I have a feeling John Blackburn likes drop-dead gorgeous men. Because that’s the simplest visual description for Coley, the central character and coverboy of Hardthrob. Not only is he beautiful, but he knows it. And he uses it.

Coley Cochran is a famous young male model, and widely known to be gay. After all, his sexual exploits are legendary, and (like the central character of Craig Maynard’s Leatherboy) you might guess from his self-presentation that he’s not exactly shopping for a “little missus”.

So when Coley encounters Laura, a young woman bent on interviewing him, and her boyishly sexy little brother Cort, he invites her out for a date… provided she brings Cort along. From there, Coley uses a combination of his sexual charms and plain old-fashioned trickiness to get what he wants. I’ll say no more about that.

 The sex scenes are fairly frequent, and follow the standard porn model of putting the character in one situation after another, which gives him the opportunity to turn them into sexual encounters. When Coley walks into the parking lot and sees a shirtless worker unloading boxes from a truck, you can be sure that he’s about to get some action. But it doesn’t just happen; Coley makes it happen. Even as the pants unzip, we get to see just how he developed his reputation as a self-obsessed sexpot: he is one. {grin} The dialog, the pacing, and the art work together to create some fairly erotic scenes.

But these interludes tie together an actual story, focusing primarily on Coley, Cort, and Laura. Cort is both infatuated and a little scared by Coley’s rebelliousness. Laura mistrusts Coley’s motives in pursuing Cort, but falls under his spell as well. And Coley… what is he up to? I actually found myself looking forward to the end, to see how it all resolved. I don’t usually do that with erotic movies. {grin}

Blackburn makes a point of establishing that, although freckled young Cort may look younger, he is 18 years old. If the character were a year younger, Hardthrob would be “child pornography” and Blackburn, the folks at Eros, the distributors, my comic shop owner, and I would all be guilty of felonies. But because the words “I’m eighteen” appear in a speech bubble on page 14 of the first issue, the First Amendment applies (with the usual restrictions). Explain that to me sometime, if you can.

It’s also worth noting that not all of the sex scenes in Hardthrob are the all-male pairings you’d expect from a “gay” comic. Coley’s narcissistic sex drive isn’t necessarily limited to hunky laborers and the boy next door, and he’ll take adoration from anyone.

On one hand, I appreciate what this says about the potential versatility of human sexuality. If I’ve learned one thing from the people I’ve met during my coming-out process, it’s that it’s rarely accurate to pigeonhole people with labels, and almost never useful. But I can’t help wondering if “straight” erotic comics stray around the field like this. Or is it that even the male homoerotic titles from Eros (including Leatherboy) resort to some heterosexual activity to reassure (the creators? readers? retailers?) that this stuff isn’t altogether queer. Food for thought.

In any case, this line of questioning only occurred to me upon re-reading the books and writing this review; with the original reading, I enjoyed it all. The art lacks the subtle beauty of P.Craig Russell’s, and the writing falls far short of Howard Cruse’s on Stuck Rubber Baby, but it was a pleasure to read nonetheless.

Coley is also featured in two other mini-series from Eros, Web of Evil (2 issues) and Deathsnake (3 issues), as well as a collection in their “graphic album” series called Coley Running Wild, Book One, collecting earlier out-of-print stories.

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