In the exciting climax of InSEXts, titled “Violent Ends,” we see the results of the women’s vengeful actions in the previous issue come to full fruition along with an epilogue that exhibits what these women must deal with in the bigoted society they live in. When I say that the issue is epic, I mean that in its truest sense. It features classical Greek heroines, starts en media res, and features a strong focus on destruction and recreation. More than anything though, this is a feminist text and a beautifully empowering one at that.
Starting with the art, Ariela Kristantina continues to prove just how capable in this field she is. Her work on this series plays with how the line between grotesque and beautiful is much thinner than one might expect; So many aspects of the issue from the Grecian wear to the women’s elegant faces never lose their beauty even when connected to insectoid arms and slithering hair. The Grecian aspects are replicated in the cover and the overall theme as well. Kristantina’s cover perfectly echoes the content of the issue with a hagiographic flair, the centering of family, and a mix of beauty and horror. Colorist Jessica Kholinne overuses the red a little bit in the conclusion, but over all richness and the vibrancy of the very colorful book makes it feel particularly magical.
While the storyline is a love letter to feminist history and critique, it never feels heavy handed or preachy. Creator and Writer Marguerite Bennett shows a deft hand including so many aspects of female empowerment into a cohesive storyline. Two key aspects that deserve highlighting are the central concepts hinted at with the title “Violent Ends.” In the conclusion to the storyline, we get a nod to the reclaiming of Medusa that has occurred in modern feminism. Medusa is a woman who is punished for being a rape victim and have been historically used as the embodiment of men demonizing female authority. Turning powerful women into the figure is a disturbing trope that shows no signs of stopping. When Phoebe states: “Do not become that which has harmed you. Do not clothe yourself in the lie they would have you wear. They would make you think yourself a Monster… But you are so much more,” it rings of something that all women need to hear. In the epilogue, we see a Victorian example of female empowerment through the reference to the comb in Mariah’s hair being as sharp as a hatpin. Hatpins were a common means through which women defended themselves against sexual assault and became prevalent enough that laws were passed limiting their length. This is yet another historical example of women seeking to empower themselves and men demonizing them for it. Regardless of the means patriarchal societies take to restrict women, the ends are often violent on multiple levels. Thankfully, this storyline reverses some of this and concludes on a rather optimistic note.
There is so much more I want to say about this issue! One final thing I feel I need to mention is the sex scene. It is especially glorious as the two women tell the person spying on them that they are not there for anybody’s pleasure but their own. The way that the women are looking at the voyeur who is placed in the position of the reader is an excellent choice as it calls out any readers who are buying the comic for the wrong reasons. Lesbians do not exist for male consumption. The scene itself is simply gorgeous and realistic. The lighting is romantic and the roses and insects framing them perfectly captures their relationship.
This Victorian horror series about Lady Bertram and her maid/lover Mariah has been a much needed inclusion into the comic world and one that I feel every woman needs to read. On its most basic level, it is an interrogation of monstrosity through the lens of feminism. This is something that speaks to every woman who is more drawn to the femme fatal or the villainous vixen than the pious hero we were are expected to emulate. It makes an implicit urge explicit and makes it clear why that urge exists. Five stars do not appropriately encapsulate the praise this deserves.
(W) Marguerite Bennett (A/CA) Ariela Kristantina