Finder: Mystery Date
The previous volume in this series, Dream Sequence, explored artistic creation; Mystery Date explores another art form, that of sexcraft. Vary, a former temple prostitute, is off in the big city studying paleozoology while working at a brothel. Her art form is very well-regarded and only suited for the best of the best, as in the historical days of the courtesan. Her school is an oasis to an overworked, overstimulated populace where the students are encouraged to learn how to heal, and sex is only a tiny part of their skills (although a fun one).
As drawn by Carla Speed McNeil, Vary is adorable, charming and very cute. Her short hair emphasizes her huge eyes, which take in everything around her as well as express her emotions. The stories here deal with her history and her interaction with two of her professors. She’s in love with both of them.
Rachel Hartman’s introduction to the book is an ode to one of them, Dr. Zivancevic, the Crabby Professor. Although Zee’s co-professor Shar is inhuman, something like a giant wingless dinosaur bird, Vary gets along better with him from the start. Her devotion to Zee is questioned by many, but she’s sure she can help him. Hartman points out how wonderful it is to see Vary learn to deal with Zee by finally gaining the fearlessness necessary to tell him off.
First, though, they have a series of encounters that frustrate and confuse Vary, who’s still very young in some ways. After a while, the three take a trip together for the humans to observe the mating rituals of Shar’s breed. They involve a lot of large animal beings running and leaping and displaying plumage.
Vary’s best friend Ollie, a trainer, is a human-like dog, based on a Pomeranian. Jaeger also makes appearances in a couple of the stories, providing a voice of experience and some good advice. After his interruption, Vary’s much better suited to finally confronting Zee with who she is.
The last story is about Vary’s attempts to teach a dance class. Her culture treats dance as religion and arousal and artistry and communication with the dead, and the paying customers aren’t willing to do the work to understand all that. Her frustration with herself for not being the kind of teacher she wants to be is another learning opportunity that brings her closer to Zee.
There’s a racing scene that beautifully captures the exhiliration of unfettered graceful movement. That’s what ties many of these stories together — a grace in action, whether racing or dancing or making love. The characters are admirable in enjoying what they do and attempting to do it to the best of their ability.
If you’ve wondered “where are comics that deal with sex in a mature way?” this is the book for you. The cultures, although distinctly different from ours, make sense and seem real, a tribute to McNeil’s skill in creation. She demonstrates a great knowledge of human nature that informs her stories, as when she discusses the arrogance of the attractive in the endnotes.