murder of a person with The Beauty by anti-Beauty terrorists... but they realize that no, the gal has just internally combusted. And then the CDC shows up and kicks them off the case, which doesn't make them suspicious at all. Not one bit.

Pretty soon it becomes clear that it's just a matter of time before the infected half of the population is going to wind up dead. Our detective heroes are thus pulled into a mess of conspiracy, terrorism, assassinations, and a possible cure. And that's the first volume, a tense political conspiracy / action movie based on a sci-fi what-if far more complex than "aliens show up to kill us all." With good character development and everything! I don't have a lot to say about the art, but I like it, especially Jeremy Haun's faces.

(The end of the first issue is a well-executed kick in the stomach. I literally gasped.)

The second volume is more complicated. It's two stories from earlier days of The Beauty, which interlink later in the book. In the first, a 6'4" 360 pound Hispanic gang member murders his whole gang, steals a ton of money, and infects himself with The Beauty to hide. It turns him into an athletic GQ-looking white guy. In the second, a black trans woman infects herself with The Beauty and it transitions her body to one that feels right to her. The contrast between those two changes is hella interesting: increasing social privilege and meeting a need for safety versus attaining congruence between internal and external gender identification. They're way bigger changes than we'd seen in the first volume, and they're more obviously tangled with cultural and social perceptions than the premise admits in the initial description that opens the comic.

Issue 12, the first story in the third volume, is a perfect little vignette about dating in the context of the Beauty and I adored it. The rest of that volume wasn't as interesting to me, most of it being a somewhat straightforward police procedural, but my husband and several people I follow on Goodreads liked it better than the first because of its examination of the social impact of infection and how Beauties are treated.

Apr 13, 2016

This graphic novel was competently executed, but overall felt like a missed opportunity.

On page 1 the reader is told that "The Beauty" is an STD that makes people beautiful. Get this disease and fat melts away, skin blemishes disappear, etc, etc.
On page 2 the reader is shown someone with the beauty spontaneously combusting.
On page 3 the main character and this partner, both detectives, show up and announce that The Beauty is responsible for this event and they're going to figure out how.
By page 4 or 5 the story has started to ignore The Beauty in favor of a more comic-book-traditional X-Files style storyline. Questions like "Who's covering up The Beauty's deadly secret?", "What will they do to the main character in order to let this disease ravage the population?", etc, largely define the remainder of the book.

The disease itself is sidelined; if the book had used any other infection instead of The Beauty the story would have played out the same way.

There were so many interesting situations that could have been explored using The Beauty is a story motivator, but the author largely opts for more traditional conspiracy-action comic book tropes instead. This story feels like a missed opportunity.


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