This is the world of Sex, Joe Casey’s tale of megapolis Saturn City and the retired superhero Simon Cooke, a.k.a. The Armored Saint, who suffered unimaginable personal loss at the death of his confidante, Quinn. Returning home from a seven-month exile, he resembles a Tony Stark who has decided to lose himself within Sin City, all for the sake of finding what kind of possible lives and pleasures he missed out on while acting as dedicated do-gooder.
Issue #2, “Wunderbare Chancen,” picks up right where the first ended. Simon’s tour of the senses starts at a hotel high-rise brothel that caters to every orgy imaginable. He discovers, rather embarrassingly, that the proprietor is none other than his old nemesis/romantic interest Annabelle Lagravenese, formerly the Shadow Lynx. As the second issue opens, Annabelle is curious whether he’s pulling a sting operation on her establishment or really looking for a thrill. Since she can’t be a supervillain without a superhero, she’s back to the job she knows best. She’s a tease who enjoys the reversal of welcoming a hero into her world.
The other villain who feels lost without The Armored Saint is the underworld kingpin The Old Man. He’s a wrinkled Prune Face/Yellow Bastard that used to use his battles with the Saint to exert his dominance over his criminal empire. Yet again, with no superhero, it’s difficult for him to prove he’s the top supervillain. Then, there are the Alpha Brothers, Cha Cha and Dolph, who are plotting the best way to climb the crime ladder in The Saint’s absence (and, for all intents and purposes, act ambiguous enough in their affection that the reader assumes they sleep with each other between panels).
Finally, there’s Keenan Wade, a street smart kid who keeps tabs on illegal operations and still fights the good fight, or profits by it. We can infer that he may have served as Robin to The Armored Saint’s Batman, and now a sidekick without a superhero lacks guidance with the fight that is left in him.
The whole cast of characters are missing the superhero from their life, like a missing partner in a tango or a tryst. Sex is a fitting title, because the story is about longing for fulfillment. It is also about sex. I mean, lots of sex. Lots. Especially in this issue. Annabelle guides Simon through the orgy-tastic Community Lounge at her hotel. The Old Man murders his hooker before she even gets a chance to stand. Another completely nude escort awaits Simon at his penthouse, pre-paid and instructed to fulfill his every desire. Is she from Annabelle? Is she from Simon’s leering lawyer, Warren Azoff? Or from someone else? When he turns her away, a mysterious caller warns that serious repercussions shall follow.
What dark forces gather in the Saturn City shadows? Will Simon continue his descent or come out of retirement?
Artist Piotr Kowalski takes a cue from Dave Gibbons and illustrates the story in a deceptively mainstream style. The pages aren’t filled with the hard Frank Miller silhouettes and shadows. The faces, bodies, and cityscapes are clean, even colorful. You wouldn’t picture this artwork in an adult comic. It reminded me of how Y: The Last Man laid out its mature tale in easily acceptable artwork.
Casey follows the route of the slow burn. He’s setting a specific tone. Saturn City has a seedy upper crust and underbelly. The wonderfully subtle set-up he used in the first few pages of the first issue continue here, but I’m not sure how long that will sustain a title.
I wish the story’s direction was much more clear. I know the world well enough, but what is the engine that will drive the story issue after issue? What hopefully follows next is a spark that will sets it in motion. The engine might be, “Will Simon break his numbness with a new exploration?” “Who is threatening Simon?” “Will The Armored Saint return?” I’m guessing no, The Armored Saint will not return. I can’t imagine resurrecting a superhero into this story and making it sustain the same tone. It reads like a crime noir, not a superhero story.
Besides, Simon knows he’s already lost. Like I said before, this hero is in on the nihilism. Resurrections do not seem to exist in the world of Sex. Erections, on the other hand . . .
If you like Brian Azzarello, Blade Runner, or just plain banging, you might dig Sex.
Strongly recommended for mature readers.