"InSeXts" #5 is a delicious, dastardly treat. Marguerite Bennett, Ariela Kristantina and Bryan Valenza cook up a queer, supernatural Victorian mystery that goes as all-in on the monsters as it does on the sex scenes. A series with this many B-movie and romance novel tropes could turn predictable and silly in less assured hands, but this creative team has instead made each issue a scary, sexy pleasure. While there are still some missing pieces in the characterization and plotting, I know I'll have a great time every time I open an issue "InSeXts."
Kristantina has quite a gift for monsters. Thanks to both her lines and her framing, the creatures in "InSeXts" have a sprawling, panel-swallowing physicality that makes even cliched features like pointy teeth and glowing eyes feel overwhelmingly creepy. Combined with the Victorian costumes and moody coloring from Bryan Valenza, this makes for some seriously fantastical scenes. Of course, the real site of horror in "InSeXts" is the mouth; with jagged grins, gaping gums, two-foot-long tongues, Kristantina's monsters are most frightening when they feast.
Unfortunately, the same surreal, perspective-bending characteristic that works so well for her creature designs often works against her in action scenes. In Kristantina's style, sharp, defined objects like knives don't look dangerous or real, and smaller, tactical panels that need strong action aren't as easy to read. Valenza adds to this effect with murkier coloring that gives "InSeXts" its wonderful atmosphere, but sometimes this robs the artwork of real edges; a lighter touch that drew out the lines more would be great in some scenes. Luckily, the story is usually paced to allow for larger panels, but I'd love to see just a touch more sharpness from Kristantina and Valenza.
Plot-wise, the story motors right along. Bennett has moved quickly in the previous installments, and issue #5 is no exception. The book jumps location and timeframe frequently, and she expects the reader to keep up. Luckily, the dialogue is quite clear (if a touch expository), and letterers A Larger World signpost each scene change effectively. Above all, though, Bennett knows how to build a rousing, city-spanning plot. There's nothing particularly involved or tricky in the reveal of the London butcher; it's just good old-fashioned drama, and it makes for super satisfying single issues.
The characters are all likeable, but they don't always get enough time to really hook the reader. For instance, Bennett definitely conveys the tenderness and fierceness of Lady Bertram and Mariah, but there are so many plot elements that I spent most of this issue watching them react. That makes for an entertaining ride, but it also means I get less time with them as characters. In the coming issues, I'd love for one or two of the slower scenes to pull out their personalities, rather than their roles in the relationship. With just a little more reason to invest in their journeys, "InSeXts" could go from love-to-read to must-read.
Like its protagonists, "InSeXts" #5 doesn't mess around. This is a series that knows what it's about and revels in it, and I just can't resist.