When Victor Frankenstein created life, he was unprepared for the consequences of it. The monster he created needed a parent, a teacher, a caregiver, but instead he abandoned it. The monster, learning to fear and hate through the necessities of survival, dedicates its life to vengeance upon its creator. But what if the doctor hadn’t left his creation to fend for itself? Would it have been better? Or would it have brought up a host of other uncomfortable issues and power dynamics?
That is the question that Devil’s Candy has so far failed to ask, despite providing like, tons of setup for it! Gahh!
Devil’s Candy is set in a world where everyone is some kind of monster. It’s never explicitly stated to be Hell, but everyone who lives there is called a “devil”, so its atmosphere and tone benefit from that association – everything is kinda normal, but also kinda fucked up. Our protagonist is a devil named Kazu who, for his high school biology project, creates a living, breathing girl named Pandora.
The thing is, once the project is graded and the class is over, Pandora’s still there. Lacking language abilities or cultural knowledge but possessing prodigious durability and strength, Pandora becomes a grim, unstoppable fixture in Kazu’s home and life. To his credit and unlike Frankenstein, he takes his responsibility as her creator seriously, bringing her to school with him and making sure to teach her as much as possible every chapter. But the fact that she’s also a curvaceous babe does not go unnoticed by his friends, like the caustic half-corpse Nemo, who teasingly accuses Kazu of making himself a girlfriend. He brushes off these comments, but they nonetheless highlight some, ah, troubling questions.
The first chapter revolves around the aforementioned biology assignment and Kazu’s classmates’ attempts to fulfill it. As it turns out, they’ve all been cheating (except Kazu, Nemo, and bashful cyclops Hitomi), getting help from evil teen genius Gyro in exchange for their own organs. Yeah dude, I told you this comic was kinda fucked up. And it gets worse, because a huge portion of Kazu’s class actually did make themselves girlfriends – including Gyro, who in his masterstroke triggers some sort of function he built into the monsters’ bodies, causing them to merge together into one giant amorphous gibbering “ultimate woman” which he uses to rampage through the school.
So this comic is two parts typical shonen action, two parts high school dramedy, one part guro, and one part Universal-Monsters-referential jokes. It sounds a bit played out, but there’s something else there that I can’t quite put my finger on, a spark of true originality and wit that keeps everything engaging. The interplay between Hamby’s sharp, expressive characters and Bickham’s clever dialogue creates something unique, and I find that many pages actually surprise me with their latest developments – although sometimes that surprise comes in the form of revulsion.
And much of that revulsion is not at the gore or body horror, but at the unaddressed consent issues! Despite Kazu’s insistence that he has no romantic designs on his creation, the subtext remains. When fighting the rest of Gyro’s nefarious Science Club, mantid-mutant Horatio tells Pandora that Kazu can be her husband after they put his brain in a monstrous body they have prepared. The fight ends with a love-potion-explosion, leaving Kazu and Pandora in a lovey, cuddly pile as the curtains close. In a typical story, these would be clear hints at an endgame romance between two characters, and while by all appearances Devil’s Candy is not a typical story, it has so far done nothing to relieve my fears of a relationship forming between a girl and the boy who literally created her.
The most frustrating thing is that this would be super interesting territory to explore, both thematically and narratively! How does Pandora feel about Kazu? How does she feel about the pressures and expectations everyone else puts on her? The nature of her creation makes her something of a cultural blank slate, but she clearly has likes and dislikes, desires and loyalties. What would she choose if she were given the ability to do so? She has a lot of power, but so far, little agency.
But then again, maybe “allowing” her to “choose” her own path would be the same thing Frankenstein did, akin to abandoning a baby. And a baby she is: only a few days have passed in the comic since her “birth”, making the idea of romance between her and anyone kind of a squicky thought. And Kazu’s basically, like, her dad – at 14 years old. Talk about a fucked up situation!
But hey, I’m a Butler fan, I love stories that explore uncomfortable power dynamics between characters. It’s possible to tell stories like that without justifying those dynamics or relationships, and Devil’s Candy has the perfect setup to do exactly that. I just hope that when they hit that crossroads, the creators choose to acknowledge and problematize the power imbalance between Kazu and Pandora instead of ignoring it, or worse, romanticizing it.
The verdict: Fans of Franken Fran or Black Jack will love the nasty medical gore. Fans of monstrous character design and dark comedy will be similarly gratified. Fans of uncomfortable power-imbalanced relationships? Well, the jury’s still out on that.