Get out your afros and evil computers, we're reviewing Afrodisiac by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca!
Afrodisac is a comic about a comic, featuring an average man named Alan Deasler who, through multiple origins, is turned into Afrodisiac, a pimp with a supernatural ability to seduce any woman he wants.
This is a weird comic. And I really want to like it more than I do. I want to talk about how weird it is and how many problems I have with it, but from all the other things I've read about it I feel like I should like it. I want to like it. All this stuff should be super tongue-in-cheek, but reading it, it never feels tongue-in-cheek. It feels like it's trying to do what Black Dynamite did, but it’s not as successful.
On the one hand, I really like the idea of the book, that it's about a comic run, going through all the different incarnations of the character through decades of make-believe history. And in that aspect, it's really well done. Jm Rugg's art style is gorgeous, and it's amazing how he can get his art to look like so many different eras. There's the original 70's comic style, the animated show period, an anime look, and a bunch of stuff that looks like old beat-up comics or unreleased material, even an in-progress 80's adventure-style cover page. Some of the art is really beautiful to the point I'd like to put some of these fake covers on my wall. I also really like how Afrodisiac gets a new origin story each time, ranging from radioactive spider-bite to being created in a lab. It does a fantastic job of feeling like this book has a full history. Maybe if it had been a book about the author going through and collecting the ultimate run of Afrodisiac with his commentary on the different time periods, I would have enjoyed it more.
But then you get to the actual character of Afrodisiac, and it's super problematic. It is a character that literally seduces every woman, takes their names and gives them a number, and turns them into prostitutes in his massive pimp company (talkin’ upwards of hundreds of women here). And that? That is pretty horrifying for a character, yeah? This is not a female empowerment book. How is the last story not him turning out to be a villain, with women trying to destroy him and release his grip on his female slaves? What the actual hell? In the first story alone, he seduces a pair of lesbians (turning them straight, I guess? SO gross) so it seems to be his powers can affect any woman regardless of sexual orientation. Does he also work on homosexual men? He is basically some sort of god or supernatural demon. Compare this to Black Dynamite, BD is a pimp and he sexes a lot of women, but he still has to work at it and has many women who don't care for him. Black Dynamite also has a lot of gags showing how BD actually isn't that great a guy, and is about him standing up for the black community and fighting the white man. Afrodisiac on the other hand just seems to be working for himself and his own selfish pimping ways. This could be funnier or more ridiculous, but it just feels horrible as is. I feel like I should be laughing at all the girls calling him "daddy," (rape culture at work?) but really it is just super creepy.
Again in the first story, you get Richard Nixon straight-up punching one of his female workers. Why? He's never taken to task, nor does he get into a giant fight with Afrodisiac. What was the point? This should be a parody book, but how is this any better than any number of the actual superhero comics it's trying to parody that feature violence against women? That's the main problem I have. It's supposed to be a parody, but it never feels any better than the thing it's parodying, and it never points at itself to go "look at how ridiculous this is!" It's just treating women terribly. It doesn’t do black empowerment right, either.
The weirdest thing by far is that this book only features white women. There are zero women of color in the book. That's super weird, right? Maybe some of them wearing glasses are Asian or Latina, but it's not really promoted at all? Like you would think for a mock-blaxploitation book or even a book that supposedly took place in the 70's at the height of women's and minority reform, you'd think there would at least be some badass black women in there. I'm not sure what they're trying to say with this. Do Afrodisiac's powers only work on white women? That could be a major plot point. Even if they're trying to say something about the misrepresentation of women of color in comics in that era, without pointing it out or having some women of color in the book, they're just as bad as the books they're trying to parody. It's even worse in my opinion, because at least the Luke Cage comic had Misty Knight. (EDIT: Double checked and I JUST FOUND A BLACK WOMAN IN THE BACKGROUND. She is not one of his girls, so the "powers only work on white women and space aliens" theory is still on the table.)
It's such a weird book and I so want to like it more than I do. Rugg has a fantastic style, and some of the illustrations and covers he does for the book are downright jaw-dropping, but I can't get past how terrible Afrodisiac is as a character and how anyone would think of him as heroic. Even in parody form. It's an interesting idea for a book, but oof. Ugh. Why.
THE GOOD: Great style and beautiful art, cool idea of a book within a book.
THE BAD: Terrible to women, very little diversity in women, doesn't feel tongue-in-cheek and/or fails as a parody, lesbians turned straight, violence against women.
THE VERDICT: $$$ Maybe read it for the cool art style, maybe just go watch Black Dynamite. Also, you can read the whole thing free right here if you want to see what I'm talking about.
BOOKS LIKE IT: Luke Cage, Luke Cage and Iron Fist: Heroes for hire, A.K.A, Down Set Fight, Odessa
ONE-PAGE METAPHOR: In the first story (man, I have a lot of problems with that first story, huh?) there's an alien princess who makes every man fall in love with her, so of course this has no effect on Afrodisiac, and in fact he manages to seduce her and turn her into one of his prostitutes. The kicker is when she contacts her home planet and queen, who starts to yell at her and demand to know why she hasn't overthrown the Earth patriarchy, but then SHE instantly falls for Afrodisiac. Why isn't the endgame of this book an intergalactic war with warrior women trying to overthrow the evil galactic emperor Afrodisiac and release every female in the universe from his evil grip? It's focusing on creating this ridiculous character so much that it's missing the real problem.