Christian youth minister Adam Chamberlain has taken a hiatus from speaking on the virtues of teen abstinence. After his fiancé Cassie lost her head during a botched missionary trip to Africa, Adam resolved to kill the man who took the woman for whom he’d saved himself. With the help of his lesbian sister and a bounty hunter, Adam has tracked the killer – known to him only as “Chop – to a sex club in Melbourne, Australia. Only, to get close to the killer, Adam had to dress in a black leather S&M outfit and learn a little more about Chop than he ever wanted to know. That “knowing” in the club proves more than a little uncomfortable for both Adam and the reader. Steven Seagle and artist Becky Cloonan keep the graphic detail to a minimum, but they bring the reader almost too close for comfort. You can almost feel Chop’s breath on the back of your neck. However, the real excitement begins when the Melbourne police raid the club and a nearby reporter catches Adam fleeing the club.
American Virgin sometimes feels like a tirade against evangelical Christians – almost as if it says, “Look at what a great, wide world there is! Look at it!” And yet, Seagle writes Adam with a level of humanity that supersedes pure didacticism. If Seagle just wanted to throw weird sex at Christian America, I imagine he’d write Adam with less sympathy. Still, the series will, no doubt, quickly educate anyone unaware of the many permutations of human sexual relations found the world over. I’ve known people like Adam, and sometimes the world outside of small town American can seem alarming to someone raised in a sheltered environment. If anything, it feels like Seagle uses Adam as a representation of American naiveté in the face of the varied and interesting ways people have sex. That might repel some readers, but I suppose someone had to tell them eventually.
Becky Cloonan’s scratchy, wispy line-work lends a gritty indie feel to American Virgin. It almost seems like the book might work better in black and white. Regardless, it serves the story well and I hope Cloonan remains for the duration of the title.
American Virgin continues the Vertigo tradition of compelling, mature long-form storytelling. It won’t please everyone, but it has more than enough to offer anyone willing to read with an open mind.
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