Rather than revel in my arrested adolescence and continue to make more jokes about the book’s title I’m just going to cut to the chase. There’s plenty of the title act in “Sex,” and it runs the gamut from straight, gay, lesbian, and with a number of fetishes attached it throughout the story. It’s not the point of the series, though. What writer Joe Casey and artist Piotr Kowalski have given us here is a story about one of the biggest and best superheroes that could never have been done with the character himself. That’s because this is the story of what happens when Alfred dies and Bruce Wayne decides to give up being Batman and start living a normal life instead.
Of course, all of the serial numbers have been filed off for this title and instead of Gotham we have Saturn City and Simon Cooke instead of Bruce Wayne. The Alfred stand-in, Quinn, is a woman who recently passed away apparently due to natural causes but not before getting Cooke to promise that he’d hang up his cowl and vigilante aspirations. Unfortunately for someone who has been living such an extreme double life after all these years, Cook finds that it’s even a challenge to act normal or interested in running his multi-billion-dollar company. He has lost his main game in life and the crux of the series at the start is how he doesn’t know where to begin looking for another one.
Interestingly enough, his former rogues’ gallery also has much the same problem. You’d think that they’d have a field day with their main antagonist calling it quits, but they’ve also got their own issues to sort out as well. The incredibly obviously gay Alpha Brothers have to deal with keeping their crew in line amidst the theft of some incredibly sensitive data which is being used to play havoc with their operations. There’s the aged Penguin/Killer Croc amalgamation known as The Old Man trying to prove that he still has what it takes to rule the city, and goes about it by kidnapping and torturing its main information provider. Annabelle Lagravenese, a.k.a. Shadow Lynx and a very overt Catwoman stand-in, has her own problems to deal with in running the city’s top brothel and dealing with the side effects that wearing her high-tech eyegear has caused her over the years. Though the Prank Addict would appear to be the title’s answer to the Joker, he doesn’t come off as threatening or insane enough to be archvillain material. Yet, anyways. Then you’ve got Keenan, Cook’s former sidekick and someone still determined to pick up where his boss left off in cleaning up Saturn City.
So the premise is clearly defined and we’ve got a large and varied cast of characters each with their own set of issues to address. It’s a lot of potential which is only partly realized here. While I love the fact that this first volume collects eight issues for only ten dollars, Casey spends too much time analyzing Cook’s mindset via the character’s self-analysis and the opinions of his friends and support staff for the story to ever pick up enough momentum. To the writer’s credit, this does result in his protagonist emerging as a fully-developed character by the end of the volume. There’s also an amusing anti-climax (pun intended) there as well with the feeling that the character has turned a corner in his life and has an idea about how to get his groove back.
Is there a lot of circular dialogue dancing around the subject before we get to that point? You better believe it, and while Casey has his moments his wordplay isn’t clever enough to be entertaining in and of itself. I’m sure he’d hate the comparison, but the man is no Bendis. The man’s efforts to write “street” dialogue come off as particularly painful.
Still, Casey’s main strength as a writer is that he has a real willingness to try and do things differently than how they’ve been done before. Sometimes only for the sake of being different, yet that willingness leads to some of the volume’s best moments. Seeing Annabelle come to grips with what her former life has wrought, particularly how it’s causing her to grow old far before her time, really helps differentiate the character from her inspiration. It’s also unique to see a man like the Operator tormented in the way he is, yet it leads to a moment where any fan of Wolverine could tell you that the people who did this to him are in for a world of hurt. Casey’s approach doesn’t work all the time -- you really have to wonder where he’s going with the Prank Addict -- but we get some good stuff out of it here.
The same can also be said of the art from Kowalski. We get some impressively detailed cityscape scenes throughout the volume, yet the real emphasis is on the characters themselves. Kowalski is good enough at getting their basic emotions across though his straightforward, unflashy style doesn’t really do a whole lot to get you excited about things. That also carries over to the many, many sex scenes in the book.
So let’s talk about them. True to the title, there are lots of them, usually a couple in each issue, with the last one featuring a full-on orgy. More often than not its used as a metaphor for Cooke’s attempt to lead a normal life. It’s right there, in front of him, free for the taking, even assaulting him at one point. Yet the man just can’t commit to it. Even when the man finally does make a decision about it he finds out that the moment has passed and it’s up to him to find a new game. Still, there’s so much of it that all the carnality in the volume can’t help but come off as gratuitous after a certain point. If you’re not interested or squeamish about this stuff then I want to emphatically state that this is not the book for you. Also, while there are several vaginas on display here, I have never seen so many penises in a mainstream comic before. So it at least has that going for it.
If the amount of sex itself wasn’t enough, Casey’s approach to the concept behind this series does really limit its appeal. The fact that its sales have been on a steep downward slide since the first issue only underlines this. I’m not enthusiastic about it, but there were enough interesting moments to hold my attention throughout and it ends on a note that suggests things are going in a new direction for the future. I liked this first volume well enough, though I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that “Sex” isn’t really for everyone.