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Monstrousness as Metaphor in the Erotic Body Horror of InSEXts

Comics Reviews Marguerite Bennett
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Monstrousness as Metaphor in the Erotic Body Horror of <i>InSEXts</i>

Writer: Marguerite Bennett
Artist: Ariela Kristantina
Colorists: Bryan Valenza & Jessica Kholinne
Lettering: A Larger World Studios
Publisher: AfterShock
Release Date: August 31, 2016

STL012665.jpeg Though the line between penny dreadfuls and comic books isn’t a straight one, comics are absolutely part of the legacy of inexpensive, serialized stories full of danger, romance and supernatural horror, popularized by dime-store novels and monthly magazines. Marguerite Bennett (DC Comics Bombshells, Animosity) is clearly aware of just how important this legacy is, nodding to it by way of InSEXts’ main characters swapping novels back and forth and delighting in their shared guilty pleasure.

Lady Lalita Bertram and her maid-turned-lover, Mariah, lie at the core of this series, both trapped by the restrictive and cruel expectations of Victorian England. Lady, as she is called for the duration of the seven issues in Volume 1, has fallen in the grips of a loveless and abusive marriage. Mariah hatches a plot not only to dispatch Lady’s husband, but to also deliver them a child to complete their family. After the initial murder, a story unfolds that revolves tightly around the ways in which women were—and in many cases still are—punished and hated for daring to exist on their own terms. This isn’t a new theme for Bennett, but with InSEXts she’s far more confrontational than in many of her other books, unfettered both by years of continuity and editorial mandate. Bennett’s use of monstrousness as metaphor, making Lady and Mariah as well as their friends and adversaries something other than human, is more subtle than the dialogue, but no less powerful. Lady and Mariah build a family from choice and use the very things that make them inhuman to save people who need protection from a world that thinks they are not worth consideration. It’s not unexplored territory, but Bennett does an excellent job of it, despite some rough dialog and uneven pacing in the first few issues.

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InSEXts Interior Art by Ariela Kristantina, Bryan Valenza & Jessica Kholinne

Artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverines, Deep State) does an excellent job setting the stage for Bennett’s foray into creator-owned period pieces. Her line art is inky and organic, and the pin-up images used for the covers are reminiscent of art nouveau advertisements. She exercises a skill for interesting layouts that she doesn’t leverage often enough, and her backgrounds are lush and textured, thanks to colorists Bryan Valenza and Jessica Kholinne, who emulate the glow often associated with glass or gold-plated art of the period. Kristantina’s character work is not as strong. There’s enough of a same-face problem to confuse the characters, and features are sometimes distended awkwardly. It’s also jarring to see both Maria and Lady completely devoid of body hair, and that choice feels completely at odds with the tone and apparent aesthetics of the world Bennett creates. That said, Kristantina’s work has noticeably improved over the course of the first seven issues, and the pin-ups attest to the fact that she’s a talent to watch.

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InSEXts Interior Art by Ariela Kristantina, Bryan Valenza & Jessica Kholinne

The most remarkable thing about InSEXts may be the way it effortlessly straddles multiple genres. Supernatural horror, romance and historical fiction all share equal space in the comic, and they meld together beautifully under Bennett’s watchful eye. The book has only gotten stronger as the team has continued to work together, and it will be exciting to see where they go with issue #8 and beyond.

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InSEXts Interior Art by Ariela Kristantina, Bryan Valenza & Jessica Kholinne

Caitlin Rosberg is a writing, comic-reading, tea-drinking, baking machine with all the requisite robotic enhancements. She is obsessed with her dog and b-list comic book characters named Jim. Ask her about Rhodey.