Like most kids, super-heroes functioned as a basic form of wish fulfillment - an escapist fantasy about, to quote Stephen Grant describing Superman (but applicable to the genre in general), a "Strongman who orders the world by physically imposing his will on it, to the betterment of but not necessarily with the consent of lesser men, and will do with regardless of their authorization." The onset of adolescence complicates that juvenile concept with ill-informed idealism. Young people suddenly became aware of general suffering, and wonder why grown-ups were screwing-up the world. The genre has been operating on this mode since Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee started to appeal to college kids. However the restrictions placed on super-hero universes limit how much real world issues can be raised. La Muse, created by writer Adi Tantimedh and artist Hugo Petrus, is the latest comic to attempt placing super-heroes in a more real world context. The story began online, and can still be read in this version. It's been slated to be released as a printed book later this year.
On a sliding scale between idealism and Alan Moore-style gritty realism, La Muse falls closer to fantasy. The story works the angle that super-heroes would function more as celebrities than as masked vigilantes in the real world (à la Paul Chadwick's Concrete). Susan La Muse is a left-wing political activist who has been captured on camera using her superpowers. Rather than trying to cover it up, she decides to use her sudden fame to further her causes. She enlists the help of her non-powered sister Libby, a Hollywood agent. Libby isn't pleased by all the undue attention her sister is getting, and worries about the consequences of Susan's agenda. This immediately comes in the form of enemies, both personal and political, who want to stop her permanently.
While the problems that Susan confronts are facsimiles of contemporary real-world issues, Susan La Muse offers no realistic solutions to them. This is because her powers function on a magically literal wish-fulfillment level. Global warning? Gone. Third-world hunger? Suddenly there's enough food to feed the starving. Nuclear weapons proliferation? Deactivated with a wave of the hand. It's all ridiculously easy for Susan. When asked by Libby where her agenda leads to, she responds "Just long enough for me to, you know, end suffering."
Susan's mary sueisms start with her extraordinary powers. In addition she's clever, charismatic, media-savvy, socially well-connected, attractive, and the most sexually experimental individual on the planet. She has mind-blowing sex with just about anyone (and almost anything). Sex is presented as a solution to various problems. And like a quintessential liberated woman, she prefers to make love, not war, in order to convert her enemies into allies. Since Susan is a walking deus ex machina, this makes it difficult to sustain any tension, even as Susan's ever growing list of enemies congeal into a vast right-wing conspiracy, mounting ever increasingly deadly attacks against her and her friends. But events in the later part of the story do force her to modify her tactics.
The line art for La Muse is gorgeous and more down-to-earth than the house styles that presently dominate the Big Two, which I find a relief. Despite the webcomic format, the comic conforms to the layout of the conventional nine and six panel grids. I suspect that the work was originally intended for print. The coloring however clashes with the thick, textured strokes of the line art. It feels perfunctory - bright and saturated to help define the subjects, but doesn't help improve the mood or atmosphere. Given the speed in which the comic was regularly updated, I'm impressed with how much was done. But I would have preferred to see coloring that blended more effectively with the inking.
While La Muse doesn't break new ground for the genre, it feels refreshingly new if only because it doesn't try to ape the cliches found in forty year old shared universes. It's the story of someone given the opportunity to change the world - she's actually aloud to do it, and suffer the consequences. A super-hero comic with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Is that so difficult to do?