19fhpmzllos8ejpgThe Powerpuff Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. This would have been disturbing a medieval person, for spices were used to disguise the taste of rotting meat (…according to 21st century backfills of history. If you could afford cinammon from Cathay and saffron from the Indies, you’d think you could afford fresh meat.)

When something must be made of spice for it to be palatable, what’s it hiding? Where’s the decay? How deep do I have to go before I draw back the knife and there’s black corruption on the blade? Many classic fairytales hardly wait at all before brutally traumatising you. This graphic novel is a classic fairytale told in a very arch and self-aware way – you can see the blows coming a little bit, but they still hurt.

The backstory: a young girl creates a host of whimsical characters in her head. After she dies in an unexplained accident on a country trail, these characters escape her head, and must start a new life in the woodlands.

The plot’s events resemble William Golding’s book Lord of the Flies mixed with Kazuo Umezu’s manga The Drifting Classroom. Lots of characters die, both to the environment and to each other. Many are stupid, useless, or poorly-adapted – one-note characters that spill from a dead girl’s earhole into an many-note world. Even the smart and skilful ones have lots of trouble staying alive. They try to establish a new society, but it doesn’t work very well. Nothing does.

My sister used to wonder what cartoon characters do when we’re not watching them on TV, and what computer characters do when the system is switched off. Beautiful Darkness shows us. It makes you want to leave every electrical appliance switched on 24/7, so that they’ll never be outside their element again.

Various new characters get added to replace the dead ones – a mouse, and later a woodsman, who of course remains oblivious to the tiny creatures running around his hut. By the time the final showdown between two rival females occurs, so much has passed and the characters have become so twisted that we forget their whimsical beginnings.

The art is good – very splashy and expressionistic, lots of going outside the lines in a way that can be used both for blushing petals and pools of blood. The writing is adequate – apparently it’s translated from another language.

I liked Beautiful Darkness. It holds your attention while you’re reading it, but some of its more disturbing implications only arrive when you put the book down. That dead girl’s corpse must smell pretty bad on that country trail. You’d wonder that the woodsman never discovers her body – or, if he does, why he never tells anyone. Maybe he doesn’t want her to be discovered.

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