Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dirty Dozen: Sex

Dirty Dozen is a semi-regular feature with twelve disconnected thoughts on the first twelve issues of a current ongoing series.

1. I go back and forth over whether or not Simon Cooke is the worst protagonist ever. It seems to fluctuate issue-to-issue; once in a while he says something legitimately interesting that brings me back to his good side, but most of the time he's so boring it gives me a stress headache. He's an over-privileged, self-important jackass who can't figure out how to interact with the world, and watching him pretend to try while whining and constantly resisting has grown tiresome. If he died, it would be a relief, and open the book up for its numerous more interesting characters.

2. Piotr Kowalski was new to me when this series began, but I suspect I'll follow him pretty much anywhere in the future. Though I'm not always wild about what it is he draws in this book, he does a mighty find job of drawing it with meticulous detail in every panel. It's too bad that he has to waste much his talent on so many shots of Cooke staring blankly and mundane sex scenes, but when he gets to branch out it's always worth it. And his cityscapes are bananas good.

3. The sex scenes often feel like they exist more to justify the title than for any necessary story reason. Also, they are very repetitive, and disappointingly tame, considering the possibilities of the medium.

4. While my feelings on Cooke are hard to predict at any given moment, The Old Man is always the worst, most simplistic, uninspired, laughable caricature of a villain I've seen or ever hope to see again. Every scene he's in is the worst kind of empty shock value violence horseshit, and all he's ever done is torture and interrogate other villains. He did it to one cipher character for several issues, and as soon as that finally ended, he turned around and did the exact same thing to another boring bad guy. Which is what's happening now, meaning in 12 issues The Old Man has failed to rise above the role of pointless torturer. Maybe it's leading somewhere cool, but it could not possibly be worth wading through this swamp.

5. When it comes to cast- and world-building, I think that Joe Casey's writing is maybe at its strongest ever on this title, except for the fact that the main character is exceedingly dull. The supporting cast is considerably livelier, and very diverse in voice and point of view. It's a full, massive world Casey's cobbled together, and the cast grows all the time with new characters of all sizes. There are lots of balls in the air, and they can't all get equal attention, but nothing is ignored for too long. It all moves forward all the time, even when we're not watching it, and it that sense I'm very impressed with the story. There's a lot to like in here, but it's all built around a flimsy central character.

6. The Saturnalia was so stupid. Big build-up about the mystery for the answer to be, "it's an orgy."

7. My problems with Cooke and The Old Man are significantly mitigated by my total fascination with Keenan and his whole deal. I'm a sucker for any sidekick coming of age story, and the added element of Cooke having walked away from his superhero days makes it even better. Keenan is on his own and ferociously determined to prove he can pull it off. So far, he's doing just that, and in a level-headed and self-reflective way that gives me a lot of faith is his continued success. Keenan is the reason to read this series, the best character and star of the only regularly interesting plotline. His one present-tense interaction with Cooke is the best Cooke has ever been. And unlike 90% of them, Keenan's sex scenes serve a real narrative purpose, because his relationship matters a lot, and it develops in these moments of intimacy. Again, I vote for killing Cooke off somehow and giving Keenan twice as many pages. Some issues just plain don't have him in them, which is horrible.

8. Brad Simpson rules, and is just as much a part of my love for Sex's art as Kowalski. Simpson doesn't just do the colors, he's responsible for the lighting, which is a big deal in this book. Cooke's business world is neon, but at home he tends to live in more normal colors. The streets and poorer parts of the city, though, are dim and sickly in their tone. Kowalski puts the same heart and life into all of these places, but Simpson makes them distinct with some simple, natural coloring choices that have become an integral part of the aesthetic.

9. Annabelle's eye problems were a nice touch, and I'd like to see more stuff like that, especially from her. As a madam she's pretty stereotypical, but the notion of an ex-super-person paying in tangible ways now for their past is interesting, and Annabelle's commitment to her tough and capable reputation makes her a particularly strong choice to suffer those kinds of consequences. It'd be good to see Cooke go through some of that, too, but whoever it happens to, I definitely want this concept to be further explored. 

10. I'm not super clear on why we never get to see the Armored Saint in full. Is a big reveal coming someday? Just kind of a fun game to play with the audience, like the neighbor on Home Improvement? Or am I missing some symbolism in his hidden appearance?

11. The highlighted words in the dialogue drive me crazy. I don't know if they are chosen by Casey, letterer Russ Wooton, or some combination, but they're so frustratingly inconsistent and arbitrary that I just ignore them now. Whatever they were supposed to do, all they actually accomplish is adding superfluous spots of color in an already arrestingly colorful book.

12. I've said it before, and it's still true: I just don't know whether or not Sex is a comic I really want to keep following. I was hoping that making it the focus of this column would help with that decision. It did not.

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