I was prepared to start this review with an “I think I’m done with this series.” Then I read my review of the previous volume and realized that I should be done with it. In buying physical copies at least. I may follow this in digital form via ComiXology sales just to see how it ends because the series feels like it’s about to wrap up. That said, I’m done giving creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky any more money than they deserve for this series.
Why is that? In one word: Kegelface. Since the first volume (whose adventurous romantic fun feels so far away at this point) she’s been weighing down this series as the “sex cop” out to ruin Jon and Suzie’s fun, and their lives because they’ve been breaking the rules regarding their sexy time-stopping abilities that nobody bother to explain to them in the first place. Rather than actually sit them down and explain what’s up to them, like a good member of the police would do, Kegelface has adopted an unrepentantly antagonistic stance towards our protagonists. Seeing her get away with all this awfulness with comparatively little suffering on her part has been the series’ main Achilles Heel.
Vol. 5 pushed my tolerance of the character to its breaking point by asking me to forgive all the bad stuff Kegelface has done up to this point and accept her as a member of the protagonists’ team. Nope! Nuh-uh! Not happening! Just put me on the train to Nopesville after this! Sure some of the other cast members make some noises about how they’re not on board with this, but their concerns don’t amount to much in the end.
There’s a point late in the volume where Jon’s therapist, who helped bring Kegelface onboard their plan, talks about how she doesn’t expect to be forgiven and how she came to realize what she was doing was wrong. I don’t know what’s worse about this sequence. That it’s a barely transparent attempt by Fraction and Zdarsky to handwave away everything the character has done or the fact that the therapist starts off by saying “I don’t want to speak for her,” before doing exactly that! It seems hard to believe that the creators have misread how much hate this character has inspired as a result of her actions. The thing is that their actions imply that this is exactly what has happened.
Earlier in the volume there’s a sequence where Actual Bad Guy, CEO Kuber Baal, threatens Kegelface with exposing her extramarital affair if she doesn’t fall in line. That was probably the moment Fraction and Zdarsky figured our sympathies towards the character would shift, then they threw in a scene to illustrate her unsatisfying home life to further illustrate the point. For me, though, having Baal expose Kegelface’s affair would be the MINIMUM needed to get me to start feeling sympathetic towards her. When he revealed his plan, my reaction to it was “YES! PLEASE DO THIS!” which is usually not the response you want to get from someone when introducing blackmail as a plot element.
What I haven’t touched upon so far is the fact that everything else in this volume isn’t nearly good enough to counter the awfulness of this particular plot development. That’s not to say it’s all bad, it’s just… fine. I’d probably be more upset about how Jon and Suzie were only broken up for one volume before they got back together, but it’s a relatively minor issue here and was a bad idea to begin with. Jon’s depression is also well-realized while Suzie’s manically sex-positive mother is good for a few laughs as well. There are also some fun, irreverent bits such as the exhibit Suzie attends with her new boyfriend that’s dedicated entirely to bugs who were preserved in amber when they were having sex with wholly appropriate names for the exhibition and the doctor who curated it.
“Sex Criminals” started out as a entertainingly freakish romantic comedy whose antagonists interfered with but didn’t spoil all the fun. That’s exactly what Kegelface has managed to do all by herself with this volume. This couldn’t have been Fraction and Zdarsky’s plan (well, not Fraction’s at least; it’s not hard to imagine Zdarsky inserting himself into the final issue to take credit for her actions and then illustrating a fight between him and Fraction over what he’s done) so I’d be interested in finding out what their plan for the character has been up to this point. I don’t know how much longer this series is set to run, even though it feels like they’re coming up on the end after the events of this volume. All I can say is that if there is more to come, I’m going to try and find out without resorting to the title strategy of this volume.