The winner of Top Cow’s “Pilot Season” in 2011, but just now is becoming a reality, “The Beauty” takes place in a world where an STD turns you beautiful – and eventually kills you. Keep reading for our spoiler-free review of the second issue.
Written by Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley
Illustrated by Jeremy Haun
The Beauty has transformed average people into beautiful people. But is it killing them too? Detectives Vaughn and Foster are close to learning the truth, and that puts them directly in harm’s way. Sometimes the truth isn’t pretty.
There is something really rare about a book that feels so steeped in reality that the premise – which is admittedly a little far fetched – becomes scarily prescient. The first issue of this series had a number of those moments – the “oh shit, this feels a lot like the real world” moments – and then this issue went someplace very different. This issue takes the fear and bewilderment of the disease from the outward to the inward. By infecting Foster after revealing the horrible endgame, the book becomes not just a suspenseful read, but one that seemingly has a timer strapped to it. Only three characters, thus far, have emerged as anything more than background players, and all three of them are infected. The urgency here is impressive.
A big part of that is due to co-writer/artist Jeremy Haun’s linework. Haun creates a book that feels claustrophobic and airless, but where only some of the characters (the infected) notice. Credit belongs to colorist John Rauch, too, for his muted tones help set the tone of a mundane world on the precipice of destruction. When Haun and Rauch let loose, like on moments of destruction, it is shocking and pops off the page violently.
Haun also does great work in the transformation of folks into Beauties, as they’re called. It would be really easy to make the change so over the top that everyone would look the same walking around. But he doesn’t fall into that trap; instead, he seemed to look at real people, and just modify their faces in ways that feel natural – he’s more a plastic surgeon than a reconstructive one. The news anchor who meets his tragic end on camera is far more slender than Foster, but has a sharper nose and chin as well. It is probably far harder than it sounds to create a world of great looking people without relying on too many similar traits.
This issue begins to delve into the government’s response to the disease and, in a note that should shock no one, we find out that the government hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with the public. There is a little bit of the ‘governments are all shady and bad’ stereotyping here but, again, it is not over the top, and the conversations seem pretty close to what would actually happen if something like this popped up in the real world. People would make assumptions, and the government would deny it as long as they could before someone got wise to it.
In many ways, the book treats ignorance as the real virus here – Foster was ignorant of his wife’s infection, the public is ignorant of the government’s motivations – and attempts to bring people into ‘the light’ are all treated as hostile. Unlike many stories of this type, the rank and file aren’t content in their ignorance, but rather want to be informed. The agencies/individuals holding power want the public to remain in the dark, and are doing all they can to ensure that happens.
In many ways, this is a horror book, but with no discernible qualities of typical horror stories. Sure, we get an exploding head once and issue or so, but the dread is existential, not due to zombies or buckets of blood. The villain, moreso than the actual virus, is the idea that we’re all ticking time bombs, just waiting to go off. And isn’t that already sort of true? This raises the stakes just enough to make it not an allegory for heart disease, but for a terrorist act, or a natural disaster – that sudden, unexpected death.Continued below
The only hesitation I have with this series, thus far, is the idea that it is a sustainable concept for more than a dozen or so issues. There are hundreds of ways this can be addressed, but as it stands, as a story with Foster as the center, it seems there are only three outcomes: 1) he gets cured, 2) he dies, 3) his death is constantly teased. Of those three options, #2 is the most shocking, #3 the most frustrating, and #1 the least interesting. I also think that killing the main character is a move far more common in 2015 than it was ten or twenty years ago, but with a book that, thus far, isn’t much of an ensemble piece, it would be an odd move. Perhaps down the road, but not quite yet.
Aside from that, there really isn’t too much to not like here. Haun and Hurley have lived with this concept for a long time, and really know this world inside and out, and the confidence and facility with which they navigate the book is really something to behold. The world of “The Beauty” is somehow far less vibrant and gorgeous than the real world, despite the inhabitants being far more vibrant and gorgeous than you (sorry for maligning you, random reader!) or I may be. The book can grow its cast, and can give some attention to long term world building, but that will come in time. For now, I’m just happy to be along for the ride.
Final Verdict: 8.1 – A skillfully constructed horror book, that looks nothing at all like a horror book.