SEX 1-3

sex 1-3

Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing the Sex 1-3, originally released March 6th, April 10th, and May 22nd 2013.

Shelby: I’m going to come clean with you all: I have a lot of problems with this title. Let’s just leave it at that, and dive on in.

SEX is the story of Simon Cooke, formerly the masked hero Armored Saint, champion of Saturn City. He’s the super-rich CEO of The Cooke Company, a family business of which he is the only family member. Any of this sound familiar at all? He made a promise to his motherly assistant on her deathbed that once she was gone he would give up the crime-fighting lifestyle and actually have a life. Apparently in Saturn City, that means just lots of sex; his lawyer friend Warren straight up tells him to go get laid, so he goes to a peep show at a brothel run by former nemesis Catwoman Shadow Lynx, aka Anabelle LaGravanese. Simon, however, seems to be completely uninterested in sex, which worries those around him. Meanwhile, crime bosses The Old Man and The Alpha Brothers are each scheming their own schemes, trying to figure how what kind of town Saturn City is going to be now that The Saint is gone, and opportunistic busboy Keenan has stolen some data from the Alpha Bros. and is trying to figure out what he should do with it.

The concept alone of this title is actually pretty interesting. I poked fun in my recap of the similarities to the Batman universe, but this story is basically, “what if Batman retired?” That is one of the many ideas writer Joe Casey is exploring here. In his extensive letters columns he touts SEX as a paradigm of “fusion” style comics: independent, creator-controlled works inspired by mainstream superhero tropes. I really like the idea of exploring the real-world consequences of a masked superhero retiring; it affords us an opportunity to explore what kind of person would become a superhero in the first place, and what would happen to them once that is no longer a part of their life.

simon cooke

Unfortunately, the base concept is the only thing I really find enjoyable about this book. Casey explores a lot of ideas about sex and pleasure, and I find I fundamentally disagree with his opinions on all of them. In the world Casey has created, sex is life. It’s not a part of life, it’s all there is. All pleasure in life is found through sex; the only form of gratification to be had is physical. Anabelle says it very plainly as she and Simon walk through an orgy in her brothel: “Y’see, normal people tend to do whatever it takes to get themselves off. Fact of life.” I could take that as a metaphor for the quest for happiness, a commentary on the selfish nature of humankind. I still don’t totally agree with it, but it’s an interesting idea. Except that it’s not a metaphor, they’re literally walking through an orgy for chrissake. In Saturn City, if you do not have sex, you are not happy, and I find that sort of one-dimensional world-building to be remarkably boring.

Even worse, though, is the morality issues Casey introduces. Sex may be the only way to be happy, but the good guy doesn’t have any. Of all the main characters we see having sex, they are morally ambiguous at best, and horrifying criminals at worst. It’s the only source of pleasure, but only the bad do it. Your choices are to be morally upright but unhappy or a villain leading a life of pleasure. Not only do I disagree with this idea, I think it’s a dangerous one, too close to the  idea that women are either manipulative sluts or prudish virgins. I’ve been told that good girls are chaste and bad girls are whores my whole life, consciously and unconsciously, and I’m only now beginning to grasp how dangerous an idea it is. It ties in well with Casey’s treatment of women in this title, however, as they are all seen as sexual objects. Whatever pleasure these women attain is by or for a man. Anabelle is the only woman with any sort of agency in the book, and whatever power she has is because of her sexuality. When Simon was The Armored Saint (can you imagine a more sexually-repressed name?), Anabelle was the one who tempted him to stray, and Simon’s discussion with Warren about what he’s supposed to do now is cut with images of Anabelle masturbating. The only two exceptions to the “women as sexual objects” rule are Quinn, the mother-figure who convinced Simon to give up his life of good for a life of pleasure, and Larry his secretary.

mother figure and lesbian

With her short haircut, man’s name, and constant anger towards Simon, if she’s not supposed to be some overblown caricature of a bull-dyke, I’ll eat my hat. Those are your female characters in this book: mother, angry lesbian, and whore. Great. 

All that amounts to things I don’t like about this book, and I could just dismiss it as such, but the quality of the writing isn’t particularly awesome, either. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural; let’s take a look at this awkward pillowtalk between busboy Keenan and Unnamed Woman after she left some scratches on his back after sex.

Keenan: …and I’ll getcha back too. No doubt. Nothing like a little pain thrown in at the exact moment of ecstasy to give you a little perspective
Woman: “Ecstasy,” huh? I like that…but don’t even think about workin’ a revenge fuck on me, baby.

What the hell? Who the fuck talks like that? Not only is the dialogue unnatural and at times juvenile (I don’t think Simon has one conversation with Warren that doesn’t involve Warren telling him to “get laid”), Simon himself is a really dull character. I get that he’s supposed to be super repressed and rather apathetic, but I’m just bored by him. Again, the concept is interesting, but execution is lacking.

The worst part of this book, in my opinion, has got to be “Dirty Talk,” Casey’s masturbatory 4-page letters column. Every issue, it turns into a ranting tirade on the evils of writing for the Big Two publishers, how one can only truly be creative when working independently. Casey rushes to reassure us that he loves DC and Marvel books, that he’s happy to see mainstream superhero ideas in indie books, and immediately turns around and says, “writing corporate comicsbooks can make your dick soft.” And then again, reassures us it’s not a gender thing, he’s speaking of the creative edge. I fundamentally disagree with the pretentious notion that independent media is inherently better than corporate. Each has its place, and each can produce either wonderful or terrible works. On that shining note, I’ll turn this over to you Drew; how do you feel about this controversial title?

