written by Brandon Moore and Kate Spencer
Kate Spencer and Brandon Moore return with Volume 2 of Sunstone. The review would have been ready sooner, but they were all tied up. (Sorry not sorry.)
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
NSFW WARNING IS IN EFFECT
Volume 2 expands Sunstone‘s universe and sets up a lot of pieces which will fall into place in later volumes. We see a frequent client of Alan’s, as well as Crimson, a club which a few of the characters frequent. A trip to a coffee shop introduces more of the supporting cast…or possibly long-lost members of the Weasley family. Most importantly, we’re given more of Ally’s history and context for not only her friendship with Alan, but a lot of what troubles her.
Lisa and Ally have plans this volume! They haven’t been together in five days and they’re both looking forward to spending as much quality time together as possible. So naturally it all goes wrong. Lisa is besieged by the killer of so many steamy dates – the monthly visitor. It’s a shame, too, because Ally has a “battle plan” all set up and was already dressed for the occasion. The amount of planning and anticipation that precedes such a date is directly proportional to the likelihood of Mother Nature wrecking those plans – I call it “Flo’s Law”.
They still decide to hang out for pizza, a movie, and a little bit of making out. That last part hints that they’re both kidding themselves about this only being a dom/sub thing. For the reader, the lack of sexual activity between the two provides an opportunity for some backstory and getting to know the characters a little better. We find out how Ally and Alan met and that they were briefly a couple in college. That bit of backstory is both informative and pretty damn funny. Alan and Ally are both doms who constantly tried to outdo each other with more and more elaborate bondage situations. It reminds me of a cartoon I saw once where two characters constantly pull bigger and bigger guns on each other until they’re eventually rolling up cannons the size of buildings. Lisa interprets the story as Ally having had a previous sub, but Ally calls it a series of escalating experiments ruined by a fuckton of ego.
Seeing Ally and Lisa having to drop the sexual side of their relationship for a few days is interesting. Without having to play the dom and sub roles, they’re forced to interact in a far more casual manner. It’s probably when the veneer of the “friends with benefits” relationship cracks the most. For two people trying to maintain a strict dom/sub relationship with no hints of actual emotional attachment, Ally and Lisa are very bad at this. Once again we get to peer into Lisa’s head as she’s moved to tears by Ally trusting her enough to open up like she has. In the narration, she says it’s because she realized she had that foundation of trust in a BDSM relationship, but it’s obvious it’s deeper than that. She has that kind of trust with someone she’s falling in love with, and at this stage it’s the closest she’s going to get to having her secret crush reciprocated.
The following day they meet Alan, Chris, Chris’ sister Cassie, and Cassie’s husband Tom for coffee. After some friendly banter and comparing Ally to a Vulcan, the pair are persuaded to go to Crimson that night. Ally is reluctant and tells Lisa to stick close to her for the evening, but she won’t say why. This comes several pages after she said she trusted Lisa, so that should immediately send up some red flags. Both consider that it may be just Ally not wanting to remove the dom mask and reveal hurt or insecurities. As Narrator Lisa says, everyone lies because honesty makes you vulnerable. Ally promises to find a way to explain it to her and the subject is dropped for the moment.
At the club they get a table with Alan, Tom, and Cassie, and Lisa is entranced by a shibari performance (Made Of Fail would like to take a moment to remind you to clear your search history. Also “shibari” is the fancy word for Japanese rope bondage). The performers, Harper and Tanya, join them at their table when the performance ends as they’re friends with the group. It’s at this point in the comic that I started to think it was ever so slightly unrealistic for this many people in a group of friends to be into BDSM. Then I started thinking about my own group of friends and how I would be hard-pressed to find one who wasn’t into comic books, video games, or both. These people also met through things related to their kinks, so it’s not surprising that they would all be into it. And they do have that one vanilla friend in the mix (Chris) who just doesn’t get it.
