Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #10: The Complete Iron Devil by Frank Thorne

Full disclosure alert: I definitely am using Book-A-Day as a way to clean out my shelves, to read things that I'm not sure why I have them in the first place, to poke into those obscure corners and see what's accumulated.

And so today I have for you The Complete Iron Devil, collecting two closely related Frank Thorne comics series from the early '90s. For those of you who were around in those days, let me add that they were published by Eros, Fantagraphics' sex-drenched sister imprint, and that may explain a lot. I don't remember buying this, but maybe that's just because I've read it now and have developed convenient amnesia.

There is a lot of sex in this book. There is a lot of chattering in lieu of plot in this book. There is a lot of pseudo-mystic bullshit in this book, generally in the vaguely Satanic category. There is not a lot of sense in this book, but I'm not confident its audience wanted sense at all. I do suspect its audience, being Thorne loyalists, did get what they wanted: characters who look just like all of his other heroines having a lot of sex.

Characters completely disappear from the narrative -- mostly between the first and second series collected here, but not always. One begins to suspect that every action in the book is only happening because it will lead to the next sex scene -- never more than a page away -- or to further whatever mythical point Thorne thought he was making.

Now, I like sex. And I like porno comics quite a lot of the time. But this is just a weird, random mess, and that's before the last issue turns into a metafictional attack on the local Oklahoma sex cops who busted a comics shop for selling the previous issue.

We start out with some random unnamed fertility goddess -- naked and the modern version of gorgeous, obviously -- telling us the supposedly intertwined stories of two young blonde women who look a lot like her [1], both of whom are in the sex business in their respective eras. They have, I'm sorry to say, very silly names: Fey Brith is the one in vaguely olde-timey times with lots of candles and forsoothly dialogue with too many dropped letters. And Tristi Joie -- those may be her first two names, since she suddenly develops a sister slightly later who has a normal last name -- is a high-priced whore in Harlem of the then-near-future of The Year 1999!

We bounce back and forth between the two of them, in scenes with a lot of clunky dialogue and lovingly-drawn sex and some vaguely mystical foreshadowing. The vaguely mystical foreshadowing leads to actual sex demons appearing in both timelines, for no specific purpose or reason that's ever explained clearly. (Unless that is just: screw the hot girls, maybe kill a bunch of other people, and leave.) Other stuff also happens, but we generally don't know why, and often aren't clear on who.

The first series ends with a Satanic orgy, more or less, which doesn't entirely follow from the preceding scenes. (Neither of those two supposed main characters take part; the old-timey one has disappeared for good.) And then the second series starts up with Tristi's kid sister pregnant with the spawn of Satan or something like that, giving birth a eventually to a baby girl sex-demon.

Now, there may be a time and place more conducive to the exploits of a poorly-written baby girl sex-demon than an Oklahoma City comics shop in the mid-90s -- or than comics shops in general at that time -- but that doesn't mean it was a good venue. Or that making a story about a baby girl sex-demon was a good idea to begin with. And, yes, we do see a short female person that we're told is a baby girl sex-demon, just born and then a few days old, having sex. You can argue that shouldn't be considered child pornography, on account of how it's drawn and not real, on account of how flamboyantly goofy it is,  and on account of Thorne probably meaning some of it as satire on something-or-other, but I would guess there are plenty of jurisdictions, in 1995 and now, where it definitely would count.

So the second series, which by the way was vaguely narrated by a nonspecific voice that definitely isn't the goddess from the first series and isn't anyone else, either, goes not much of anywhere for two issues, with a lot of sex mostly with adult and consenting women, and then turns into an attack on Oklahoma, the American anti-sex forces, and bad parody-names of then-famous right-wingers.

I expect that a lot of people have and will enjoy this book, but I also believe they do because relatively little of their blood is left to keep their brains, and its attendant critical facilities, operating normally while reading The Complete Iron Devil.

Now I have to figure out what to do with my copy. I really doubt the library will take it as a donation....

[1] This, as far as I can tell, is not particularly meaningful; Thorne has one model for "hot young blonde woman" and he uses it at every occasion. And it's not like his brunettes or redheads are all that different, either....

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