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Swing Volume 3 Review: How An Open Marriage Matures

For some couples, monogamy is great.

It works for them. They meet, they fall in love, they get married, they have sex, and they have children. They go onto live predictable, but satisfying and respectable lives. There’s nothing wrong with that.

That sort of thing just doesn’t work for Dan and Cathy in the world of “Swing,” Top Cow Comic’s ambitiously sexy slice-of-life saga. Their story, and the many sexy details it entails, has offered many colorful insights into a world that actually exists outside the book. It also explores the life, love, and growth of two endearing characters as they navigate that world.

There are no superheroes in this story. There are no James Bonds or Pussy Galores, either. The world of “Swing” is a world that never attempts to break the laws of physics, psychology, or believability. Compared to the fanciful spectacles offered by other comics, it’s a breath of fresh air. It also helps that it’s sexy as hell.

The first two volumes of “Swing,” which I’ve reviewed and praised, set Cathy and Dan on this path to a sexy, swinging world. I’ve been following their story closely, watching these characters grow together through and not just in terms of romance and intimacy.

“Swing Volume 1” showed how they met, fell in love, had a family, and became interested in swinging.

“Swing Volume 2” showed how they entered this world, began exploring, struggled at first, and learned to embrace it. Now, “Swing Volume 3” provides us the next step in Dan and Cathy’s story as a couple involved in this lifestyle. It explores how they grow and mature. It’s not an entirely smooth process, but that’s part of what makes this entry of the story the best of the saga thus far.

Like its predecessors, “Swing Volume 3” picks up at a pivotal time in Dan and Cathy’s life. They’ve settled into the lifestyle. They’ve become a lot more comfortable with the unique dynamics of an open marriage. Writer, Matt Hawkins, makes every one of those dynamics both believable and rooted in real life examples.

Yes, there are real couples who engage in this lifestyle and it does work for them. I’ll give the puritanical crowd a moment to stop gasping. At the same time, that’s an important context to consider in appreciating the type of narrative that “Swing” has to offer.

It’s not entirely built entirely around sex scenes, innuendo, or the kind of shallow characters you often find in cheap softcore porn. A big part of the story is where this lifestyle takes Dan and Cathy, as a couple. It’s not all fun and sexy games. They have jobs, children, and career ambitions outside their sex life.

Dan is still trying to become a published author. Cathy is still building her career in the entertainment marketing industry. They also love their kids deeply and want to give them the best life two loving parents can give them. That element of the story is not glossed over, more so in “Swing Volume 3” than the previous two entries.

How does any couple balance that sort of thing? How does a story like that work without becoming too pornographic or too bland? Well, “Swing Volume 3” finds a way and the artwork of Yishan Li and Linda Sejic makes it a sight to behold every step of the way.

Both characters take major steps forward in their professional lives, as well as their sex lives. However, those steps don’t happen without some conflict along the way. In fact, much of Dan and Cathy’s growth in “Swing Volume 3” stem largely from those conflicts.

Some are small, as is often the case in any functional relationship. There are misunderstandings and miscommunications. There are also instances in which Dan or Cathy makes a choice that doesn’t sit well with the other. On the surface, it just seems melodramatic. However, the way it plays out feels real and genuine.

At every turn, Dan and Cathy make clear how much they love each other. They want nothing more than to make one another happy, both in and out of the bedroom. It’s a simple desire, but one prone to many complicated efforts.

Even though they’ve been involved in the world of swinging for a while now, there are still missteps and mishaps. The couple takes quite a few baby steps in the first few volumes, but “Swing Volume 3” is much more ambitious, both in terms of the sexy details and the emotional ramifications.

Whereas Cathy led the charge through much of the last volume, Dan is a lot more involved this time. I would argue he undergoes more maturation in “Swing Volume 3” than the previous two volumes combined. The details involve some spoilers, including some of the NSFW kind. Make no mistake, though. Both Dan and Cathy mature a great deal in this story and it’s a satisfying process, if that’s not too loaded a term.

