Oh boy, here we go again. It’s issue two of Sex and that means it’s another review where I struggle to avoid typing out the puns and innuendo which are rising up in my mind like a... like a thing that rises. Let’s see if I can contain myself...
For those of you who haven’t read issue #1 or read our review, Sex follows Simon Cooke a Bruce Wayne/Batman analogue who took early retirement following the death of his mentor as he returns to Saturn City, a futuristic substitute for Gotham that’s saturated with neon lights, vice and criminal gangs. The first issue mainly served as an introduction to the protagonist and his city, moving at an understandably slow pace in order to do so, and issue #2 continues in much the same way, gradually expanding the cast and foreshadowing future plot developments yet to come. To use Casey's own words, Sex is taking the fight scenes out of superhero comic books and replacing them with another kind of action scene" an admirable concept, given that in the real world 'fighting' is a lot less fun than the other 'F' word.
As with the first issue, it is the artwork in Sex #2 which makes the comic stand out from the crowd. It seems like Piotr Kowalski’s art, combined with the Rus Wooton’s spidery lettering and Brad Simpson’s retro color palette, is aiming for a more European style sci-fi aesthetic. Kowalski has a firm grasp of anatomy and body language, something that’s particularly well suited to a comic which features graphic depictions of sex as part of its mission statement, with his characters communicating their emotions and felt sensations immediately to the reader. Kowalski’s character designs are also impressive varying from the gorgeous to the grotesque though occasionally the prostitutes seemed interchangeable to me (though I’m willing to concede that might be a deliberate decision on the creators’ part).
Simpson’s garish colors play a major role in setting the tone, utilizing retina burning warm tones contrasted against muted blues and purples throughout. I’m always of fan of coloring which eschews realism for enhancing the story’s mood and greater aesthetic appeal, and Simpson’s work in Sex is no exception. I also liked Wooton’s use of colored highlighting for emphasizing key words in Casey’s dialogue, an original and effective substitute for the bold font employed by most comics, but can’t figure out the significance the various colors might have (if any).
My problems with Sex #2 are not faults by any objective assessment of its creators’ craft, they stem from my personal tastes and expectations rather than any writer or artistic deficiency. Casey's dialogue is serviceable and never felt out of place within the story, his concepts for the series offer intriguing possibilities but the two issues so far are pretty much all prologue. I like my monthly comics to provide a snappy, cathartic experience and in that regard I have been left disappointed by the first two issues of this series. So far we have been given a brief introduction to a number of significant cast members, a flavor of Saturn City and some hints of what we can expect from the plot in future issues.
If this was a four or six issue miniseries I would be extremely concerned about how Casey planned to fit much plot into the remaining installments at its current pace. Instead it’s an ongoing series and it seems apparent that Sex is going to be a prolonged experience dominated by decompressed storytelling and emotional undercurrents. There’s nothing wrong with that as a stylistic decision, especially not when the individuals are collected together and read as part of a longer form paperback edition, but the inherent danger of Casey’s slow burn approach is that reader dissatisfaction might hurt sales, thereby leading to a premature cancellation of the series before it can fulfill its early promise. Make no mistake, I do see this as a promising series if anything it’s a comic I wish I enjoyed more and after being left on something of a cliffhanger at the end of Sex #2 I hope to see some speedier plot progress in issue #3.
The other thing that slightly bothers me is that there seems to be a contradiction in how the sex in Sex is portrayed. It's probably intentional on the part of Casey and Kowalski, showing us these things from the protagonist Simon's point of view, but the scenes seem strangely cold and alienating. Does this comic want to titillate readers? Given the title and marketing strategy, it's safe to assume that it does, yet the tone of these scenes suggests that it seeks to condemn the behavior of Saturn City’s denizens. Casey’s series is deliberately using sex to sell but both Simon’s reticence and the villainous Old Man’s murderous perversions suggest that the city’s capacity to corrupt is far more dangerous than it is as “natural” as the Catwoman analogue tells us and Simon. Still, the comic is rich in potential and hopefully it will approach these matters with nuance.
Ultimately, what you take away from Sex #2 depends upon your expectations for it. Those of you who are expecting an immediately gratifying foray into a sex-positive world of sensual and passionate adventures in the mold of Milo Manara’s stories are likely to be disappointed, while those of you who want something that’s either purely pornographic or cerebrally challenging will feel similarly unsatisfied. On the other hand, anyone who approaches Sex with an open mind and a willingness to take their time with it is much more likely to have a fulfilling experience than those who try to rush it. It’s certainly a beautiful aesthetic experience for those who aren’t alarmed or offended by nudity or the prospect of detailed sexual interactions and, while I suspect it will read better as part of a paperback or hardcover collection, it’s certainly worth giving Sex #2 a try if you’re looking to try something new.
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 4/10/13