Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.

Courtesy of AfterShock Comics

Courtesy of AfterShock Comics

By Arpad OkayinSEXts: erotic. Engrossing. Disquieting. It’s late seventeenth century London and Lady Bertram is married to an amoral monster. Metamorphosed by her servant and secret lover into an actual monster, Lady Bertram seeks revenge on the world. If gothic horror is the creative outlet for an age of sexual repression, inSEXts is a love letter to the times, one that is free to tell a story, a lascivious nightmare, that authors like Shelley couldn’t. But Marguerite Bennett’s pulse beats much too fast for mere homage. She reinvents the Classics, pushing ideas to the edge until they buzz with vitality.

Part of the success of the aesthetic is that it is not beholden to just one look. This is a tale of transformations, people who change back and forth between upstanding members of society to creatures fit for a penny blood serial. Their forms are anchored in animal spirits, bug and wolf and bird. They are just as amorphous as the monsters of antiquity, sprouting teeth and wings and protuberances with woozy irregularity, swirling and taloned and terrible.

It is this industriousness of writing (to say nothing of the macabre and hauntingly exciting artwork that executes it) that finds so many fresh ways to put like with like. inSEXts brings together the shapeless terror of the tablet that is Humbaba with the shape-shifting creatures of paperback novels. Combining the thrill of public murder and public sex, of breaking taboos, getting off and not getting caught.

inSEXts is a cerebral, uninhibited fantasy that would make Cronenberg blush. It stirs up the senses far beyond most comic books and then messes with you when you’re venerable. Blood rushes, skin tingles. Then the mystery thickens, social justice parallels between then and now crop up, a piece of the story will catch you off guard while you’re hot and bothered. Seeing examples of the issues we struggle with currently that are several hundred years old should give any rational reader reason for pause. And, once distracted, the horror can shock you. When things go south, they go full Books of Blood bad. Real ero guro, Devilman stuff. Ariela Kristantina’s hand is much more delicate than Go Nagai’s, but both artists enter the same dark territory once the limbs start coming off. Bennett bills inSEXts as body horror, but the imagery is alien, inhuman.

The humanity lies in the questions begged by the world in which Lady Bertram resides. How much abuse justifies vengeance? When society props up both bigotry and family values, the system is broken. If there is no recourse or defense against constant sexual assault, the victims are forced to save themselves. Passion and compassion collide. inSEXts reaches climax after climax, each step a little different than the heights that came before it. The magic deepens and the transformations evolve. The witch queens’ intimacy grows more explicit and more beautiful. The heroes are murderous, the monstrosities psychological. All the while, sex is portrayed in a positive light. Women are given the exaltation they deserve. Despite its unflinching tendency to tell the whole, horrible truth, it is always heartfelt and frequently adventurous.

What of inSEXts’ future? Full to overflowing with unpredictable potential. If you are sad or angry, read this. If you are passionate about equality, read it. If you are woke. If you like to kiss but don’t like being told who to kiss. If you want to see something you can never unsee. Several somethings. Read this book.

AfterShock Comics/$19.99

Written by Marguerite Bennett.

Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina.

Colored by Bryan Valenza and Jessica Kholinne.

Lettered by A Larger World.