Only Humanoid:

Cheese, and other forms of Cake

Writer: Denis-Pierre Filippi
Art: Terry Dodson

I’ve got nothing against cheap entertainment. These works, in whatever medium, are nothing more than bread and circus – exciting violence, loud explosions, shallow humor, and beautiful bodies presented for the pleasure of the viewer. Junk food has its place, as long as it’s not the only thing you eat.

What I don’t like is junk food that tries to pass itself as gourmet. It’s one thing to feed me crap, it’s quite another to feed me crap that insists that I am just experiencing culinary education. In the realm of fiction these would be the types of works that seek to indulge in cheap thrills while at the same time criticizing the reader for enjoying himself. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Even if you could it would probably be a very disgusting cake the second time around[1]

The most popular example is the Zack Snyder film Suckerpunch, a train wreck that features a bunch of abused (yet always beautiful) women in a mental hospital who imagine themselves into fantastic scenarios (geek phantasmagorias of steampunk, anime, and music video tropes) as they try to escape. All the men in the film are either abusers or disgusting looking voyeurs – forever ogling perfectly toned bodies in fetish clothing as they dispatch rows of disposable bad guys. You see what he did there?! Of course you do – these men are the viewers! And they are judged accordingly for it.

Most critics saw straight through Snyder’s game, quickly noting that the film indulges the same sexual fetishism for the geek crowed that it seeks to critique. (The webcomic Multiplex summed it up best by saying, “honestly, the only reason I’m even a little bit curious is, I’m impressed he could write an entire script one handed”). That movie was nothing more than beautiful women displayed for the audience’s pleasure. If you want to fight against sexism it might be better to include one main character that doesn’t look like a supermodel.

Muse, like Suckerpunch, is mostly a flesh parade with some critical aspiration: Caroline is the newly recruited caregiver for Vernere – a child prodigy that lives in a gigantic mansion in the bucolic countryside with his servants. Caroline’s job, unofficially, is to help the house’s introverted master out of his shell with promises of fun and games. The only problem is that Vernere could care less and prefers to spend his time developing steampunk machinery.

Every night Caroline falls into deep sleep and awakens into a variation of the same dream – she his pushed into a dress, dolled up in revealing outfits and forced to act through subtly erotic scenarios – she is the captured pirate maiden, or the token white woman in an African tribe, and always is “rescued” by a dashing hero that thinks she should show her gratitude with sex. Naturally, and unsurprisingly, there’s an explanation that ties the dreams to the mysterious nature of Vernere and Caroline’s recurring dreams, and to the hostility of the local populace to the servants of the house.

The book is light – both in terms of plot and character and in tone. Fillippi plays the whole thing like a dream (the book’s original title “Songes”, literally – Dreams) with an airy ease to it, even when Caroline is the in the ‘real’ world there is little sense of urgency or threat to her investigations. While the light tone works well enough for the dream sequences it becomes problematic when used in the ‘real world’ scenes; perhaps the book would have been better assisted by heaving two distinct artists – one for each mode. Instead they’ve got Terry Dodson.

An American artist with long history in the American market (notable works includeHarley Quinn, Marvel Knights Spider-Man and Spider-man / Black Cat) Dodson’s work is unapologetically cheesecake. His women are all large breasted, athletically built and have stunning looks. That aside, he is a pretty good artist overall, with an eye for design and page layout. His work is lively and produces interesting scenery and settings. Much like Frank Cho, you’ve got a sense of someone who could commit to a more “serious” work but is having too much fun doing what he does to change course. I don’t have to like it, but I can respect it.

Muse is one of these extra-large Humanoids hardcovers and the size lets Dodson run wild with his favorites – not only good looking women in fetish gear but also some cool-looking machines (he really should find some steampunk series to work on) and a lot of beautiful arcadia-like backgrounds. In Dodson’s world it is not only the women that are beautiful – everything is. This is disengenous to reality though. Caroline is basically a Barbie (with the coloring given her skin a plastic-like quality in some scenes).

There are two main problems with Dodson’s work: the first is that, much like the writing, it is way too light – scene and character have little sense of mass to them. It works well enough for the dream scenes (which are meant to be like this), but these are utterly indistinct from the “real world” scenes. There is no danger in this tone deaf work. You never feel concerned for Caroline’s life. She basically breezes through the action scenes.

The other problem is that in some scenes the image losses Dodson’s regular smooth-sharp balance and becomes a bit Carry Nord-esq  and unfinished.[2] I assume that this is because his usual inking and coloring partner Rachel Dodson is missing and he doesn’t have quite the same rapport with Rebecca Rendon. But this is a minor quibble. The book is very good looking.

That’s just all there is to it: good Looks. It’s a shallow work; or rather – a shallow work that pretends to be deep. Finishing this book I’m left with no new ideas or perspectives regarding the male gaze, women’s place in male fiction, or erotica as art. What I’ve received are some pretty pictures of pretty women, no more, no less. Erotica has its place, but the book makes such lofty promises one cannot help but feel disappointed. I’ve been lured into a restaurant by a promise of a five star menu and gotten McDonalds for my dinner; and that’s just pisses me off.

[1] A generalization – there have been works or art that succeeded in being the thing and a critique of the thing – but these are rare.

[2] Nord is a good artist, but Conan styled art is not good for Muse

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Tom Shapira is a carbon-based life from the planet earth. He was formed in the year 1985 AD by two loving parents. He is also an MA student of English Lit. at Tel-Aviv University, Israel, where he feels proud to be the first student to graduate with a BA by writing a paper about the works of Grant Morison. In his native tongue, Tom is a staff writer for Israel's leading comics blog and an occasional participant in the blog's bi-weekly podcast. He spends too much time, money and thought on Comics (especially the works of Grant Morison, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis) and his friends and family wish he would stop. He is not going to.

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Also by Tom Shapira:

Judging Dredd: Examining the World of Judge Dredd


The Mignolaverse: Hellboy and the Comics Art of Mike Mignola


Curing the Postmodern Blues: Reading Grant Morrison and Chris Weston\'s The Filth in the 21st Century


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