Review by: Ed Allen For the first time in my life a comic has made me feel like I should be speaking to Dr Phil. After five months of (often unsatisfying) Sex should I look elsewhere or should I adjust my expectations and commit to trying to make it work in the long haul?
Anyone who has been following my previous reviews of Joe Casey’s unique take on the superhero genre will already know that I have had a troubled relationship with Sex. It’s only possible to feel real disappointment when you enter into something with genuinely high hopes and prior to issue #5 the initial promise of Sex was yet to be fulfilled. Several times already it came very close to extinguishing the passion I felt for the series ever since I first set eyes on Piotr Kowalski's artwork and heard of Casey’s concept for a superhero series that replaced the punching and energy beams with sex and more sex. The pacing felt glacial, the main character (Simon Cooke) is almost as alienating for readers as he is alienated from the world around him, the sex isn’t as fun as I’d hoped and the decision to have Simon’s internal struggle be the foreground of the comic while the more interesting supporting characters play . By now we get the picture: Batman is sexually repressed and depressed. So now what?
Has Sex #5 improved on my complaints? Not really. It’s still the same aloof mistress, playing a game of tease and denial with the plot while providing some measure of catharsis with its sexier scenes and violent action sequences in order to keep us on the hook.
What Sex #5 has done is play the role of my personal Dr. Phil and reconciled me to the reality of the series, adjusting my expectations for the future so that I can continue onward in a healthier relationship without worrying over whether or not Sex is ever going to become something that it isn’t. I now see it as a pastiche study of Batman and Gotham City (i.e. Simon and Saturn City), rich in noirish intrigue, layered with multiple intertwining subplots and spiced with a sprinkling of graphic sexual activities.
If I’m being too strong in my criticisms it’s only because I feel the frustration of seeing a comic getting so much right and at moments coming within touching distance of being something truly special, only to slip backwards again in every new issue. There are plenty of comics which are objectively far worse than Sex; comics with uninteresting ideas and inferior craftsmanship yoked to standardized genre plots and tropes, or else it’s the same cast of corporate characters repeating the same safe storylines forever. Against such a backdrop of mediocrity and routine moneymaking, Sex stands out like a beacon. Casey’s desire to push the boundaries of superhero comics should be commended, the art team’s entire aesthetic is superbly well honed and the comics market is made richer with Sex on its shelves.
It’s an impressively beautiful comic, with a holistic approach to the art that gives Sex a very distinct aesthetic. Brad Simpson provides refreshingly non-realist colors, with every page saturated in flat swathes of blazing oranges and reds or sullen blues and purples, and in concert with the refined precision of Kowalski’s line, with its echoes of Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowski’s styles, there is rarely an uninteresting panel on the page. Even the spidery lettering wouldn’t look out-of-place in the pages of The Incal or Metal Hurlant.
I can see a possible disconnect between dedicated superhero genre fans, who may never normally see anything quite so explicitly risqué in a comic as in Sex, and readers with plenty of experience beyond the narrow confines of the genre who are likelier to have seen comics that are more daring and sophisticated in their exploration of sexuality. The former will surely find Sex to be an invigorating experience and should hopefully be introduced to a more European style of art through Kowalski’s efforts, while the latter may not be so impressed by the mere presence of sexual content if they’ve had the pleasure of reading comics by the likes of Milo Manara (which you should, by the way).
Regardless of my personal issues, this is an undeniably unique and well-made comic and I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t already tried Sex should make a point of doing so this week. The story might move slowly but with Kowalski’s art and Simpson’s colors it’s a feast for the eyes and if it tempts you into reading some Milo Manara or Moebius comics then, if nothing else, it will have done a valuable public service.
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 7/31/13