The first issue of Image Comics' SFSX arrives in stores today, and it will hopefully give readers the queer punk social thriller that they didn't know they needed. From the very first page, the series simultaneously establishes itself as provocative, profound, and incredibly earnest, with a concept that has an absurd amount of storytelling potential. SFSX takes place in a dystopian world in which almost all forms of sexual expression are criminalized and monitored by a conservative religious group called The Party. The story centers upon a woman named Avory, a bisexual sex worker whose life gets turned upside down after The Party orders a raid on a sex club called The Dirty Mind. Years later, Avory has attempted to assimilate into the draconian society created by The Party, only for a tragedy to send both parts of her world crashing down.
SFSX crafts a dystopian scenario that is just outrageous enough to draw general audiences in, while also being a heightened version of some of the struggles that are already part of today's sexual politics. Without getting too into spoilers, there are definitely parallels to the ongoing struggles of queer people, the controversy surrounding FOSTA-SESTA's impact on sex workers, and the stigma surrounding pornography, but never in a way that feels overly preachy. That Amory is bisexual adds an interesting layer to the narrative as well, as it highlights both her privilege of being able to "pass" as straight, as well as the doubt she might feel about her place in the present-day underground community. It's clear that Tina Horn, who has worked for years as a writer, educator, and podcaster about sexual politics, is the perfect person to bring this narrative to life, as it feels both universal and incredibly personal.
Queer and straight readers will surely take away completely different things from SFSX's first issue, but Horn establishes a narrative that manages to be thoroughly entertaining. One of the most intriguing parts of the issue is sporadically learning more about Avory and her past, culminating in one of the most delightfully-scripted action sequences to hit comics this year. At times SFSX feels like an underground comic zine in all the best ways, as it isn't afraid to get creative and unpredictable with how it reveals information.
With a dystopian world that boasts just enough hints of our own reality, it feels incredibly fitting that Michael Dowling, who also co-created Vertigo's criminally-underrated social thriller Unfollow, provides the art. The end result lends itself really well to the unsettling nature of The Party's influence, while also allowing for some interesting character designs. It's also worth mentioning the way that Dowling approaches the issue's nude and sex scenes, which bring to life a kind of sexuality that is tantalizing, but incredibly authentic, and keeps each character's agency at the heart.
Dowling also does the color work in this issue, which plays a stunning role in establishing the two corners of Avory's world. The more inhibited moments are bathed in neon hues, which contrast starkly with the beiges and greys that fill the society manufactured by The Party. Once Avory falls more and more down the proverbial rabbit hole, the issue subtly transitions into an increasingly-vibrant blue. The cherry on top of the series' visual world is Steve Wands' lettering, which simultaneously boasts a ton of personality and a relatively stark quality. Whether fitting Avory's internal monologue or one of The Party's authoritarian speeches, the text style proves to be a surprisingly-happy medium between the different worlds of the series.
At its core, SFSX is about expression and personal empowerment, both within the world of sex and far beyond it. Tina Horn builds upon that concept nearly-perfectly, crafting a debut issue that lays the groundwork for an emotional and unique dystopia. With a compelling protagonist, a unique approach to real-world issues, and nuanced art from Michael Dowling, there's a lot to enjoy in this first installment. Not only will SFSX #1 make readers want to see where the story goes next, but it will hopefully make them look at their relationship with sexuality and sexual politics in a whole new way.
Published by Image Comics
On September 25, 2019
Written by Tina Horn
Art by Michael Dowling
Colors by Michael Dowling
Letters by Steve Wands