The creation of Finnish cartoonist J.P. Ahonen, Belzebubs started as a webcomic and has taken on a life of its own, resulting in not only this collection but also music releases putting the imaginary black metal band in the same realm as Gorillaz, or maybe The Archies.
In the collected comics, we follow amiable black metal bandleader Sloth and his wife Lucyfer as they contend with band concerns, like the seemingly eternal quest for a new drummer, and they also have a new baby and take a vacation in Hell, which features, among other things, the hilarious image of tourists scooting around on their Segways, taking in the steaming pits of the damned. And there’s plenty of humor aimed at Christianity and Jesus in particular.
My absolute favorite recurring storyline has daughter Lilith trying to woo the ordinary Sam in the most stumbling way through a series of macabre acts that mostly disturb him. It’s such a sweet and funny cycle, with Lilith proving to be the most well-rounded character in the book, alternately vicious and vulnerable, especially with the introduction of a rival in the form of blonde barista Eve, who drives Lilith’s rage to more desperate heights.
On one level, this is a bit like the Addams Family transposed into the 21st Century with more current references. The macabre affectations of the horror genre back when the comics appeared were more innocent than they are now, but in the context of Belzebubs, they have the same sweet darkness. I guess that’s an indication of how far we’ve come. Black metal can be cute and it doesn’t have to be forced to fit into that sensibility.
The premise of Man-Eaters is that a mutation of the toxoplasmosis parasite appeared in cat litters. The resulting disease, Toxoplasmosis X, is a little worse than the one we currently face, mostly plague-like symptoms like fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and headaches.
A lot of people who are infected don’t ever show symptoms and actually don’t require treatment to get rid of the parasite, so we actually need a mutation for it to be a good comic book plot, and in Man-Eaters, this results in the hormonal fluctuations of menstruation turning girls into ferocious cat monsters. Families are slaughtered and the government must devise systems and special police forces to handle the problem of cat-girl monster massacres. The solutions, as you can imagine, penalize the girls by focusing on their periods as a means of control and enforcement, rather than the infection itself.
As a result, the anti-cat-girl monster initiatives are used to create areas which men and women are separated and women sometimes incarcerated. The health concern becomes an excuse to mansplain to women about the very parasite they face, and the panic a justification for men to feel like the victim. And a demand by males to have their safe spaces — you know, places they can’t be mauled to death — directly mirrors elements of real life nonsense like the Incel movement and especially Comicsgate, no surprise given the creative teams’ past experience with the latter while working on the Marvel comic Mockingbird. Parts of Man-Eater feel like a direct response to that clash and in framing the perpetrators of the hostility as fragile definitely seizes the upper hand.
Putting this scenario into human terms that we can relate to is our pink pussy hat-wearing hero Maude, a good-natured and intelligent kid dealing with her parents’ divorce and the fear of her own changing body. Over the course of this first volume, we backtrack from the night she finds blood stains in her underwear to get a better concept of the world she lives in, as well as watch a mauling investigation unfold.
The story is accentuated with selections of propaganda posters and pamphlets and other parodies that broaden the context of the satire within the story, including an entire issue of Cat Fight Magazine, devoted to informing boys of the dangers they face because of girls.
The human story at the center, though, is what makes the book work. The ideas Cain brings to the book are all timely and pointed and hilarious, but Maude and her family bring it all down to earth and make the book not only enjoyable but charming. Given the importance of the messages in this book, that’s the most crucial component to getting these ideas beyond the books’ obvious immediate audience. It’s a highly-entertaining presentation that offers more than the feminist message it contains, but that message is there, it’s not subtle, and bravo for that.