Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
Colorist: Chip Zdarsky
Release Date: September 25, 2013
It sounds and looks like a guilty pleasure title, but I am grateful for something like this to have come along.
I'm not gonna lie. I first looked into Sex Criminals because it was called "Sex Criminals." "What the heck is this about?," I wondered. After reading the synopsis - "a girl who has the ability to stop time whenever she has sex" - I was sold. Issue 1: "Suzie Down in the Quiet" kicks off with a two-page spread of a couple trying to get it on in a bathroom, all while some threatening force (we know this because of the black and fierce speech bubbles) shouts at them offscreen. If this spread works for you, the comic will work for you. It straddles the line between sexy/unsexy (romanticism/realism), it's absurd but entertaining, and it's pretty messed up. The narration box in the bottom right corner sums our first impressions up:
The woman in the bathroom is adult Suzie and for the majority of this first issue she is our 4th wall-breaking tour guide through her own childhood and how she came to learn about her... abilities... and why she is utilizing them in what we come to learn is a public restroom in a bank. Sex Criminals takes us to some very dark places (i.e. the suicide of her father) and alleviates with the obliviousness of a child. This first issue is one of the frankest yet most welcoming examinations of pubescent awareness and curiosity I've seen or read. The thoughts and feelings Suzie has are universal, even if the end result is not. The whole time-stopping mechanic is merely a stand-in for any number of bodily reactions that we are afraid, excited or confused by.
Suzie's voice is the heart and soul of this comic. It felt so genial and genuine that I was sure it had to be by the hand of a female author. Matt Fraction? Huh. See, unlike many/most I did not pick up Sex Criminals because it was the latest endeavor by the Eisner Award-winning comic writer behind many beloved arcs of choice Marvel superheroes. I knew a lot less about the comic world and its creators a month or so ago than I do know. Now knowing of Fraction's pedigree and talents, it makes complete sense that he was able to rise to this occasion.
And what of the comic's co-creator and artist Chip Zdarsky? I know I'm new to the scene, but surely these visuals stand out amongst the crowd even for veterans of the medium. I'd be curious to see the closest point of reference. The characters fall on the side of cartoony while their surroundings are closer to their real-life counterparts. But it's the colors, the glorious Pixar-like crayon box that's employed, that makes every panel of this and subsequent issues pop. It looks great digitally, which is how I've read the entire series up to this point. The colors are climaxed whenever Suzie enters that titular Quiet.
That's what she calls the timeless realm she enters whenever she's had an orgasm. Everyone and everything else is still while waves and orbs of glowing light illuminate her existence. Fraction made a name for himself by weaving his originality into existing superhero properties. Now he's given us an all-new story about people with very different super powers. As far as origin stories go, have we ever gotten "because he/she was horny" before? I don't know if we're ever going to get an explanation for Suzie's gift. We learn that she's not alone. Maybe these select few were exposed to some alien matter, maybe they're God's chosen, maybe they're just actually mentally ill. As with many superheroes this ability is a toss up between a blessing and a curse, but we all know what Uncle Ben says about great power...
The first issue of Sex Criminals really surprised me. It sounds and looks like a guilty pleasure title, but I am grateful for something like this to have come along. There's a lot of stories out there with sex and less that claim to be about sex, but this is one that exists entirely because of sex. Anyone who has surfaced the pressured waters of adolescence will find plenty to reflect upon and be amused by. There's nothing like looking back on the waves of our past and realizing how little we knew back then. The first issue eventually gets to where it began, in that bathroom in a bank, but not before Suzie meets Jon, another soul with a passport to the Quiet:
Have you checked out Fraction and Zdarsky's Sex Criminals yet? The 7th issue hit shelves on August 13th. If you have anything to add or ask, please feel free to do so in the comments below.
Issue 2 and Beyond: As of the time of this writing I've read all seven released issues of Sex Criminals. There's still plenty of questions left unanswered (particularly regarding the Sex Police), but that can wait. I'm still loving that every issue takes us back into the growing years of Suzie and Jon, who now share narration duties. The series continues to be more heartfelt than titillating, but deeply humorous all the same.