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‘SFSX (Safe Sex)’ #4 review: Let’s get it on — the story, I mean

An issue as naughty as it is deeply compelling and emotionally nuanced.

Oh Yeah: If I’m to truly dissect or critique SFSX in any meaningful way, it’s likely a good idea to speak the book’s basic language. So issue #1 was effectively the heavy petting stage. Issue #2, meanwhile, tossed in some tongues and fingers. And issue #3 was, well, a much needed step back to align every eager participant. So now where does that leave us with issue #4? In prime position for the good stuff.

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So It Begins: And by good stuff, I actually mean the story proper beginning to unfold. Avory and her Dirty Mind companions begin to plan their heist to rescue her hubby George and set free their brainwashed former leader, Jones. I won’t spoil the plan itself, but the whole thing is like Clerks meets Ocean’s 11, and there’s nothing better than a slick heist. But there’s so much more to this issue, and while the overall ploy is a great bit of world-building, the strength of this issue lies in what it does for the actual characters.

Let’s Hear It For The Boy: After using issue #3 to help establish Casey and Sylvia, #4 is a huge window into George. Not only his current predicament — being beaten and tortured by Jones as part of his reformation — but who he was before. The dichotomy of being a cog in The Party and his desire for sexual exploration. His uncertainty and guilt towards BDSM and how he’s turned those feelings into strength and self acceptance. Knowing George this way doesn’t just make us care about his fate but also understand why he’s so valuable.

This whole thing isn’t just about his escape but why it’s important for him to flourish given his role as a kind of thematic hero. And what might happen if he’s lost forever to The Party’s clutches. Writer Tina Horn has done a damn good job building the characters, and while George originally felt like a plot device, he’s quickly become an essential representation of the book’s musings on personal freedom and cultural acceptance. Also, dude’s tough as hell.

Make Room Y’all: It’s not entirely a George-centric issue, though. As Avory, Casey, Sylvia, and Nick (he’s the tech bro who was also a former client of Avory’s) plot things out, we get a chance to glean important insights. Namely, how much sex and all that it represents to these characters. Like the mutual masturbation between Nick and Avory, which hints at their dynamic and how so much of their expression leans toward the sexual. Or, Casey’s own yearnings for Jones, and why this sort of worship fuels her actions and complicates the narrative (Sylvia and Jones were/are an item).

As part of this, there’s also more room given to Denis, basically an assistant at the new Dirty Mind who we learn was subjected to nasty stuff by The Party and no longer feels pleasure. Like George, he too could have become a simple plot device but in him we feel not only pity but understand the simple power gratification holds in making better, more well-rounded people. In a deeply sexual book, where people are minimized for their “kinks,” Horn finds a way to display sex as something earnest and endearing, this simple truth that everyone shares and which is as essential to us as a cleft chin. Are some of these sex scenes still risque? You bet. But also, it’s a way to strip away some of that energy, and show these acts as natural as possible.

We share these feelings, and though we express them differently, we all crave connection and acceptance. The Party would have everyone feel shame, but the biggest crime is telling people they can’t explore in the first place.

Sexy and Sweet?: As much as the story itself deals with sex in a dynamic manner, the visuals still could’ve proven tantalizing or outright silly to certain readers. Michael Dowling’s art never flinches from nudity or sexual acts, but it blurs the lines between the silly and the profane, and the end result is something that feels deeply natural (you suss out a theme yet?) George, for instance, is totes nude in most of this issue, and it’s presented in a way to show the serious nature of his predicament while also celebrating the anatomy as something almost raw and elemental. It’s like a hero rocking a cape: we all know it’s silly but because everyone takes it seriously, we have to see it for what it’s meant to be.

The same goes for a lot of the sex acts near the book’s end: they’re like any other form of character development, and there’s even something earnest and engaging about how these moments actually unfold. With issue #4, Dowling’s art not only continues to delight, but it tells a part of the story, often with astounding grace and prowess, that no dialogue or direction could ever fully achieve.

Love The Attention: There’s a few other moments I didn’t touch on in this issue. Like the story of Avory and George’s first meeting, which is both endearing, sexy, and another example of my larger point about how to portray sex in a way to empower and educate. And while that moment deserves just as much time and attention as others, it just proves this was a jam-packed issue. We’re clearly building toward something big but we’re also still getting to know this world and the characters. Everything is unfurling slowly and with real dedication and deliberate thought.

In that sense, SFSX works because it lets things happen naturally and organically. Whatever cherry popping climax it eventually reaches, it’s the foreplay that’s going to prove the most memorable.

Is it good?
An issue as naughty as it is deeply compelling and emotionally nuanced.
This issue shines lights on characters in new and fascinating ways.
The narrative begins to streamline itself without forgoing world-building and character development.
There's so many story threads that this book hums with promise.
The "main" character, Avory, feels less essential, but that may be for the better?
8
Good
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