THIS REVIEW OF ‘SEX DEATH REVOLUTION’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. Change is inevitable, and it is often essential. Sometimes it might be intentional, but often change is unexpected and unpredictable. It’s in how we initiate or weather change that we can best define or destroy ourselves. It is a wild and ruthless thing, and that’s before you add magic into the mix. Sex Death Revolution #1 dives headlong into these churning thematic waters, and brings a fascinating new world of mystical arts back with it.
There has clearly been a lot of thought put into the magical systems of this story, not just in how they function but how they are described. The cast of characters in Sex Death Revolution discuss their magic like grad students, and many of them practice it by writing papers. Even beyond that, the language writer Magdalene Visaggio uses is very carefully chosen, setting clear boundaries while also being vague enough to suggest uncertainty. That uncertainty highlights how unknowable this magic can be, even to these academic practitioners, and drives home how great a task it is for them to marshal such forces. And it also highlights that theme, that unpredictability of change, which defines our hero’s struggle.
That hero, Esperanza, is compelling in her imperfections and her earnest wants; in her, Visaggio has provided us with an impeccably-crafted lead to the series. She defines herself as someone who has a difficult time with change, and who has used magic to ease herself through her biggest and most dramatic of changes (her transition, the collapse of her coven). Of course, it is the risk inherent in those actions that opens the floodgates to the rest of the story, but that recklessness is easy to understand as Visaggio frames it. Esperanza’s eagerness to just be the ideal version of herself, on every level, is a relatable one, as is the realization of just how far she might have to go to get there.
That realization, like most major moments of introspection, begins with the words of others. Esperanza’s girlfriend, Shannon, and her former coven-mates display a mixture of support and exasperation at Esperanza’s attempts to form a new coven, and it is in this conflict that the true danger of the story is introduced. Ultimately it is Shannon that starts to recognize unexpected changes in Esperanza’s reality, and who resolves to help Esperanza weather those changes in search of her ultimate, correct self. This leads to the issue’s sincere and touching climax, cementing Esperanza and Shannon as a great new couple to root for as the story progresses.
As Visaggio puts this puzzle of emotionality together, it is brought to gorgeous life by a killer art team working in great harmony. In this issue, artist Becca Farrow is mostly tasked with rendering a grounded world with only the slightest glimpses of magic at work. She provides great, distinct character designs that at times recall the work of Stjepan Sejic or Jamie McKelvie; each character has a unique fashion sense, and all are beautiful in their own sort of way. In the few moments that she is able to flex her artistic muscles to depict fully-unleashed magic, Farrow knocks that out of the park, too, filling panels with thick, otherworldly smoke and flame.
Harry Saxon’s colors also help establish that grounding element, highlighting the subtext of each scene. Be it in the careful color-coding of each character’s wardrobe or the washed-out hues of the flashbacks, Saxon provides the ideal touches to amplify what’s scripted. And the way Zakk Saam’s letters mesh with the magic sigils and runes, leading the reader’s eye (and mind) through the exposition and worldbuilding helps the major info-dumps flow more smoothly. Additionally, Saam is essential in providing proper tone and cadence for such a dialogue-heavy issue; his work in conjunction with Visaggio’s dialogue gives these very fantastical conversations a naturalistic feel. It’s all carefully choreographed, with every member of the team complementing the others.
This is a book that is truly more than the sum of its parts; the cumulative effect of the creative team’s efforts is resonant, relatable, and emotionally intense. It’s ironic that Visaggio, Farrow et. al are so in sync and have produced such a seamless final product, considering that the very nature of their story is about the unpredictability and messiness of change, and the ease with which self-perception can fracture and warp based on the whims of others. But then, only a team working this well together could truly hope to capture such a heady and complicated concept this thoroughly.
Sex Death Revolution #1 is certainly a slow-burner, and while the fact that it is a double-length issue does ameliorate that somewhat it is a very talky, context-establishing opening chapter. But the final product is more than worthwhile, as the team makes use of that extra space to firmly and capably establish the ideas and emotions at the core of their story. Sex Death Revolution is beautifully realized; it immerses us in its story of change and its world of academic witchery, demanding our presence and rewarding our attention.
Black Mask Studios/$5.99
Written by Magdalene Visaggio.
Art by Becca Farrow.
Colors by Harry Saxon.
Letters by Zakk Saam.
Designed by Tim Daniel.
8.5 out of 10