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‘SFSX (Safe Sex)’ #3 review: Put that thing down, flip it, and reverse it

A mid-series ‘flashback’ provides new insights and emotions.

A Sexy Trinity: Three truly is a magic number, and that’s especially true for comics. It’s generally by the third issue when you can tell if a series is dead in the water or soaring toward new heights. In the case of SfSx, Tina Horn and Michael Dowling’s sex-positive dystopian thriller is clearly among the latter. Issue #1 set up the world where sex has been bureaucratized, and issue #2 added even more depth to Avory’s tale of redemption (and the reemergence of non-boring human sexuality, hopefully). So where are we at as of issue #3? Well, not much further along, but for all the very best reasons.

Remix!: Issue #3 actually takes place during the same timeframe as issue #2, wherein Avory and Nick formed their lil’ partnership to help rescue her husband, George. However, this issue is told from the perspective of Sylvia and Casey, Avory’s former Dirty Mind compatriots who are (reluctantly) aiding in her rebellion. It’s a bit of a risk, but shifting perspectives so early in the series, even briefly, pays some huge dividends. Namely, we get further insight into how the “new” Dirty Mind works, with a huge chunk of issue #3 devoted to Sylvia and Casey walking a group of guests through an evening of Olympic-level sex.

What could have just been a fun moment for some light vamping and freaking out the squares provided some new interesting perspectives into the series/world and its specific sociopolitical aims. In a way, we almost see the “upside” of properly policed sex, in which the Sylvia and Casey have created a structure geared toward protecting guests and performers in this awful new hellscape. It’s not about bureaucracy and control, but giving people the agency to get a little freaky in the most responsible way possible. When that happens, it’s possible to maintain a consensual experience while allowing people to explore freely. By giving people rules and structures, you’re freeing them to form sexual identities as they see fit. It’s only when The Party policies people’s actions do they ignore the already regulated industry that’s been created. Oh sweet irony!

A Lost World: As much as I enjoyed seeing the world from the POV of Sylvia and Casey, I was still left slightly disappointed. A big moment in issue #2 was that Jones, the former head of the Dirty Mind, had been brainwashed as a corporate puppet for the state. Given they were dating (and seemingly an uber power couple), that revelation should have hit Sylvia squarely in the face like molten-hot rebar. Aside from a brief vomiting episode, she appeared mostly fine, and that’s the sad lil’ disconnect of this issue. While she has to be strong and resilient for the others, it felt like a perfect moment of emotional development otherwise ruined. Is there space for her to emote later? Sure, especially as she enacts a plan that will inevitably land her in spitting distance of The Party and, quite likely, Jones. But the fact that it didn’t happen more in issue #3 feels wildly de-humanizing, especially in such an impactful issue where the creators did such a great job emphasizing humanity in a thoughtful manner.

Smack You Eyeballs: In addition to the brilliant decision to “pause” the narrative, the creators also presented a new art style to complete issue #3’s one-two punch.  Artist/series co-creator Dowling was temporarily replaced by Alejandra Gutierrez (Twisted Romance), and the two couldn’t be more different. Dowling’s art is a bit more stylized, and it certainly provided the sleek lines and polish that played up the book’s inherent sexuality. With him, it’s like a superhero book and a spy thriller had a very handsome baby.

Gutierrez, meanwhile, is less “polished,” but in a way that plays up more of the naughty and confrontational tendencies of the book. There’s something about her work, which feels like a political cartoon in the back of a porno mag, that just works really well. It’s the sort of free-flowing approach that this book almost demands, to skirt away from structure and order for something more raw and primal. Add in her novel use of text and details, as well as tendency for “pops” of mixed media, and Gutierrez’s style does a lot to help align the story with its visuals and further the larger emotional or narrative objectives. Should she replace Dowling permanently? Maybe not. (He returns in for issue #4 in December, FYI.) But the book’s free-wheeling approach to art shows a commitment to moods and ideas over fixed aesthetics.

A Breath Of Fresh Air: This issue was the comic book equivalent of a bottle episode, in that it slowed down the pace, spun out some (temporarily) non-essential characters, and focused on telling a very specific part of the larger story. Was it effective? For the most part, sure — it was a way to expand the story even if that wasn’t always executed perfectly. Did it hurt the story’s overall momentum? Not at all — we understand more events, and can better connect with series standouts Sylvia and Casey, and that’s going to be essential going forward.

I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, though I can certainly guess. (The Dirty Mind Clique, as I’m now calling this group, will move forward with their planning, perhaps featuring some larger planning/training montage?) Either way, issue #3 was a success if only because it added to the story by letting readers reflect and still providing new avenues for the narrative to travel.

If This Issue Were A Sex Position: … it would be the Advanced Crab Walk. Because sometimes the best way to move forward is to slow it down, change up your perspective(s), and continue at a more steady pace.

FSX (Safe Sex) #3
Is it good?
A mid-series "flashback" provides new insights and emotions.
A daring spin on the narrative yields ample emotional rewards.
The temporary shift in art does wonders for the narrative and aesthetic.
The series hums with new vigor just as the actual story starts its build.
A developmental moment with Sylvia feels a little wasted or stunted.
7.5
Good
Comments

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