This book looks damn fantastic. Piotr Kowalski crams in the details, whether he is drawing a vast cityscape or a close-up on the face of a bitter old man or anything in between. And even though something like half the panels were shots of Simon Cooke looking weary and glassy-eyed, the art never grows tired or truly repetitive. We are constantly being shown new settings, new background details, new characters other than Cooke. Plus those panels underlining his depressed exhaustion are spaced and angled intelligently so that they never get old. Besides, Cooke's sadness is so deep and all-consuming, it seeps out through the pages and permeates the whole issue, even when he's off-camera. Everybody we meet has their own take on this lack of joy, the entire cast coming across as worn out yet still trudging forward, alive just for the sake of it. Some of that emotional heft is present in the dialogue, but it is Kowalski that breathes life into it and makes it feel real. This is a depressing comicbook, if only because sharing in Cooke's depression (and that of his supporting cast) is unavoidable, since Kowalski renders it so convincingly so many times.
Brad Simpson's colors also deserve a paragraph of praise, because with a different palette or general approach to the coloring, I'm not sure what effect Kowalski's drawings would have, exactly. The brash and limited colors Simpson employs add to the starkness and power of the overwhelming sadness. They clash with it, being bright and vibrant where the story is glum and slow. But rather than feeling ill-fitting, the colors highlight the issue's gloominess by shining a light on it directly. He uses a lot of single-color background with opposing single-color foregrounds. Cooke in all orange against an all-blue wall, for example. It is stylized and bold, and helps keep the energy of the title alive even as it aids in creating a feeling of hopelessness.
And I'd like to shout out Rus Wooton's lettering as well. It looks handwritten, though I assume it's not (if it is, though, then just consider this shout out to be twice as enthusiastic), which I like, because at least it's new. As for the words highlighted with faint blocks of color for emphasis...I liked it at first, then got annoyed by it after a few pages, then liked it again after a few more, and then got totally used to it and stopped really noticing. Which, ultimately, is a process I like. The lettering called attention to itself, forced me to consider it and analyze it, but only just enough to slip into a more background role before the issue came to a close. That's a rare feat Wooton pulls off, and it's worthy of applause and perhaps further study.
So if nothing else, this is a gorgeous and visually stimulating read with a TON to notice and enjoy. Yes, there is a gratuitous lesbian sex scene. And though it served a purpose, I do think some of the specifics of it were there more for a shock or shake-up effect than anything else. But it was only a few pages, it was never truly off-putting or over-the-top or unrealistic, and overall the scene was incredibly strong and the sex called for. Cooke sits there, just feet away from two flawless half-nude women in masks who are all over each other, but in his mind he is still standing next to the hospital bed of Quinn (a character I am anxious to learn more about) as she makes him promise to give up superheroism with her dying wish. This speaks volumes about Simon as a man, a hero, and a protagonist, so it wasn't just sex for the sake of it. I am still a bit unclear as to why Sex is the title of the book, but at least it tied into something in the debut.
I am a rabid Joe Casey fan, but Sex #1 didn't really feel like a Joe Casey read. Now, I haven't read everything in the vast library of comicbooks he's penned, so maybe it's just that I'm not familiar with his subtler and more subdued work. But I think of Casey as a very in-your-face, experimental, high-octane writer, whereas Sex #1 was a quiet and calm. Is it the calm before the storm? Seems likely, since we already have The Old Man---I assume that is his official villain name because it got said a few times and I never heard him called anything else other than "Boss"---promising to show the world he's still as scary as ever. But in general, Casey displays amazing restraint here, letting his readers fill in a lot of the blanks of the story by not spelling things out in his dialogue. Everyone sounds real when they talk, which means they don't relay information to one another that serves no purpose except bringing the audience up to speed. There's clearly a long and complex history behind Cooke's Armored Saint persona, but nobody spells it out for us yet, because why would they? THEY all already know what's what, so they move forward with their lives, and it is our job to catch up. Not that Casey isn't helping, but neither is he handing us a map.
It is a deceptively full story, in that on the surface very little happens. Cooke comes home, does not run his company like he apparently said he would, gets a drink with his lawyer, and then pays to watch a sex show that he doesn't actually watch. In between, we hear the Alpha Brothers bemoan the loss of the Armored Saint, and meet The Old Man, who apparently has one hell of a reputation to protect. But none of these apparent bad guys do anything, they're just chatting about their futures while hanging out at a club. It's almost all talking, and absolutely no violence, but Casey still fills the space and excites me. I want to know everything about The Old Man, the Armored Saint, and Quinn, based solely on the glimpses I've been given in this single issue. The Old Man is obviously a proud and intelligent guy, but seems to be past his prime and aware of it, which makes me all the more interested in seeing what his prime was like. As for Simon Cooke/Armored Saint, even with his incessant frown, he is a rich leading man who seems to only speak when he has something to say. And Quinn, whoever she is, is obviously an integral part of who Simon is today and, it would appear, who he's been all along. The details of their relationship are bound to be surprising and informative.
A rock solid opening from a creative team that seems built for me personally, Sex #1 establishes a lot of great characters in an even better world. Now it's time to explore the nooks and crannies of that world, as the cast undoubtedly continues to grow. The cliffhanger ending that introduced some kind of femme fatale wasn't quite snappy enough to click with me, but it was a one-page stumble at the end of a fast and steady race. And even if that final page didn't do it, the issue as a whole has me antsy as shit for more of the same.