Drew: Hahaha. Oh my. Honestly, Shelby, I started reading your lead largely agreeing with you. The real world ramifications of a superhero retiring is interesting (if not a tad overdone, at this point) — but it was buried in a kind of juvenile fascination with all things sexual. In the interest of balance, I tried to come up with some more positives, but as I worked through your arguments, I realized that I might actually like this title, after all — and not in spite of those problems, but because of them.

I mean, your two biggest beefs with this title boiled down to shitty treatment of female characters and stilted dialogue — both of which sound to me like things we might associate with superhero comics in general. I don’t think Casey is advocating for treating women like sex objects so much as he is drawing our attention to how superhero comics tend to treat women like sex objects. In this way, his Saturn City isn’t just examining the real-world ramifications of superheroes, but also the real-world ramifications of the worlds that superheroes inhabit. Sex is fetishized to an absurd degree, and the only characters are either heroes or villains. At times, Casey makes his commentary even more explicit, taking swipes at the Big Two he considers so huge and soulless.

Larry can't sit for some reason

That piece is still a sticking point for me. We obviously like the Big Two quite a bit around here, and while I’m happy to entertain arguments to the contrary, Casey’s case is as weak as it is vague. I’m not sure how comfortable I am treating the “letters” column as text for the purposes of our discussion (I put “letters” in quotations only because the letters themselves take up only about 10% of the column inches) — especially since Casey comes off as such a massive asshole (he basically dismisses one letter by calling the writer a fat virgin) — but it does elucidate his opinions on issues that come up in the text. In the case of the Big Two, it’s obvious that he sees their practices as creatively stifling, but he never really gets more specific than that. Paired with the critiques of the treatment of female characters and wooden dialogue, these criticisms are so vague and commonplace to be completely toothless.

In fact, Casey brags about not really knowing what’s going on in mainstream comics — at first by saying that he has seen neither the Green Lantern nor Amazing Spider Man movies, so he’s, like, so totally weird (but, you know, my having also not seen those movies but still caring about the Big Two must somehow negate this bizarre argument). Later, he rattles off a list of 20-year-old comics as proof that he cares about the big two, but it mostly just draws attention to the fact that he must not read a single current title from DC or Marvel. It effectively reveals Casey’s arguments as the province of sad theory, and renders his barbs almost quaint. Did I mention that he’s a huge asshole?

Still, Shelby, I think some of your assessments oversimplified the series. Sure, Simon is sexually repressed, and while it’s not clear why he went to the peepshow/brothel, I’m not sure his unhappiness is the product of that repression. In that same vein, The Old Man is the most overtly evil character in the series, and while we do see him having sex, he gains absolutely zero pleasure from it. Yes, both Keenan and Annabelle seem both sexually fulfilled and outwardly happy, but I don’t think we can call either of them “evil.” Moreover, I’m not ready to say that this series view is that “All pleasure in life is found through sex.” I mean, the very premise is that Simon improved life in Saturn City when he was working to shutter these brothels, underground casinos, and other dens of organized crime. Like, he was a superhero, not a pleasure nazi.

All in all, I think I’ve enjoyed this series more than you have, Shelby, but I don’t think it’s enough to keep me coming back. Or, more precisely, I don’t think there’s a series good enough that could make me justify giving any more money to Joe Casey. I’m happy to open up a debate about how we reconcile art with an artist we find morally abhorrent, but in this situation, I just can’t bring myself to reward this guy for his disdain for his audience. You remember the fat virgin thing I mentioned? Here’s how he wrapped those comments up:

Aren’t you glad you wrote down your reactions, “W. Allison”? Keep those letters coming people…

His opinion of his audience is so low (and of himself, so high) that he thinks shitting in our mouths constitutes a gift. He can just go ahead and keep it, as far as I’m concerned.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

6 comments on “SEX 1-3

  1. I did consider not including anything from the letters column because, as Drew stated, it’s not really a part of the comic. But since his rantings seem to be just an undiluted version of a lot of the ideas in the comic, I felt it was fair game. I even made myself read the whole thing to make sure I wasn’t being unfair in calling him out. You’re welcome, gentle readers.

  2. How did you guys find the lettering? I’m reading this digitally, so I’m not always as zoomed in as I should be, but I found a lot of this text hard to read (just a lot of letters too close together to be clear). On top of general clarity issues, I dislike this highlighting/bolding technique for emphasizing words. Like, is there some kind of emotional or inflection key that I missed somewhere? Or are colors picked arbitrarily? I find frequently bolded words in comics dialogue bothersome anyway (if you need a word to be impactful, just write the sentence that way), but I found this extra-distracting.

  3. Pingback: Reviews – Image Comics: Sex #3 | Ket's Comics

  4. I read issues 1-2 of this and I must say I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t see much to the plot. Aside from gratuitous nudity, there didn’t seem to me like there was much going on here; I’m just glad you guys didn’t inform me that I’d missed all the subtle undertones of a brilliant series. I hadn’t bothered to read the letters column at all (rarely do) but that attitude does seem pretty rotten. At least this is an easy trim off my pull list!

    • Yeah, I think there is some commentary to be had on the impotence of the superhero, and the superhero industry as a whole, but it’s more of a heavy-handed slap to the face than subtle undertones.

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