Bodice ripper meets body horror in Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina's "InSeXts" #1. Smutty, scary and bold, this is an eye-catching first issue that succinctly establishes its premise and its protagonists. Kristantina's artwork is as evocative with the lovemaking as it is with the disemboweling, and Bennett's script is quick, clear and just a little wry. However, the very best first issues hint at extra layers -- more subplots, variables and complications to come -- and "InSeXts" doesn't quite accomplish that. The end of the issue reads more like the close of a one-shot than the intro to a longer series. Still, it's a super fun story that has definitely got me curious.
The plot is easy to summarize. Lady Bertram is cheating on her cold, philandering husband with her maid, Mariah; when Mariah proposes a supernatural solution to their unhappy situation, she agrees. Not to spoil, but -- by the end of the issue -- the two protagonists have handily solved almost all their major problems. Supernatural stories often hint there will be consequences for using occult methods, but there's none of that in "InSeXts" #1. The protagonists make vague promises about "our revenge," which hint at a larger plan and mayhem to come, but -- without more than that -- there's an absence of anticipation. I know there's more because of the solicits, but the issue itself doesn't give me much direction. That said, as a standalone story, it is a delight. With gore, vengeance and an undercurrent of lesbian separatism, "InSeXts" #1 features all my guilty pleasures. I did have a blast reading it.
Bennett is also not a particularly wordy writer, and that goes a long way in a story like this. With all the "my lady"-ing and the Victorian setting, I was braced for the dialogue to get ornate and clunky, but Bennett keeps things sounding period without overindulging. This also works beautifully in a book that's concerned in so many ways with the body. With all the orgasms and stomach explosions, the audience often needs to see more than they need to read. Luckily, Bennett isn't afraid to let the art do the talking when it needs to.
And talk it does. Kristantina creates some arresting, unapologetic panels in this issue, and she balances drama with movement really well. She's liberal with her larger panels; it really feels like she has room to stretch out, and so -- while I wish there were a bit more to the plot -- the scenes do feel bigger and more melodramatic with all that space. There's a romance to her style that contrasts and complements the story's "penny dreadful" elements, and Bryan Valenza's extravagant coloring instincts work really well with her lines. There are one or two panels where the art can feel too campy and gleaming for the subject matter, like an airier evocation of Zenescope's house style, but the aesthetic is lush and full of fantasy overall.
All told, "InSeXts" #1 is a weird, weird book that I very much liked. I wish it had done more of the work building the arc to come, but I can't deny that I liked the aesthetic and the themes.