In terms of our history in film, there was perhaps never more of a fun time to bring goofy ideas to the bring screen than the 80s. There are certainly classics like Escape from New York or TRON, but there are still so many gems of the era like Samurai Cop and Miami Connection waiting for a bigger audience. The 80s were a time of wild ideas that centered around characters with strong moral centers in ridiculous scenarios, and a lot of modern cinema is still riffing off ideas that bubbled onto the surface during this time.
As such, more often than not we see frequent references to the 80s and its particular brand of genre cinema. While there is certainly an over-abundance of work that calls back to this time utilizing a modern slant (such as the weird but still funny The FP), it’s not often that a new work comes out that is anything more than another tiresome 80s riff.
So when there is something out there that is steeped in 80s pop culture but is actually quite decent, it stands as noteworthy — which brings us to “Sexcastle.”
Created by Kyle Starks, the book is his follow-up to the excellent “Legend of Ricky Thunder,” which was an homage to the eccentric world of wrestling. “Sexcastle” follows the adventures of Shane Sexcastle, a one-eyed nunchuk enthusiast and former hitman/assassin who has just gotten out of jail. He takes up residence in a small town working at a flower shop and accidentally angers the local big bad boss, with things escalating rather quickly from there.
It’s fun, it’s incredibly funny and it has a surprising amount of heart at the center of it. And like “Ricky,” “Sexcastle” finds its place not only in spoofing that which it draws from, but it also carves out a new place within the ideas that have been passed down from generation to generation to make something new and modern with it.
What makes “Sexcastle” stand out is that this is not just a book that takes ideas of the 80s, presenting them to the audience and giggling, “Hey, remember when this was considered normal?” No, “Sexcastle” is a book that uses 80s trends and tropes for its basic modus operandi, and then actually moves far beyond that. The relationship between “Sexcastle” and the 80s is a lot less rigid than your average 80s inspired post-Oughties work; the inspiration is clear but not overbearing. There is plenty in “Sexcastle” that is both an obvious parody and a subtle nod, but in spite to the references peppered throughout it’s not a book that relies on your appreciation of that era in order to really get into the groove of the book.
Too often do 80s pastiches lose themselves in trying to be “so 80s.” Things like Vice City or Hot Tub Time Machine are both enjoyable as stand-alone elements, but the true beauty of their humor and nature rely on an implicit nature of the eras they’re parodying; they’re decent on their own, but only really great with context. “Sexcastle,” on the other hand, offers up a great middle ground between going too far and not going far enough; there are some truly great jokes present here, some more obvious than others, yet they never over-burden the narrative; it’s the story of Shane Sexcastle that comes first.
So while it’s great for 80s genre fans, “Sexcastle” stands as a rather great narrative completely of its own accord. You’d be surprised at the amount of character and development packed into the book, as while it’s not short by any means the space inside is well utilized to really develop the characters in entertaining and often specific ways. There’s also an interesting mix of characters that clearly exist as elements of this distorted world and those that see beyond it, not quite breaking the fourth wall but openly acknowledging the absurdity of the events; this offers a nice mix of humor and levity, at times a bit surreal but often resulting in a good punchline.
It’s rather clear that Starks learned a lot from “Ricky Thunder,” because his storytelling has grown a lot since then. That seems like an obvious statement, but it’s also rather important to note; while “Ricky Thunder” was a very entertaining comic, all of the tricks and sequential techniques on display in that book have become much more precise and refined in “Sexcastle.” Starks still relies on a rather rigid panel structure, but there’s room for more experimentation within that; there’s quite a few moments of great decompression within, moments that do great service to the characters while pushing along the narrative in humorous and entertaining ways. Starks plays with the space he’s developed for himself, and in quite a few scenes does some of his newer experimentation pay-off for a visually engaging and engrossing read.Continued below
Fans of Starks’ work will find a lot to love in this book, and I imagine people new to his particular brand of storytelling will as well. “Sexcastle” is a full-package graphic novel, packed with great characters and ideas along a well developed structure. The book is clearly meticulously plotted, and its very apparent the further you get into it; by the time you get to the end you’ll be surprised at how much of the first act pay-off in the grand finale, which sports some of the most bombastic and wild moments in comics I’ve ever seen.
And I hope you like puns, because there are a lot. And they’re all great.
So while “Sexcastle” is a lampoon of 80s idea, Starks walks the balance between over-referencing and staying currently relevant very well. It’s never over-steeped in nostalgia, and instead resembles what an 80s style movie made today could look like, which makes for an interesting book. For fans of the over the top mix of action and kung fu so prevalent in the 80s there’s a lot here for you, but for fans of more current comic indie sensibilities, the book has even more. With “Sexcastle,” Starks has made a book that should decidedly put him on the map as this book has every potential to be a mainstream hit, and it would be a shame if you let this book pass you by.
“Sexcastle” is currently up on Kickstarter, almost at twice its original goal at the time of this is writing. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason it should stop there.