For a story like “Swing,” which doesn’t rely on superpowers, superheroes, or supernatural forces, it’s important to come off as genuine. The story can’t work if the characters don’t feel real and believable. Otherwise, it has little depth beyond the sexy stuff.

The events of “Swing Volume 3” further affirms that genuine spirit for Dan and Cathy. The more they go through, the more real they seem. Nothing about the challenges and struggles they face feel like something that has no real-world parallels. It’s easy to relate to them. It’s even easier to root for them.

In essence, “Swing” is one of those rare erotica romance stories that strikes a perfect balance between erotica and romance. The sex positive spirit of the story ensures that one complements the other. Sex doesn’t define Dan and Cathy’s love for each other or vice versa. Their desire to explore this world is as sexy as it is romantic.

That dynamic has been a hallmark of the “Swing” series since it began, but “Swing Volume 3” really takes it to another level. Dan and Cathy are done with the baby steps. They’re diving deeper into this sexy world together.

That process will bring drama and a few consequences, as the cliff-hanger ending shows. That just makes these couple all the more likable. For that, I applaud Hawkins, Yi, Sejic, and Top Cow Comics for what they’ve achieved with “Swing Volume 3.” If I had to score it, I’d give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. It’s not perfect. Very few things in this world are. It’s still sweet and sexy to the utmost. In a year like this, we need that.

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A Sweet (Atypical) Love Story In “Sugar”

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Not every love story begins with a daring rescue followed by a witty exchange, culminating in an act of passionate lovemaking. Fairy tales and romantic comedies tend to present an obscenely skewed picture of how love actually manifests. In the same way porn gives fanciful depictions of sex, most love stories present an idealized, but flawed understanding of romance.

To be fair, though, love in the real world tends to lack that magical nuance. That’s why those fanciful depictions have so much appeal in the first place. It’s also why “Sugar,” the latest slice-of-life graphic novel from Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung, brings something interesting to the world of romance.

It doesn’t involve superheroes. It doesn’t involve elaborate emotional entanglements, either. It’s just a unique, engaging, and distinctly sexy story that resonates in the current year. This being the same creative team behind “Swing,” another novel love story that I lauded earlier this year, the bar is higher than most.

While I’ll won’t say “Sugar” is better than “Swing,” it has plenty to offer for those looking for a different kind of love story. This is not one of those boy-meets-girl or girl-crushes-on-cute-guy narratives that follows a familiar script. It doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, either. Instead, it takes two characters who find themselves in frustrating, but believable predicaments and has them find each other in a unique way.

Julia Capello and John Markham aren’t eccentric personalities with extreme quirks. Julia is a 23-year-old college student working multiple jobs, constantly worrying about tuition and her financially struggling mother. It’s not a ground-breaking basis for a young woman, but it never comes off as overly-tragic. Hers is a story that many young people today can relate to.

The same goes for John, a middle-aged businessman who thought he did everything right. He married his high-school love, created a thriving business, and played by the rules that men believe they’re supposed to follow. Then, out of nowhere, he finds out his wife is cheating on him and she serves him with divorce papers. In an instant, everything he thinks he knows about love is shattered.

These are two people with significant emotional deficits. Julia makes it clear that being alone doesn’t sit well with her. Her love of romance movies and her reactions to her roommates kinky antics with her boyfriend make that apparent. John is broken and lonely, needing a new connection to fill the void that his ex-wife left in his heart.

How they come together isn’t that romantic, in terms of logistics. Their first interaction is an otherwise forgettable joke in diner. However, their paths eventually cross again, this time with much sexier interactions. Instead of turning into a traditional relationship, though, these two follow a different path.

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This is where “Sugar” twists the standard romantic narrative. Instead of two people coming together in moments that go onto inspire Taylor Swift songs, they end up following a much messier path. John, who is still very hung up on his wife, doesn’t jump into another relationship. Instead, he seeks an “arrangement,” of sorts.

