The day “Sex” readers have been looking forward to has arrived. Ex-superhero Simon Cooke has a much anticipated date with his semi-reformed costumed nemesis, Annabelle LaGravanese. Writer Joe Casey, artist Piotr Kowalski (with a flashback provided by Ian MacEwan), and colorist Brad Simpson continue to impress with this underappreciated ongoing title in “Sex” #20.
Written by Joe Casey
Illustrated by Piotr Kowalski
The big date. One step closer. Will Simon get lucky?
Simon and Annabelle once fought each other above the streets of Saturn City. Now that they have hung up their uniforms, can the sexual tension that hero and villain once had between each other be broken and can a connection be made between the two in the “normal” civilian world? The majority of the scenes in “Sex” #20 take place at a dinner date between the two, with psychological scars and insecurities enlivening an issue that is heavy on dialogue and light on action. Besides an intriguing interlude involving the mayor of Saturn City and a three page flashback scene, Casey continues to write fascinating and relatable characters. Both Casey, Kowalski, and Simpson have slowly built a world and cast of characters that compel the reader to become heavily invested in.
“Sex” #20 continues Casey’s slow, but thoroughly fascinating, method of telling an operatic story in a very personal way. Like previous issues, not every character in the title’s large cast is present in this issue. Focusing on a handful of characters (and sometimes even just one or two) per issue is impressive to see when one takes an overview of all that has happened so far in “Sex”. We want to see Simon and Annabelle succeed in their attempt at a new beginning together because we have been able to discover their neuroses and idiosyncrasies as the story has progressed over twenty issues. This issue has been one of the quietest so far and showcases Casey’s and the artistic team’s birthing of these characters and the rich possibilities that have been fulfilled and those that have yet to bloom to fruition.
The understated quality of the writing in this issue highlights Casey’s devotion to these characters and the tempestuous lives they feel must be hidden from one another. Cooke, as a former superhero, finds it difficult to adjust to a world without a physical or psychological mask. His interaction with Annabelle in this issue is like the dance of a whirling dervish, with a dizzying back and forth of accusations, empathy, and sexual tension that compels us to yell, “Just do it already!” This issue, like the series in general, is a tease (in a good way) and propels us closer and closer to an ultimate release that is yearned for and inevitable.
That tension is tempered by the fluidity and pure expressive nature of Kowalski’s art. In one series of panels, he brings a sensuous quality that bursts with quelled emotions that can’t possibly be contained any longer. We get a closeup of Annabelle in one panel and then a closeup of her caressing her finger around the rim of a wine glass. The next panel then has Simon nervously rubbing his neck while sporting a tense brow. The inking here by Kowalski is brilliant because it accentuates Simpson’s colors, who makes it appear as if Simon is illuminated by light. The following panel then closes in on Annabelle, who is just as tense as Simon, if not more so than him. She has a pained look on her face that is heartbreaking.
The mark of a great storyteller is evident when story and emotion can clearly be read by simply taking in the art. Kowalski is able to successfully pull off that feat by bringing the characters and story to life with his dramatic art. Emotion bursts from the page, whether during the date or a dynamic chase scene toward the end of the issue. Body language, facial features, and actions big and small are realistically brought to the page in a way that transforms the art into something that can stand on its own.
Ian MacEwan’s three page flashback scene is jarring because it doesn’t match Kowalski’s artistic ability. To be fair, the scene doesn’t require much of MacEwan and, although not filler, it does make sense to have it as part of the story. He has a simpler and much more stripped down style than Kowalski, which is appropriate for the scene. The use of shadow when it comes to a particular character is an especially nice touch, with the scene adding another layer to the present day interaction between Simon and Annabelle.Continued below
The coloring in “Sex” is a showcase for Brad Simpson’s brilliant artistry and issue twenty is more proof that his name belongs among the best colorists working in comic books today. He breathes a kinetic energy into the story and each panel is suffused with life. Intense and complex emotions are clearly on display in Simon and Annabelle’s date, with panels sometimes saturated with simply one color. That one color, such as blue or red, evoke such emotions as discomfort or anger in a bold and unequivocal way. He takes chances with the choices he makes and, as is evident in any great artist’s work, has a distinct style that adds layers to a story that would have been absent in a lesser colorist’s color palette.
Whether letterer Rus Wooton or Simpson made the decision, occasionally highlighting particular words in word balloons with a color has been a distinct style choice during this book’s entire run. Simon Cooke’s name is highlighted in blue when a mystery man says it aloud, forcing us to read it emphatically. This man clearly has plans for our protagonist. We are acting out the characters’ motivations and emotions through their language and understanding them in the process. Something as simple as highlighting words for emphasis adds another layer of nuance to a story that clearly has it in abundance.
Casey, Kowalski, and Simpson are clearly a team who are equal partners in creating a book that is deserving of much more attention than it currently receives in terms of both critical accolades and sales. Like the other book with the word sex in its title, “Sex” is a labor of love that is overflowing with pathos, humor, and humanity.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Sex” #20 will pleasure regular readers of this title. The second trade, which includes this issue, comes out next month and is a perfect time for new readers to snatch up those two trades before the book resumes its run in three months.