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With the finale of "Protection," the book once again demonstrates its power in telling a highly personal and deeply moving tale of sex and politics.

Comic Books

‘SFSX (Safe Sex)’ #7 review: The sex-tacular first arc ends with the promise of much more

With the finale of “Protection,” the book once again demonstrates its power in telling a highly personal and deeply moving tale of sex and politics.

You Ready?: Having sex and reading comics have more in common than you’d think. Both acts often have the same 2 camps: those who believe in foreplay, or the slow build, while others await only the climax, or the dizzying high that comes with a finale.

Given that it exists as a Venn diagram between both sex and comics, SfSx offers something for everyone. Despite a few missteps in issue #6, the series by Tina Horn and Jen Hickman and Michael Dowling has been deeply excellent, a deliberate exploration of human sexuality, LGBTQ issues, government overreach, and the value of personal exploration. But as with every good thing, we’ve reached the conclusion of the first  arc, “Protection.” And as far as endings are concerned, it should leave you feeling drained and totally ecstatic.

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The Real Climax: The quickest of recaps: The Dirty Mind, a haven for sex positivity, is closed by The Party, a fascist government focused on “order” and “salvation.” When her husband George (who works for The Party) is kidnapped, former member Avory reunites with her old cohorts (including ex-client Nick, the bad-ass Sylvia, and newbie Denis) to spring him from “rehabilitation.” The entire preceding 6 issues has built up to their big plan, which involved breaking into the Pleasure Center (the former Dirty Mind) and sneaking out inside a bundle of sex toys set for destruction via bonfire. Do our rag-tag team of heroes succeed, or does The Party add them to the roast?

With the finale of "Protection," the book once again demonstrates its power in telling a highly personal and deeply moving tale of sex and politics.

Gotta Love It: You can probably guess the outcome, but then that’s not really the point. What issue #7 does really well is set the stage for what’s to come. And that next chapter is likely one where the Dirty Mind team, having gained some traction in opening people’s eyes, engages in the next level of warfare with their sex-phobic government. In that sense, the next arc will have even more action, which was a nice way to offset a lot of the world-building and political musings. At the same time, the odds are ever against our lusty heroes, and they retain some deeply personal stakes thanks to the subsequent capture of Sylvia and her work as a Party “scrubber.”

Sylvia’s predicament, especially, should be enjoyable: from panel one, she’s been an amazing character, and her grace and anger fueled a lot of the plot and helped Horn delve into a lot of the book’s socio-political issues. Even as the other Dirty Mind-ers feel hugely victorious in whatever regard, The Party has already begun tweaking its org chart to set some major obstacles in the gang’s continued pursuit of freedom and enlightenment. Really, moving into issue #8 and beyond, the book is in a great place: lots of narrative potential, ample static and drama, and a heaping help of hope. Makes you feel all tingly in the very best way.

Writer’s Note: There’s a huge, huge moment early in the issue with former lovers Jones and Sylvia. I don’t want to spoil it but it should A) break your heart and B) serve as further proof of the moments where this book just kills it with giving characters huge decisions and letting us wade through the juicy fallout.

More Than Sexy Time?!: Something else that issue #7 does is provide a sense of hindsight. I remarked a few times in my monthly reviews that some characters, each at varying times, felt more like plot devices than actual people. It happened to Avory, our heroine, who until the last couple issues sort of faded to the background. It also happened to George, who until maybe issue #3 was just a thing requiring rescue. And it especially occurred with Jones, the former head of the Dirty Mind turned into The Party’s propaganda slave.

After issue #7, I can’t blame Horn for these issues, as it’s more clear now that this is less about singular characters and more about this larger process we’re all part of. Sylvia has a great monologue at the issue’s end, and while I won’t spoil any specific parts (it’s truly funny and touching in the best ways), it offers a great overarching message. Which is, the pleasure they seek, body-bending orgasms and unfettered personal freedom, isn’t about fulfilling singular needs. It’s about making connections, finding ways to engage in the ongoing pursuit of something bigger than any one person. They seek that pleasure to know we are all loved and desired, and that our identities and needs are valid enough to deserve these things. Sex isn’t just a feeling, but this whole finding our lot in life and closing spaces between people. When you mess with that, or try and shut it away, we lose something essential.

With the finale of "Protection," the book once again demonstrates its power in telling a highly personal and deeply moving tale of sex and politics.

This whole first arc has seen the Dirty Mind team champion this notion through their cohesiveness and collaboration while The Party tries to change our basic instincts and thus becomes detached from something deeply human. Even if some deaths in this book (one I hinted at in #6, and one you may have guessed by now in #7) aren’t nearly as gut-wrenching as they could be, they matter for larger reasons. Pain is like pleasure, in that it’s something we share together.

There’s heaps of great character development and loads of great conversations and personal motivations and doubly compelling circumstances/plot points — everything you need for a great story. But it’s about so much more, and this arc has been an amazing exploration of what sex means and why it’s the thing connecting us all.

Something Pretty: Before I wrap up, I thought it important to touch on the art once again. Hickman, as I’ve mentioned before, started this series several issues in, and her style is a lot “cleaner” than original artist Dowling (and way, way more focused than the frenetic joy of issue #3’s guest artist, Alejandra Gutiérrez). So while Hickman had an unenviable task, she’s really excelled. Her introduction came right as the story was coalescing into its Ocean’s Eleven phase, and her thoughtful line work was the sort of effort that paired perfectly. If anything, it was her art that likely helped the book pick up the pace, and even with any minor missteps, the last 2-3 issues were a genuine highlight in action, world-building, and the larger narrative’s development. And while I’ve also said this elsewhere, Tula Lotay’s series of covers have been massively important, the first tease for nearly every issue and the best way to slide into each new chapter.

Peaks And Valleys: Am I thoroughly satisfied by the first arc of SfSx? You betcha. Is there heaps of promise for what comes next? You know it. Does the book still have minor bumps to address to really drive home its larger objectives? Even I can admit to that. But at the end of the day, there’s so much love and joy and insight to pull from this book. Have a roll in the hay with this one, go slam some Gatorade, and get ready for what’s next.

Is it good?
With the finale of "Protection," the book once again demonstrates its power in telling a highly personal and deeply moving tale of sex and politics.
A powerful issue sets the stage for a dynamic new chapter of this sex-positive tale.
The story balances a perfect level of hindsight to unite the narrative and expand its core messages.
While the art has always been great, it hits a stride in this gripping first-arc conclusion.
The book's struggled some with character focus and development -- will those issues follow into arc No. 2?
8.5
Great
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