What made this issue difficult for me to review is the emotional gut punch which happens next. It’s another piece to the Ally puzzle, and it’s a pretty uncomfortable one. Ally has a breakdown in the restroom and tells Lisa about Alan’s ex-girlfriend Marion, a sub who didn’t know her own limits or when to stop. I won’t detail the story because I’m not sure I can do it justice, but it plays on obsession and overindulgence with a nearly tragic ending. After the story, Lisa assures Ally that she’s not like Marion and that she will stop things if it becomes too much. Ally decides to put both of them to the test right then and there, and that’s when the biggest gut punch of them all comes. Ally doesn’t just harbor guilt over introducing Marion to too much too soon; she has a bit of PTSD over the incident. Going back to what was said before, honesty makes your vulnerable, and this is one of the times in the series where we see Ally at her most vulnerable. It’s a moment where the roles they play in their game are cast aside and we’re shown one woman just comforting another. It’s a very emotional sequence that’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
I really can’t overstate how good the writing and the art are. Stjepan Sejic’s art style is so gorgeous and expressive that a character’s face or their body language can convey an entire paragraph of writing. Speaking of the writing, it complements that expressive style in a way which brings layers of emotion to a single panel. When the action becomes a little more erotic, dialogue gives way to Lisa’s narration of events, and those bits of insight honestly make those scenes all the hotter.
I hope these reviews are convincing people to check out this book. This is really one of the best comics I’ve read in years. Don’t be put off by the themes – even if you’re not into BDSM, romance, erotica, or lesbians, you may still find something to enjoy.
Volume 1 gave us an intimate picture of two women with stomachs full of butterflies exploring their fantasies with each other. With the promise of a full series, now how do we expand? More characters, points of view, and public BDSM shows as the floor show at a club! How’s that for escalation?
Volume 2 of Sunstone expands the world by introducing us to a BDSM club called the Crimson and its patrons. We meet a couple who have been happily married for some time and enjoy sharing in the BDSM culture, but keeps their play time strictly between them. Another gentleman has zero interest in these games, but never judges his friends for what they do for fun. We have the owner of the Crimson proud to be providing a place where like-minded people can gather and know they won’t be judged. This is a valuable service as we also get a story about how hard it can be to put yourself out there to find people who share your kinks. Sejic uses all of this to shed more light on BDSM and reveals it to be potentially more than just some bedroom games. There is a whole community full of people sharing their interests just like any other hobby. By showing it off and allowing characters to have different levels of investment, all of which are shown to be valid, Sunstone further normalizes BDSM as a whole in refreshing ways.
Last time around it was Lisa, the submissive, who spoke at length about why ropes and restraints make her liver quiver. This time the dominant, ever-geeky Ally, is the focus. What is it that draws her to the role? Well, on a certain level it isn’t hard to explain the appeal of a good old-fashioned power trip. For Ally, though, it’s more than that. She enjoys the creativity that comes with thinking of different ways she can reinforce the power exchange. She is always looking at the world around her through a slightly perverted lens as she seeks inspiration for complicated rigs or games, with varying “rules” which are often stacked in her favor. Ally also exemplifies the ways in which being a dominant does not necessarily mean being selfish or cruel. She speaks about how she uses the power she is given by the submissive to control the game and bring the submissive’s fantasy to life. While some people look at the whips and chains and wonder how anyone could be into that, the writing here once again does a wonderful job of explaining the different ways it could appeal to some.
Sejic doesn’t shy away from the potential dangers of BDSM. After all, we are tying people up and stringing them up from the ceiling. We need to know how to do it right to avoid very unsexy cramps or worse. A particularly personal story about a bondage situation gone wrong demonstrates that there are indeed risks involved when engaging in these types of games. That is why trust is of paramount importance. In fact, this volume dedicates its final and most emotional pages to trust and how it goes both ways. Before enjoying some kinky sexy times, the submissive must trust the dominant not to go too far, but the dominant must also trust the submissive to communicate limits and use safewords if things get too intense. Trust is the cornerstone of any BDSM relationship, and Sejic hammers this home by ending not on a light and happy moment like last time, but rather a somber emotional one.
All of these heady ideas would never be communicated so effectively if it weren’t for the quality writing throughout the book. Through his words and his always pleasing art, Sejic continues to capture his growing cast of characters amazingly. Even simple glances and postures effectively communicate as much as the text. Being the film geek I am, I almost see these characters as actors, and Sejic is a talented director. Everyone feels like a real person and their interactions, no matter how taboo the subject matter, always feel natural and honest. I believe every moment of these two women falling for each other.
By the end of Volume 2, a whole new world has been opened up to Lisa and her relationship with Ally has started to evolve. I’m very excited to see just where the journey takes her.