Comic Picks By The Glick

Sex Criminals vol. 1

May 12, 2014

Meet Suzie.  She works at a library that is about to be foreclosed on by the bank and is busy trying to fundraise enough money to save it.  She also has the power to stop time whenever she has an orgasm.  Meet Jon.  He works for said bank, meets Suzie at one of her fundraisers and they become an item.  He can also stop time with his orgasms as well.  Together, they cook up a plan to rob the bank to save the library with their special power.  In the hands of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Suzie and Jon’s exploits are as funny and clever as you’d expect and this first volume is a great start for the series.  It’d be even better if the law didn’t show up to put a damper on all the fun.

There’s not much more to the main plot than what I said in the previous paragraph, so let’s talk more about  Suzie and Jon.  With these two characters, Fraction has given us two likeable and sympathetic protagonists who make a great couple and, more importantly, one that you want to succeed in their goals.  Even if said goals involve robbing banks.  They’ve also got their own particular set of hang-ups to keep them from being too idealized.  Suzie has had a difficult relationship with her mother and a particularly difficult start in understanding her sexuality and “gift.”  Jon actually has problems -- ADHD and “Oppositional Defiance Disorder” -- that inspire him to do things like take regular dumps in his boss’ office plant.  In short, we’ve got two complicated individuals who go great together yet bring a lot of baggage to their relationship.  Seeing how Fraction has them work their issues out together like real adults is one of the book’s greatest pleasures.

There’s also the fact that the book is very funny too.  Suzie’s fourth-wall-breaking narration could’ve come off as too clever, but it’s hard not to be won over by a narrator who apologizes for her serious backstory at the start and swears that the sex and the jokes are on their way.  When the jokes do arrive, they’re frequently as inventive as they are funny.  Sometimes they’re as simple as a glowing dick or a ridiculous amount of sexual positions scrawled on a bathroom door.  Other times they take the form of a porno parody of “Barton Fink” or an attempted musical sequence set to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” where all the lyrics have been pasted over by Fraction’s explanation as to why they couldn’t get the rights to the lyrics.  Clearly inspired by his subject material, this represents some of Fraction’s most vibrant writing to date.

That even carries over to the parts that aren’t fun and games.  I mentioned the baggage Suzie and Jon carry with them earlier, but “Sex Criminals” is also informed by how most of us learn about sex as kids and our society’s own hang-ups about the act as well.  When Suzie first experiences the whole time-stoppage thing after her first orgasm, she’s pretty freaked out about it and has no one to explain things to her.  So she looks for answers in books and even the “bad girls” at her school.  Jon has fewer issues, yet is also at a loss for answers until he meets Suzie and they start exploring their “condition” and comparing notes on it together.  Though there are also plenty of jokes to be had from all of the sex business -- see the “Family Circus”-style line that marks Jon’s escape from the porno shop as a teenager -- the sexual frankness of this title is less titillating than refreshing.  Even if time doesn’t stop when you orgasm, it’s not hard to find some common ground in the protagonists’ efforts to learn more about their sexuality.

So it’s all well and good until the law shows up to put a damper on things.  In a perfectly logical development in a book called “Sex Criminals” we’re eventually introduced to the Sex Police, a group of individuals who also have the same power as Suzie and Jon and are led by a woman identified only as “Kegelface.”  What should’ve been a gamechanging world-expanding move for the book instead comes off as more dumb and frustrating than anything else.

If there are people with this kind of time-stopping ability in the world, then I can understand the need for some kind of organization to keep them in line and make sure they’re not abusing their powers.  What I can’t get behind is the way the one in “Sex Criminals” operates.  Here we have Suzie and Jon who have been doing lots of things with their ability over the years, but they’re never contacted by this organization until they start making their bank-robbing plans.  Even then, it’s only to receive a stern warning and a “We’ll be watching you” spiel from Kegelface.

How is this in any way conductive to proper law enforcement?  Given that Suzie and Jon were shown to have broken plenty of less serious laws before they thought about robbing a bank, it really makes you wonder what standards these Sex Police are operating under.  Some actual background into their organization and formation would’ve been helpful in allowing the reader to see them as proper antagonists, but here they just come off as fun-killing villains.  I can only imagine that Fraction wrote them this way so that they could serve as some kind of personification of our society’s hang-ups in regards to discourse about sexual issues.  What he wound up with are some thoroughly unlikeable characters who are the bad guys in this situation only because the narrative dictates that they are.

Thankfully there are no such issues with Zdarsky’s art which is enjoyably cartoonish throughout the volume.  His characters have some fantastic expressions which makes it easy to discern their thoughts when they aren’t talking.  Seeing Jon’s response to Suzie’s come-on to him after discovering his favorite porn star is a minor, but very memorable moment thanks to Zdarsky’s skill in this regards.  The man is also willing to meet Fraction on every level here as the writing and art feel perfectly in sync whenever the tone is going for comedy or drama.  Finally, Zdarsky’s linework isn’t meticulously detailed, yet he’s big on putting little details into just about every panel he creates as the backgrounds of the porno store Jon visits amply demonstrate.

Even if the title is burdened with antagonists who don’t really work, it’s still very easy to enjoy this first volume.  It has a vibrant mix of humor, sexual frankness, and the most adult thing about it is how the two protagonists work through their issues.   I also think between this, “Hawkeye,” and “Satellite Sam,” Fraction should stick to writing B-list superheroes or creator-owned titles because they’re where his best work is done.  He and Zdarsky make a great team and have produced a fine, if flawed, start for this title.

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