I normally try to make ICHFs work as stand-alones, for the sake of people who don’t read these things in order. However, the subject of this one, Devi D., really requires on a certain level of familiarity with the character whose comic she debuted in, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Devi isn’t a flat character – she’s fully realized in her own right, and you can understand her solo story well enough without having to know how she fit in Johnny’s. At the same time, both characters benefit when looked at side by side. Their stories are complimentary, and seeing them in contrast to each other enriches your understanding of them.
Devi first appeared in a comic where Johnny went on a date, which is a pretty notable event for a viciously antisocial character like Johnny. Yet in a way it kind of works. They’re both intelligent, they both share a somewhat justifiably low view of the exaggerated caricatures of human cruelty that inhabit their world, and they both have a morbid sense of humor. Hell, they’re both even artists, or at least Johnny was one before his creativity was redirected. Devi and Johnny had good chemistry, and for a brief moment there seems to be the potential for them both to help each other survive the world they live in – they could have kept each other healthy.
Sadly, there’s one big difference between Johnny and Devi: Johnny’s a serial killer whose delusions force him to find a reason to kill other people, regardless of whether they truly deserve it. In Devi’s case, Johnny ultimately convinces himself that while she hasn’t hurt him yet – and in fact has made him feel genuinely happy, a rare emotion for the murderer – she will obviously hurt him later down the line, or he will hurt her, and as such killing her now will “immortalize the moment” and prevent their relationship from going sour. In a different story, this would reach the obvious tragic end, with Johnny killing Devi and probably angsting about his monstrosity.
Instead, Devi kicks Johnny’s ass. She kicks his ass in a magnificent fashion. To call it an ass kicking is an understatement – as soon as Johnny whips out the knives, Devi beats him down so quickly and utterly that the otherwise formidable homicidal maniac can’t manage to land a single hit in retaliation. When Johnny lies unconscious in a pool of his own blood dealing with serious head trauma, Devi gets the fuck out of his house and earns the title fans of the comic have given her: “The One That Got Away.”
This moment was so noteworthy in the comic – it was the first time someone actually escaped Johnny’s attempted murder, and also the first time the titular maniac got his shit wrecked – that if Devi’s story ended there she would still be one of the most iconic characters in the series. Thankfully, that’s not the end of her tale. She went on to make sporadic appearances in later issues of the comic, allowing us to see her deal with the trauma of Johnny’s murder attempt and, when Johnny later tried to reconcile with her over the phone, delivered yet another brutal beatdown to the titular maniac – albeit a verbal one.
Then Devi got her own comic, a two issue mini series call I Feel Sick. In it, we learn more about Devi’s past, with Johnny simply being the last in a line of truly awful dates that the poor woman has had to endure (from her first date ending in a car crash, to one with a literal flesh-eating zombie, and one where the date in question shat his pants). We also see that Devi’s shut-in reaction to her encounter with Johnny has turned into full-on agoraphobia, both out of fear of having more horribly social interactions with people, romantic or otherwise, and out of a need to overcome her latest mental ailment: artist’s block.
Devi has recently undertaken a job as a cover illustrator for a publishing company, and as a result has had to divert a lot of her artistic energy to that task and away from her personal projects. As the comic goes on, the mental and emotional strain caused by her job for the company begins to weigh on her, as the head of the company keeps demanding arbitrary changes to the artwork for no apparent reason. Thus the job takes longer to finish, and thus Devi has less time to do something that actually exercises her artistic creativity. Since art is the only part of Devi’s life that she’s found to be a reliable source of satisfaction, this leaves her in a very fragile state of mind.
Especially since one of her unfinished personal art pieces has begun talking to her.
As Devi continues to cut herself off from the world, including her concerned friend Tenna, her painting of a little doll named Sickness taunts her over her lack of satisfying social relationships, and needles her about her need to work on the corporate job. In fact, Sickness seems to really want Devi to ignore her personal artwork altogether, and while the painting’s voice sounds like Devi’s own, Devi begins to wonder if it isn’t something else.
Which, as anyone who read Johnny the Homicidal Maniac could guess, it very much is. Sickness is in fact the beginning of Devi’s own “hungry wall” – the seed of the very same madness that turned Johnny from a frustrated, antisocial artist into a raving serial killer. Sickness even lets it slip that she and her “master” found Devi after her encounter with Johnny. In essence, Devi caught Johnny’s particular supernatural madness like a disease. Or, well, a Sickness.
One can see why they would choose Devi, too. Like Johnny, Devi is bitter, cynical, pessimistic, and judgmental when it comes to the vast majority of humanity and society in general. Like Johnny, she has a creative imagination, which the sickness uses to manifest itself. And like Johnny, Devi tends to isolate herself as a result of too many unpleasant encounters with other people. Given how easily Johnny was duped and used by the sickness in his own comic, Devi would seem like an ideal candidate.
But Devi D. is no-one’s tool. As Sickness can’t help but admit, Devi figured out what was happening way sooner than it expected, and while Devi has her flaws, she isn’t the kind of person who wants revenge on people who wronged her. Instead of letting the cruelty of others define her, Devi devotes herself to artistic endeavors – ones that allow her to explore worlds free from the unrestrained cruelty of her own reality.
Sickness tries to manifest a body for itself to force Devi to play ball, but the process is too early for her to do it properly, and as a result Devi overpowers her, plucks out the screws she uses for eyes, and tells Sickness that no one can control her, because Devi already has a master: her artwork. And just as Devi is willing to give up everything to make that art exist, so too will Sickness now be forced to submit to it – to give up her dreams of owning Devi, and instead do nothing more than play captive audience to what Devi creates.
Devi also quits her job with the publishing company, though that confrontation doesn’t end quite as epically as the one with the supernatural monster.
Though damaged, Devi refuses to let those who hurt her define her, and as a result she does not become a part of the cycle of cruelty. She defends herself when necessary, yes, and is willing to fight for her right to exist, but Devi doesn’t seek out people to destroy, and as a result she lives eventually lives a healthier life. Even as she gives up hope of finding romantic love, she still has her art, and her friend Tenna. The difference between Devi is the difference between self defense and premeditated murder – between recovering from trauma and letting it define you. Devi was a victim, but she never let herself turn into a villain. As a result, she walks free to a better life, where others spiral into self destructive mania. We could all learn a thing or two from Devi D.