‘Sex’ Vol. 2 gets down to dirty business

(Image Comics)

“The lifestyle takes its toll. It did on me and now I’ve moved on…”

And thus did Simon Cooke, aka the Armored Saint, resident superhero of Saturn City, hang up his cowl.

Well, actually, we don’t know if he wore a cowl because his face is never shown clearly in the crime-fighting flashback scenes, but you get the point.

In my post about current non-traditional, alternative superhero comics, I ranked Sex  very highly. Having read now the second paperback volume which collects issues #9-#14, I would most definitely still include it on the list but I don’t know if I’d rank it so high. I think in the beginning I was swept away by the concept since a story about a superhero trying to get laid (among other things) is an idea that’s been waiting to happen for some time now.

In one of the original monthly issues included in this volume, I forget which one, a reader sent in a letter complaining, jokingly, about how he had bought the comic expecting some hardcore porno action but was disappointed. And well, yes, if you buy this title expecting a lot in that department you will be a tad disappointed too. There are scenes of sex (with partner, with self, with group, even with sibling, yuk) but they are not as copious or as explicit as you might think for a comic called Sex.

(Image Comics)

As I pointed out in the alternative superhero comics post, sex isn’t the only thing that Simon is trying to make up for lost time with. He’s also trying to make amends for all the neglect towards his company by taking a more active interest in it as befits a CEO. Writer Joe Casey includes plenty of business discussions and corporate board room meetings as such, and it isn’t merely for the sake of pedantry. One does get the sense that these details will play a part in the plot to come.

Unfortunately, for me, the business stuff is boring. Maybe it wouldn’t be if I were more knowledgeable about this kind of mega-corporate intrigue and protocol. But since I’m not I get as bored as Simon himself is said to have gotten bored when he was more interested in cleaning up the city’s crime.

Speaking of crime, there is still much of it and Simon’s insistence on remaining retired while evil percolates in his city becomes a point of tension for himself as well as with a former partner.

Said crime is brought to you by an interesting cast of villains, probably inspired in part by some of the villains of Batman’s Gotham City if not quite as colorful. The Alpha Brothers are ruthless, sadistic and incestuous. The Prank Addict is like a less flamboyant version of the Riddler. And the Old Man is one of the creepiest villain this side of the original Freddy Krueger from the first Nightmare  film. So wrinkled all over he looks like a burn victim, his uniquely twisted method of interrogating victims for information reveals the depth of his depravity.

(Image Comics)

In the Old Man and Simon there is an interesting contrast in that Simon is handsome, wealthy and mild-mannered but is concerned with doing good, insecure, and cannot get sex despite all his money. The Old Man also happens to be rich but is vile and repulsive. Yet he gets women left and right and his office never looks as if it is not filled with naked chicks. I don’t know if this contrast was intentional on Casey’s part, but it could serve as a statement on the law of the jungle in that those who seek to do good miss out on life’s pleasures while the selfish and callously ambitious get their fill of it. Ultimately, even money isn’t the key in this vision of the world—it’s ruthlessness.

Whether you will or will not like Piotr Kowlaski’s penciling depends on how you like your superhero comics. If you expect bold and virile lines you won’t find a lot of them here. Kowlaski has a finer, light touch. There’s also a squiggly, ovaloid quality to some of the characters’ appearance that reminded me of an Spanish crime comic from the 80s-90s that I used to read years ago called Torpedo. Personally, I think his style works well with female characters but makes the male characters look a bit effete and lackadaisical.

Brad Simpson’s color work here is also an interesting point of discussion. On one hand, it’s vivid and attractive. On the other hand, there isn’t a logic to it that I can discern. Sequential panels often shift in colors and lighting dramatically, sometimes for a detectable reason but often not.  Two characters might be talking and in one panel everything is saturated in red, the next in blue, the next in yellow, etc.  I’ve been reading a lot of other comics that make rich use of color saturation (The Mercenary Sea, Dead Body Road, Translucid, etc.) but in those titles there’s a situational or emotional reason (e.g., it’s at night, the characters are in a submarine, someone is very angry, a character is high on drugs, etc.). Here it’s a bit more random. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either interesting or superfluous. Me, I found it interesting in an abstract way.

(Image Comics)

Yet another point of ambivalence is Rus Wooton’s lettering which randomly highlights certain words in different colors, not too an overly distracting degree but just enough to be different. This is all right as I appreciate it when comics occasionally try to do something unique with the lettering.  However there’s also also a problem here in that the font is so wispy and thin that if you read comics digitally you will not be able to read the text with the page at regular size—you’ll have to zoom in the whole time. And then you’ll be zooming out again constantly as you try to get a wider view of the overall page layout. Obviously, if you’re reading a comic on a smartphone this would always be the case anyway but for this title it applies to desktops, laptops and tablets as well.

Really, my main problem now with Sex  is that it’s the second volume and nothing big yet seems to be happening. All the plot elements are still being developed. And our hero Simon seems to be existing in some perpetual limbo of non-eventfulness.

I still like this comic enough that I’ll probably read the next several issues (or the next trade paperback) at least. But my initial enthusiasm has shifted to more of a neutral wait-and-see attitude. I would like to see some of the many threads start to come together in a compelling and cohesive way. If not, then like Simon Cooke I may have to move on.

About The Pop Mythologist

The Pop Mythologist
The Pop Mythologist is the founder and editor of PopMythology.com. He has been a staff writer for the nationally distributed magazine KoreAm , the online journal of pop culture criticism Pop Matters and has written freelance for various other publications and websites.

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