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‘SFSX (Safe Sex)’ #6 review: So much action, not enough substance

While this issue had the makings of some huge emotional moments, things didn’t deliver as intended.

Endless Anticipation: One time, really late at night, I dropped a series of dishes onto a tile floor. And for a few seconds, right after the crashing and the excited yelling, I stood there waiting for the fallout (angry roommates, my dog running in blindly, etc.) That 5-10 seconds was among the most stressful of my life given the massive uptick in excitement and sharp, sudden waiting period.

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That’s sort of what it was like after reading issue #5 of the excellent SFSX.

Real Torture: First, a quick recap: Issue #5 saw Avory and her cohorts of the former Dirty Mind tried to break into the confines of the Pleasure Center to rescue her husband, George, and their newly brainwashed former leader, Jones.

I assumed we’d see the crew captured and interrogated, but then #6 is mostly about the group’s attempts to evade capture. (Nuts!) To an extent, I was really looking forward to finding out what happened after #5, which proved to be a really solid issue that toyed expertly with emotions (thanks to some great art and expert pacing). However, the issue feels rather flat, even with some really solid action scenes, including lube used as an offensive weapon and a hilarious ploy to capture people in a sex cage. Part of that may have been some sense of letdown that this isn’t the issue where they all undergo some deeply revealing torture; pushing that off is tantric-level teasing and can be forgiven depending upon how things turn out in #7 and beyond. It may also just be that the bigger “revelations” of this issue just weren’t nearly as visceral as they should’ve proven.

That’s Margaret To You: One of the arguable “stars” of this issue was Jones, who, acting as a puppet of The Party, spent the issue tracking down the Dirty Mind Clique. The fact that Jones is being used in this way (and with such lethal efficiency) was a truly effective way to mess with the hearts and minds of her kinky cohorts. There’s even a rather blatant example of that in #6 involving her ex, Sylvia, but it plays out as a really cheap gag that eschews the usual poison associated of friend-turned-foe.

Why is that? I think Jones, at least in this issue specifically, feels less like a human and more like a a blunt tool, something to hurt and trick people to elicit an easy response. When in actuality she should be utilized in a way to play with her sensibilities and loyalties and really draw out this process in an organic manner (as in issues prior). Jones in #6 doesn’t connect enough to herself, the story, and the others to make a meaningful impact as we reach peak action. When she should have been so effective in this issue, a massive turning point in her personal arc, she mostly just stumbled, playing like a two-bit thug and not the complicated monster as destined.

Nick Of Time: It’s not only Jones that didn’t fully deliver in this issue, either. Without spoiling too much, there’s a possible grievous injury and/or death among the Dirty Mind folks (as perpetrated by Jones — dun dun duuuun!). I won’t reveal the victim, but it’s another moment (a massive cliffhanger, actually) that just doesn’t hit the way it should. Part of that is this specific character isn’t a George or an Avory — basically someone whom we’ve come to love and care for thus far and might find their potential demise utterly crushing. Instead, this character exists on the periphery of the group, and thus doesn’t just feel as essential to the story.

Which is something of a shame, as his dynamic with the cast, and general placement in the series could be really important. Had we had a chance to know him differently, or the creative team presented him beyond a slightly fleshed out plot device, his injury could have been truly devastating. Not even Jones’ role in this event makes it feel as damaging as intended. Plus, it’s just more teasing, and unless it can really deliver, it may be time to bust out the safe word.

Denis The Hero: If there’s anyone character in this issue who has an important moment that actually lands, it’s Denis. In issue #5, they were left experiencing orgasmic pleasure to the point of existential and physical pain. In #6, however, Denis has a chance to stand up to the evil Dr. Powell, helping his friends while reclaiming a sense of power (on many levels). Thus far, a lot about Denis has seen them used as a kind of emotional and sociopolitical punching bag, only to remain resilient and optimistic in the face of such adversity.

In this sense, they’re likely the book’s best hero, and their big moment in this issue feels like a huge win from an emotional and narrative perspective. It’s a simple but empowering event, something to provide a dash of hope when things look bleak for the Naughty Gang. And that’s what makes this book so great: it puts people in a position to tackle their perceived vulnerabilities and social standing and turn it into a dazzling display of strength. Sex is powerful, especially when it’s used to make people feel whole.

Eye Candy: In the last issue, Jen Hickman assumed art duties, and as I mentioned, she presented a newer, slightly “cleaner” style. While I’m not as much in love with her efforts as that of Michael Dowling and Alejandra Gutiérrez in past issues, Hickman’s work stands out in #6. On the one hand, it’s the most “traditional” comic (that, and #5) — which is to say, it’s got a lot of great action and kinetic energy. At the same time, Hickman gets more of a chance to display sex acts in this issue, and she totally bucks my apprehensions by providing something that never steers from the intensity such visuals require while also showing a lot of nuance and grace with scenes some folks might find risque.

From both an artistic and narrative standpoint, that’s a huge accomplishment of this series — to show the world just as it is and do so in a way that’s respectful and thoughtful. It’s not about sex as an overt gross-out or cheap thrill, but showing the beauty and power attached to these expressions. It just makes everything feel the more effective in telling a great story with heaps of musings and messages regarding love and sex and what all that really means.

Breath And Stop: To be blunt, issue #6 wasn’t my favorite. It wasn’t the worst, but it didn’t have the same oomph as its predecessors. However, it managed to move the story along and still give us some great moments and insights. I’m not exactly waiting with bated breath, but then again, a quick break in all this heavy petting is generally a good thing. For now.

Is it good?
While this issue had the makings of some huge emotional moments, things didn't deliver as intended.
More great action to help balance an otherwise thoughtful and evocative narrative.
The new-ish art really helps expand and play with the series' conventions and aesthetics.
Some character arcs didn't hit quite as hard, and that hurt the issue's momentum.
The issue felt a little flat given the excitement and suspense in issue #5
7
Good
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