Instead of an actual girlfriend, he asks Julia to be her sugar baby. That’s a term that exists in the real world and often gets conflated with prostitution. In fact, that’s a common refrain throughout “Sugar.” Julia goes out of her way to belabor the fact that she’s not just exchanging sex for money. It’s worth belaboring too because that’s not the crux of their arrangement.

Yes, the arrangement does involve sex.

Yes, the arrangement does involve activities associated with dating and relationship.

No, the arrangement does not involve the promise of marriage, kids, and a white picket fence.

No, the arrangement does not involve contracts, dungeons, and bondage in the mold of “50 Shades of Grey.”

In practice, it doesn’t necessarily convey the traits of an epic love story. It doesn’t depict that of a kinky porno, either. The arrangement between Julia and John serves a defined purpose that benefits them both.

John is someone who has spent most of his life in a relationship. Being alone for him is untenable. Julia is someone who clearly wants intimacy, but struggles to fit it into her hectic life. The arrangement they pursue together fulfills them both in a particular way. John gets companionship. Julia gets intimacy and some badly-needed financial support.

If that were the only result of the arrangement, though, there wouldn’t be much of a story. It doesn’t take long before Julia and John encounter various complications to their arrangement. Emotional entanglements do enter the picture. Some of them are a bit predictable, but others are less obvious.

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There’s an underlying sense that neither character really understands what they feel for one another. John often finds himself pulled in multiple directions by his emotions whereas Julia tends to make more assumptions than she should. It makes for an eventful emotional journey, which leads to some interesting choices in the end.

When all is said and done, “Sugar” comes off as a real love story, but in an indirect sort of way. It take a strange, meandering path to get to that point, but it still gets there. While a second volume of the story is teased at the end, the story feels complete. There’s a sense that both Julia and John take a step forward in their lives, both together and as individuals.

There are a number of flaws with how “Sugar” goes about guiding Julia and John through the story, though. Neither character has much of a supporting cast. Both Julia and John are surrounded by archetypes with the personality depth of meathead jocks from 80s teen movies.

John’s business partner, Richard, is basically a well-dressed frat boy whose only role is to present the idea of an “arrangement.” His ex-wife, Karen, is even less developed. She is the personification of everything that rabid anti-feminists dread, a callous bitch who preys on the emotions of rich men while indulging her hedonistic proclivities on the side.

Julia’s supporting cast isn’t much better. Aside from a roommate who constantly encourages her to get laid and bosses that see her as nothing more than a cog with a pretty face, there’s nobody that really complements her. The people around her are just extra and bring little to the table.

On top of that, there are times when Julia and John rely too heavily on tired tropes. John has a few moments where he tries to be a White Knight and Julia has a few moments where she tries to be overly independent to the point of being an asshole about it. While these parts of the story can be eye-rolling at times, they don’t take away from the overall story.

At its core, “Sugar” is still a love story. It’s just a very different kind of love story. It takes two people in need of love and brings them together, albeit in an unorthodox way. It still works, though. It still evokes just the right emotion without resorting to princesses and dragon-slaying.

If I had to score “Sugar,” I would give it a 7 out of 10. It’s a solid, above-average story that applies just the right amount of romance and sex appeal. It has a novel concept that has plenty of potential, sexy and otherwise. It lacks the various support structures necessary to make it feel complete. Compared to “Swing,” it doesn’t quite measure up in terms of refinement.

Unlike “Swing,” this is a love story that feels more definitive. It’s concise, streamlined, and genuine in ways that few love stories dare to be in an era where one or more love interests has to be a superhero. Hawkins and Cheung once again achieve something special and sexy with “Sugar.” It may never be an epic love story that inspires a James Cameron movie, but it doesn’t have to in order to be sweet.

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Filed under comic book reviews, romance, sex in society, sexuality