'The Beauty' Holds Up Horrifying Mirror to Our Pursuit of Perfection

The Beauty graphic novels

Americans are obsessed with appearance. Our market is flooded with diets, exercise programs, magic pills and tummy teas that claim they are your key to a prettier, thinner you.

You’ve tried them all, gave an honest shot at a new routine only to quit two weeks in and backslide to cheeseburgers and chocolate ice cream binges. Maybe you’ve picked up some other bad habits, and after a few too many tequila shots followed by a coy smile from the cute guy at the bar, you’ve ended another evening in a one-night stand. Except this time, the mirror isn’t scolding you in the morning for the indiscretion.

It’s reflecting a whole new you entirely.

The Beauty, from Image Comics, puts a twisted spin on our pursuit of perfection and asks us to consider if being beautiful really is everything. Two years after a sexually transmitted disease that melts fat, brightens hair and gives your skin a youthful glow debuts with little more than a fever as a side effect, more than half the population has it or is trying to get it. But when Beauties start internally combusting on trains, in meetings and on national television, well, there’s your downside.

“The Beauty” manages a wide tapestry of human experience under the brutality of American vanity, the force of European beauty standards on steroids, or perhaps mutated to reflect back the ugly truth of our world – that any excuse is a good excuse to chase the perfect body, even if it costs you your life. Our cast of characters is headed by Detectives Drew Foster and Kara Vaughn, a cop duo with a Benson-and-Stabler-like chemistry that head up the Beauty task force. Their jobs are to handle any crime involving a Beauty, and they have their hands more than full. Plus, Vaughn is a Beauty herself.

At its core, The Beauty is a crime story that is horrifying in how realistic the circumstances are. You’ve got the pro-Beauty crowd seeking acceptance in society, the anti-beauty terrorists who find immorality in their existence, and the big pharma company looking to profit off a “cure” at the expense of millions of lives.

And while the first arc established the gruesome side of The Beauty – spontaneously combusting is a shit way to die, gotta say – the subsequent arcs are dedicated to how people use the virus as a tool for a new life: an orphaned trans girl finds new family, a murderer protests the class war brewing between the infected and uninfected, and, unsurprisingly, dating is a bitch.

One of my favorite things about this graphic novel is how illustrator Jeremy Haun colors those with The Beauty, first with subtlety, and then with growing importance. We get to see the progression of the disease in the coloring of several characters, and this becomes an integral part of various story lines as your eye learns how and when to look for it. I also have to give a shout-out to the individual issue covers that feature Beauties after combustion in stunning, natural poses.

The Beauty is a terrifying look at ourselves and what we would do to be beautiful. Would you die for it? Could you live with the consequences?

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Princess McDowell is a poet, writer and journalist from Dallas, Texas. She's released a CD of poetry entitled Not A Storybook <3 and a chapbook named faith move muscle. She's currently writing her first fiction novel. She can be reached at princess.mcdowell@gmail.com