"Sebastian O's name is a byword for perversity in the elite circles of London high society" (from the Chronology of Sebastian O), but how do you define perversity in Victorian Ages? After all this was a time in which most sexual practices were considered "perversities". Victorian morality can be seen as the perfect synonym for sexual repression, and even Freud suggested that modern society's neurosis was a consequence of these rigid and stern traditions.
Nonetheless, according to Michel Foucault, sex was exhaustively discussed and studied in the Victorian Age, sex was a force that needed to be disciplined. Sexual pathologies didn't exist previously... it is during this era that someone describes every sexual practice and decides that some are normal and others abnormal and thus abhorrent. Unfairly accused of depravity, many people suffered because of this, including famed writer Oscar Wilde, which is the inspiration behind the fictional character of Sebastian O, a riveting metaphor of the sublimity of art.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote once that art must lead the way to the future, it's only fitting then that Morrison's approach takes the figure of the ultimate artist and places it into an alternative reality that can have only the most unpredictable future. As a matter of fact, drawing from science fiction subgenres such as steam-punk, Morrison recreates England under the ruling of Queen Victoria but adds advanced steam machinery, and all the technology derived from alternative energies. As a result, although firmly established in the late 19th century, this reality has been privy to major scientific breakthroughs.
What is most fascinating about the author's proposal is mixing a world of futuristic technology while emphasizing Victorian idiosyncrasies. As a result, we have a rather sensible boy, Sebastian O, heir to a fortune that many would kill for, but living a life of torment and disappointment. For instance, his stepfather has one goal: "eradicating the lad's effeminate tendencies". Exiled from home at an early age because of those very tendencies, the child will have one too many adventures, until far from England he is "tutored in the ways of the Hasheesheen, a sect of all-male ecstatic killers".
Once he makes his triumphant return to London, he meets a group of seemingly immoral men, such as the teenaged homosexual poet Arnold Truro, the ambitious Lord Theo Lavender, the sexually devious novelist George Harkness and the Abbe who claims to have "devotion to underprivileged young men" when in true he indulges in pederasty. Together, they are the founders of the Club de Paradis Artificiel where this "jaded group of pomandered and frock-coated dandies imagine in Her stead a world of perfect, flawless artifice".
Why is it that the conception of art is so important for this clique? Because according to Nietzsche, Apollonian art is contrary to Dionysian art. Apollo's realm is the world of will power and representation; of individuation and therefore finitude. By becoming an elegant assassin, always concerned with his physical appearance and aesthetic pursuits, Sebastian O defines himself as an individual that has nothing in common with mundane people. Apollo's essence is the dreaming and the primordial yearning for appearance. Sebastian O is obsessed about his stylish finery, and this urgency reveals the implacable need for maintaining an appearance, an indelible façade that upholds the protagonist's spirit. Aesthetically speaking, beauty is but an appearance that covers the horror; in this case, Sebastian O's morbid desires and appalling opinions are perfectly hidden under his disguise of a civilized and graceful gentleman.
Let's remember also that Apollonian art follows certain parameters: simple lines, sobriety, clear architecture; all fundamental traits of a man of distinction. These elements have also inspired an artist like Steve Yeowell to look for simplicity, cleanliness and tidiness in his pages (Steve Yeowell had worked before with the author in their seminal series on 2000AD's Zenith: Bk. 1, a very different story about a super-powered teenager in the "real" world). Finally, art's goal would be to transform existence into beauty; Sebastian O, a dashing young man, takes the concept of the dandy to its logical outcome: elegance is not a virtue but a duty; to have a refined taste is not optional but mandatory.
When sodomy charges are presented against Sebastian O, he ends up in jail (not unlike in Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde) and the Club de Paradis Artificiel is swiftly disbanded. But Sebastian O hasn't trained as a mystic assassin in vain, and after months in prison, he escapes. Now, it's his mission to seek revenge, if only to preserve his reputation. But what dishonorable tasks have his old friends been up to? What can be more scandalous than watching the Abbe still abusing children? As Sebastian O visits his old comrades, he finds transvestite allies as well as lesbian collaborators, but will that be enough to defeat the mysterious mercenaries that are ruthlessly chasing him?
Besides all this, a former member of the Club de Paradis Artificiel has been conspiring for years, and he now possesses the power to control Queen Victoria absolutely. With the entire Royal Army and Knights of the Crown against Sebastian O, what can the gifted dandy do? Perhaps, he can break down the barriers and taboos, and liberate himself and Britain through sex, or if that fails, through manslaughter.