Sexcastle is writer/artist Kyle Starks’ homage to ’80s action films, replete with violence, profanity, and a gratuitous sex scene. Despite its title, however, it is not pornographic. Is it good?
Sexcastle TPB Vol. #1 (Image Comics)
Does one need to be educated in a genre and its conventions in order to enjoy a homage? I’d like to think not, although perhaps a rudimentary awareness of genre tropes gained through cultural osmosis is enough certainly helps one appreciate the references. As a Quentin Tarantino fan, though, the fact that I’ve seen so few westerns, kung fu movies, 70’s exploitation films, etcetera has never hindered my enjoyment of his films. Likewise, I wasn’t raised on ’80s action movie. Let’s see… I’ve seen The Terminator, Predator, Die Hard and… that’s about it. But I still had a great time with Sexcastle.
It should go without saying at this point that Sexcastle is not about a castle full of orgies or whatever. Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s actually about Shane Sexcastle, a badass motherfucker and former assassin with an eye patch that recently got released from prison. Hoping to finally live a peaceful existence, he takes a job working in a flower shop in a small town, but soon finds himself pulled back into violence by a group of thugs that are terrorizing the town.
Initially, one may not think that Kyle Starks’ art style is suited for the kind of story that he’s telling. His clean lines and simple backgrounds aren’t reminiscent of the kinds of action comics that readers are used to, but once we get past that first fight scene all doubts go out the window. These scenes may be cartoony, but they’re also brutal and kinetic in ways that most superhero comics can only hope to be. I usually hate to describe comics as “cinematic” because it implies that comics are a lesser medium that must strive to reach the heights of a supposedly superior medium, whereas an experienced comic book reader knows that comics, as a medium that’s just as valid as any other media, can do things that no other media can. Yet I can’t find a better word to describe Sexcastle’s action scenes. Every movement leads smoothly into the next, creating a fully realized “movie” in the reader’s head.
Intentionally or not, many action movies have a sense of humor, but Starks definitely intends to make the reader laugh. Sometimes he falls flat when he relies too heavily on profanity as a punchline, but most of the time he succeeds, especially when it comes to dryly-delivered one-liners from Sexcastle himself. Seriously, if anyone knows of a line from the last few years better than “you brought a YOU to a ME fight,” please let me know in the comments.
Sexcastle walks the line between homage and parody, but Mel Brooks has said that you can’t spoof what you don’t love, and it’s clear that Starks loves his source material. This is especially evident as some real earnestness creeps in towards the end.
You don’t read a book like Sexcastle for emotional weight, high concepts, or life affirming messages though. Make no mistake, Sexcastle is exhilarating, but my biggest complaint about it is that somehow, it doesn’t go as far over-the-top as I would have liked. Maybe I’m just spoiled by Axe Cop, but I felt like Sexcastle could have gone bigger. As fun as the action is, it’s relatively small scale. I wanted a car chase, a fight on top of a moving train, a battle against 100 men, more explosions. Maybe Starks can have these things in his next work, since I don’t think a sequel is likely given the way Sexcastle ends.
If I’m asking for more from a comic that already keeps it one hundred, that’s a good problem to have.
Is It Good?
Sexcastle is a stellar example of comics’ capacity for humor and action. If there is any part of you that enjoys seeing (fictional) people get punched in the face, read this comic.