One Punch Reviews #49: Birth of Venus
If you’ve only followed superheroes through the big screen movies, you may be surprised to find that their comic counterparts have had pretty brutal storylines. We are long past the “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” to “Don’t set foot in a comic shop without your parent’s permission.” Particularly heinous are comics where Sue Dibny (Elongated Man’s wife) gets raped by supervillain Dr. Light and Jeph Loeb’s Ultimatum, which included heartwarming scenes like The Thing crushing Dr. Doom’s head and The Wasp getting eaten by a cannabilistic Blob.
And I haven’t even gotten to the far more gruesome stories written by Garth Ennis and Mark Millar. (In fact, in one of the stories, a supervillain gets revenge on the hero by impregnating his daughter with his gay son’s DNA … and if anyone tried to abort the fetus, the girl’s womb would collapse. Ungh.)
Long story short, it seems that the modern superhero comic market seems to be targeted exclusively toward juggalos. In comparison, Birth of Venus, where the superheroine gets her powers as a side effect to rape, is pretty damn sunny.
The creative team behind Birth of Venus are Andrew Makishima, Matthew Rice, and Rory Walsh. The comic opens with our heroine, Mara Mercury, in costume drifting down from the sky and crashing into an alley. It’s all misdirection. The heroine doesn’t have any superpowers at all. She’s been raped and thrown out of a skyscraper window after the violent assault. In fact, she wasn’t even the real target. She was mistaken for her reporter sister, Madison.
The unpolished illustrations are very harsh and unsettling. It’s full of jagged edges, heavy inks, and unattractive people. You get a sense of griminess, and given the the dire origin story it’s sorta appropriate. When Mara’s attacker sends a shape-shifter to finish the job, Mara soon discovers that she can shoot things out of her hands. It turns out Mara is pregnant with a super-villain’s child, and that, in turn, is giving her superpowers.
It’s a fairly original premise. Birth of Venus doesn’t get offensive for the sake of being offensive (like, say, one of the top contemporary writers including a plotline about a villain rigging a girl with an exploding uterus). It would be easy (and tasteless) to portray the rape as exploitative. The team, instead, manages to convey the horrifying repulsiveness of the act. I can see several potential plotlines for the creative team to explore, such as the motivations as to why Mara wants to keep the baby. However, the subject matter is also quite uncomfortable, and the team definitely has to work double-duty to be careful that the story doesn’t go off the rails.
Still, it’s a rather uncomfortable comic to read. I’m not a huge fan of pairing the inherent absurdity of superheroes with grim reality, preferring the sunniness of Roger Langridge’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger and Paul Cornell’s Action Comics run. While it never crosses the extreme Ennis/Millar threshold, I imagine Birth of Venus is the sort of comic that can find an audience among readers who prefer to see their heroes in the downbeat vein of Watchmen.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).