Jon and Suzie have a problem. Contrary to what the back cover of this volume says, it doesn’t involve their orgasmic time-stopping abilities. No, their problem is that they’re the stars of a winning comedy/romance/fantasy series that’s being dragged down by an actively unlikeable antagonist. The kind of villain who it’s impossible to have sympathy for and who you hope to see outwitted and outmatched by the protagonists. This second volume of “Sex Criminals” has some great moments of humor, tenderness, character development, and dick jokes that make it a tremendously fun read. But does it manage the even more difficult task of making Kegelface a character who you actually want to see in this story?
She does cast a long shadow over this volume as things pick up where we left off with Jon and Suzie escaping from her Sex Police. The plot moves forward, and backward, and sideways from there as Matt Fraction starts digging deeper into his lead couple to find out if they can actually sustain a relationship now that the initial thrill of sex and discovery is gone. Jon’s mental problems are explored in detail, Suzie comes out about her powers to her friend Rachel, and bad things involving the library that the couple’s sex crime spree was supposed to help save start happening as well. All of this leads Jon and Suzie on a collision course with the Sex Police. One which involves Jon’s teen porn obsession, Ms. Jazmine St. Cocaine.
When one of your central threads involves having a couple wondering whether or not their relationship is going to last, the implication is that you’re not going to be in for a fun time. Surprisingly, Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky manage to have their cake and eat it too as their exploration of Jon and Suzie’s issues turns out to be meaningful and funny without one of those things sabotaging the other. We see that right off the bat in the opening issue as Jon’s mental problems are symbolized by showing him as a gray dickless ghost when he’s on his meds. He then goes off of his meds and slowly descends into more reckless and dangerous behavior.
Suzie doesn’t get as in-depth an examination as her boyfriend does here, but it’s still interesting to see how she reacts to his problems and watch how the two carry on like actual people. They fight, they talk about their problems, they make up. It sounds like a simple cycle, but Fraction and Zdarsky make it work through moments that are as simple as seeing their hands touch after being apart for a while, and absurd as having the narrator intervene with text as things get out of control in a 13-panel argument on one page. That moment in particular exemplifies how well the creators are able to mix humor into a serious topic without wrecking the tone. Even at its most absurd or dramatic, they never forget about all the different genres they’re juggling here and don’t let one of them dominate the other.
It’s not all about Suzie and Jon, though. We get a couple of excellent additions to the supporting cast here in the form of Jon’s friend/Suzie’s gynecologist Robert Rainbow, and Jon’s yet-to-be-named psychologist. Even if he name implies a “Reading Rainbow” joke, Robert emerges as his own character even if the series, and Suzie’s friend Rachel, has some jokes at his expense about the fact that his job involves looking at vaginas most of the time. He’s a smart, stabilizing presence in the series, particularly when contrasted against Rachel after they’re both brought in on their friends’ special abilities and current plans. There’s also Ms. St. Cocaine who truly deserves having most of an issue dedicated to fleshing out her backstory. We find out how she got into porn, and it’s not exactly tragic, and why she was involved with it for so long. None of this is particularly new -- save for the porno parody we get of “The Wicked + The Divine” along the way -- except for how her story eventually intersects with Jon and Suzie’s. Given that the exploits of most veterans of the porn industry usually end up in tragedy and/or a cautionary tale, Jazmine’s fate is genuinely uplifting.
Jon also gets a psychologist (who I hope gets a name soon because he certainly deserves one) and he’s downright compelling in the way that he cuts through the self-destructive spiral our male protagonist finds himself in. This is after the man swears out loud in a food court where the psychologist is enjoying some great take-out chicken. I realize that the no-bull psychologist is kind of a stock character, but he’s expertly used here. Particularly in how his help doesn’t make Jon’s problems go away. All the man does is show his new patient the way to how he can get better.
This is why I’m bothered by the fact that we see him encountering Kegelface towards the end of the volume. To answer the question I posed at the start of this review, no. Fraction and Zdarsky don’t really make her into a character I want to read more about in this series. Yes, I do feel some sympathy for the fact that her real name is Myrtle Spurge, except that doesn’t excuse her utterly wrongheaded approach to dealing with Jon and Suzie. She and her cohorts are still completely unlikeable and the only redeeming thing about their place in the narrative is that Fraction appears to be framing it as an “Us vs. Them” struggle that will hopefully see our protagonists come out on top in the end. (Cowboy/girl-style of course.) I just hope that in their defeat we don’t have a new threat emerge prompting a “This is why we did what we did!” proclamation from Kegelface and co. I don’t like the fact that I can see that coming from here, so hopefully I’m wrong about it.
I’m still onboard “Sex Criminals” for the long haul at this point. Fraction and Zdarsky do an excellent job with their balancing-act-of-genres and cultivation of a relationship that feels genuine. You wouldn’t think that romance and dick/vagina jokes would work well together, but these two make it look easy. If only they could make their primary antagonist into a character I wanted to read more about. It could still happen. At the rate they’re going, however, it’s going to be a while.