The second issue of “Sex” by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski features a voluptuous blonde on its cover, smiling seductively and nude save for some well-placed bars of shadow. Perhaps more garish, though, is the cover tag on this week’s issue, just like last month’s: “Second Issue — Collector’s Item!” At first I prepared to cluck my reviewer’s tongue at the mid-’90s gold-foil blatancy of it all. But then I started to wonder. What if the whole package — cheesecake cover art, penetrating E-to-X hidden arrow in the logo, garish “Collector’s Item!” tag — is just a big joke? What if the cover is a spoof, a commentary on how far publishers will go to get readers to take their books off the shelf?
Casey has said repeatedly in interviews that “Sex” is all about the sexuality that sits, poorly hidden, right beneath the surface of superhero comics. Appropriately, much of issue #2 is about the relationship between hero Simon Cooke and criminal-turned-madam Annabelle Lagravenese, A.K.A. Shadow Lynx, the Catwoman to Simon’s Batman. Annabelle smartly refers to Simon as having been her “sparring partner,” a cute turn of phrase that plays on the old trope of the hero and villainess who just can’t keep their hands off each other (see also, for example, Spider-Man and the Black Cat). When they meet for the first time since Simon’s retirement, it’s like watching a broken-up couple run into each other at their old favorite cafe: he’s awkward and trapped in the past; she’s frustratingly self-confident and has clearly moved on. The relationship is handled smartly, with plenty of empathy for Simon but just a hint that there’s more underneath the surface for Annabelle as well.
In fact, it’s the supporting characters who really get developed in the second issue of “Sex,” and that’s a good thing. Issue #1 spent a lot of time dragging its feet on Simon’s backstory, but #2 starts to create a real sense of the world and people of Saturn City. The Old Man, the aging gangster who seems set to become a major villain of the book, actually shows how evil he is in a startling moment of brutality. Keenan Wade, the busboy with a secret, also gets a few pages of his own. (Maybe he’ll become the Robin of the comic.) Overall, this issue is far more show than tell compared to #1, and that’s a good thing.
That being said, there’s still a feeling of a dam waiting to break. Simon is the same repressed grouch from last issue, and the series doesn’t really seem set to get going until he starts breaking through those walls one way or another. (In other words: there’s no action in this issue either, physical or sexual, except for an action flashback of Keenan’s.) Just as it seems inevitable that Simon will eventually break down and sleep with somebody, anybody, he also seems destined to take up the mantle of the Armored Saint again. At some point Simon is going to take off that slim-cut business suit, but it’s not clear whether that’ll be to get naked or to put on his old combat armor (which is constantly teased, but never fully shown, in the art). But as each issue goes by without these things happening, and with a clear purpose or conflict yet to develop for Simon, “Sex” is still just spinning its wheels.