In the body horror genre, the horrific transformation of the human body doesn’t simply happen out of nowhere, Kafka notwithstanding. The transformation is usually triggered by some kind of catalyst, whether it’s Seth Brundle getting his DNA merged with a fly or Dr. Jekyll drinking some chemical concoction that unleashes his evil side. Then you have the catalyst that triggers the transformation of Marion Angela Weber, the protagonist in MAW, written by Jude Ellison S. Doyle and drawn by A.L. Kaplan. That trigger seems to be straight-up anger.
Marion seems content to drinking herself to death, but she is dragged by her sister Wendy to a feminist retreat on the remote island of Antgitia. What began as an attempt to heal Marion’s broken spirit becomes a harrowing encounter that fundamentally changes Marion. She develops a peculiar hunger, even as her body transforms into something not quite human. Then there are the men around the retreat who are afraid of what she is becoming. What follows is a night of violence where Marion shows all the men that have hurt her how badly she can hurt them.
MAW could be filed away as just another revenge story, but Doyle’s depiction of Marion pulls the reader into the story by having them empathize with her plight. Already recovering from an assault when she steps on the island, she is forced to confront that act again, something she is not prepared for. She is initially skeptical of what is happening to her, like many in these kinds of stories, but later learns to accept it. One could argue she even relishes in what she’s becoming.
When the body horror starts to actually happen, Kaplan’s art depicts it as something brutal happening to the person transformed as well as signaling that the men who have hounded Marion will soon feed her hunger. Drawing a lot of inspiration from sea creatures that haunt the ocean depths as well as our nightmares, Marion’s transformation invokes a great deal of fins, fangs, and claws. Indeed, seeing Marion fully become a monster that is finally able to fight back almost seems like a moment of triumph, when she’s finally able to fight back against all the men who have made her life miserable.
The book, dealing with many mature themes, has quite a strong feminist message, but it’s not delivered in a pandering way. Rather, it explores and even amplifies the terrors women have to go through when encountering men who refuse to take no for an answer. The book could end up a revenge fantasy, but it also explores the costs of becoming that monster, not the least of which is the loss of some fundamental humanity. Despite its fantastical elements, MAW is a book that ultimately is for people who like their horror brutal, both in its depiction of bloody violence and emotional trauma.
By Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Art by A.L. Kaplan
BOOM! Studios, 2022
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)