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‘SFSX (Safe Sex)’ #5 review: The soiree before the salvo

An imperfect issue about opening up and expanding the world before all hell breaks loose.

A Bump In The Road: As a rule, not all sexual encounters go the way you’d hope. That’s especially true when such “liaisons” are in the form of a comic book. In its preceding four issues, SFSX has built itself up with the pacing and tension of a hot and heavy make-out session. But with issue #5, things quickly go bust in the most epic way imaginable, and while that can be disappointing for our horny heroes, there’s so much more to learn.

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Sexy Intrigue: A (mostly) quick recap: Avory and George are a married couple living in a world where sex has been bureaucratized. George goes missing, and so Avory is forced to link back up with her old comrades at the Dirty Mind (part sex club, part social liberation front) to rescue her hubby. They launch a plan that involves breaking into the Pleasure Center (the sex DMV, basically), which takes us right into issue #5.

I noted in my review of issue #4 that the whole scheme was like a sexy Ocean’s Eleven, which made for a nice bit of action in the series. The whole minute-by-minute breakdown of this ploy in issue #5 is really good, and writer Tina Horn manages to fit a lot of great insights into a really brisk storyline/framework. I don’t want to spoil how and why the gang gets busted, but just know it has everything to do with Jones, the now-brainwashed former head of the Dirty Mind. It dawns on me that the complete dissolution of their plan doesn’t just keep the action going for new twists and turns, but has added benefits. It’s certainly a great way to set up the next several issues in a very specific way, one geared toward giving characters new understandings and insights before they’re likely tortured. In this way, they can learn the most about themselves, each other, and the world as they stare down total rock bottom.

Let It Bloom: There are perhaps a few different really important developments and revelations in this series, but I want to focus on just a few with the greatest resonance.

One of the best surrounds Denis, a former captive of The Party and the P.C., who had his ability to feel pleasure stripped away. Only, that’s not exactly the case, and there’s one important Party member/scientist who reveals that he controls said biological function. This is such an incredible way to complicate the narrative for Denis, who is both the purest soul of all the Dirty Mind-ers and the one who has suffered the most. His ordeal will speak volumes about key themes of this book, like power and consent, or the importance of self-actualization regarding sexuality (especially among queer characters).

And speaking of Denis, the man with the remote control is Dr. Powell, basically this government’s Dr. Monreau mixed with Dr. Mengele. Only we find out that he’s also queer, and after losing the love of his life, immediately sold out to The Party to straight up torture folks. Great villains always have some relatibility, and Powell’s place not only makes for a more exciting narrative, but also enhances the overarching story. His background and efforts thus far (especially in issue #5) add a new sheen of complexity, hinting at ideas of self-hatred and the complicated nature of human sexuality. Those notions work really well to expand the motifs of this series, and drive home the many layers of sexual expression and the role that morals and emotions may or may not play. Powell’s existence is a way to make some real stakes and shake up this story in a big way.

Baby Hiccups: For everything that this issue does right, there are still some downsides. Avory, for instance, doesn’t feel quite as essential here. In the past, that’s been a way to open the spotlight for others, like the dynamic Casey and Sylvia. But in this issue, Avory feels like a plot device (a regular concern with SFSX). The same goes for George, and while it’s one thing to see him reunited with his friends and wife, how it happens goes a long way to diminish its impact.

Finally, there’s also the continued storyline with Jones, and we see here that she may be so brainwashed that she’s actually fully committed to The Party. The problem with that, though, is that she feels a little one-dimensional, and even if this all leads to a huge twist for the character, it’s hard to feel engaged considering she’s lacking some of the depth and nuance given her situation. These issues don’t totally distract from a generally sleek and interesting story, but they’re worth noting given that we’re at something of a turning point coming into issue #6 and beyond.

A Brand New Style: Another huge change for the book is the introduction of a new artist, Jen Hickman (best known for her work in Spread and Score!) There was a brief change in artists for issue #3, and Alejandra Gutierrez provided an infusion of naughty energy into the book. Hickman, meanwhile, has a more “traditional” comic style, one that could be right at home in an Avengers title. That’s not to say it’s boring, but rather that she’s got some great things to add when it comes to balancing the many “worlds” of this book (spy thriller, sex education manual, porno mag, rom-com, etc.) I think time well tell how Horn and Hickman’s respective efforts will meld, and thus far the overall “cleanness” of the art feels a little stifled, even as the book continues to expand and grow in its scope and messaging. But as it stands, as the story transitions to this next “phase,” the art may very well have a chance to pivot right alongside.

Never Awkward, Folks: Like that one time I got hit in the face while making out with someone, this book stands waiting for what comes next. There are quite a few trajectories for SFSX to take, and it seems that we’ll have a chance to better know the Dirty Mind Gang as they’re broken down by The Party. But even if something else happens, and they likely escape or something else entirely, this book continues to entertain. Because it’s not about the path taken, but the insights and understandings these characters experience and also yield onto readers. In that sense, there are few events that could ever sour this series’ lusty momentum.

Is it good?
An imperfect issue about opening up and expanding the world before all hell breaks loose.
A wonderfully paced issue brimming with action and emotion in equal measure.
The story continues to grow and evolve in ways that service proper character development.
An issue that generates intrigue in the most earnest and organic way possible.
The story and new artwork haven't fully melded just yet.
A few minor issues impact the overall flow of an otherwise solid chapter.
7.5
Good
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