Finding someone special can be a journey that too many of us sadly never complete. So finding someone with the same special gift to stop space and time post-orgasm would seem to be more than a doubly arduous task. Suzie and Jon, the two protagonists of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s brilliant first volume of “Sex Criminals”, were inclined to turnover many rocks to find one another. Many, many rocks.
“Sex Criminals” follows the young couple, both with their unusual gifts, as their initial attraction blossoms into a believable relationship. Before long, and after much deliberation, Suzie and Jon decide to pull off a series of bank heists to save the local library where Suzie works. Each chapter opens and closes with a flash forward involving one final robbery and the couple’s pursuit by a mysterious trio that can also travel within the Quiet (this is the name Suzie has assigned her frozen sexual beyond). A great deal of this simple story is peppered with flashbacks used to flesh out Suzie and Jon.
Fraction and Zdarsky’s tale is uninhibited in its approach to sexual topics, but also in its unconventional form of storytelling. The book is mostly told in first person, from Suzie’s point of view, but she may throw the narration over to Jon so that we can explore his backstory. There’s a theatricality to all of this as Suzie often talks straight to the camera to engage the reader. She can pop up at any time, often wearing an outfit or costume related to the action going on in the scene. At one point she’s dressed as the Hamburglar from McDonald’s when she chronicles events next to a children’s soccer match.
This is by no means the extent of the original nature of “Sex Criminals”. Fraction and Zdarsky throw so much of the unconventional into the series without overwhelming the story or detracting from the very natural connection that occurs between Suzie and Jon. In the third chapter, Jon and Suzie are at a bar and a musical number ensues as Suzie sings karaoke to Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls”. Because the creative team was unable to use the song in the book, we get Fraction’s commentary about the pursuit of the license positioned over the spots where the song lyrics would have been. Zdarsky serves up a full-blown musical number with everyone in the bar dressed in matching outfits and Suzie as Freddie Mercury.
As you may have gathered already, “Sex Criminals” is hilarious. Exceptionally so. The situations, the site gags, the dialogue, are all fresh and often mature in nature. As shocking as much of the imagery in “Sex Criminals” can be, it is always in the spirit of fun rather than for the sole intention to shock. There’s a naturalness to Fraction’s script that readers will find convincing, as in an uncomfortable scene where a teenage Suzie reaches out to her friends about the bizarre nature of her orgasms. She uses language they are accustomed to hearing in an effort to appeal to them:
Suzie: “HEY, uh, BITCHES! I got something I want to ask you, you you you you sluts.”
Rachelle: “Um—excuse me?”
Suzie: That thing that happens after you touch yourself where everything bleeds colors and all you can hear is that low rumbling sound and everybody’s frozen? Like—what’s up with that? Skanks.
Zdarsky’s pencils have a independent feel, with the offbeat sensibility of Daniel Clowes and the liveliness of Darwyn Cooke. The artist skillfully captures the intimate moments between his characters, such as when Suzie and Jon have a heart to heart on the steps leading up to his apartment. Jon is ashamed, Suzie is frustrated, and we understand clearly what is happening between the two of them. Fraction has written a script with three-dimensional characters and the story has real dramatic substance; Zdarsky is able to get to the heart of every complex emotion Fraction throws into the mix.
In terms of the theatricality and outrageous humor of “Sex Criminals”, Zdarsky and Fraction are working in unison. Zdarsky always finds the perfect way to position Suzie so that it’s understood she is now speaking directly to the reader. This isn’t always done by having her stare straight into the camera, which would have been obvious and pretty boring. Sometimes she’ll be speaking to Jon and she’ll simply have her head turned to break away from the scene and explain what is going on in her head. Or she may be miniaturized, looking up to talk to the reader while standing atop a document that she and Jon are reading. Zdarsky’s playful approach is visually appealing and it allows for these fourth wall breaks to seamlessly enter the narrative.
All of these accolades aside, Cumworld deserves special mention. This pornographic Promised Land is where Jon’s odyssey for sexual enlightenment begins. Fraction and Zdarksky so fully realize this adult book store/sex paraphernalia megalopolis that it could be argued Cumworld is indeed a supporting character in this initial volume of “Sex Criminals”. No corner of the store is left bare. The walls, counters, ceiling, and shelves are riddled with the most explicitly explicit films, books, posters, sex toys, and costumes imaginable. Fraction and Zdarsky have gone to great lengths to create the most hilariously obscene adult bookstore in modern literature. Be warned: if you don’t read every sign inside and out of Cumworld’s sticky exterior, then you just aren’t allowed to tell people you’ve read “Sex Criminals”.
Becka Kinzie’s colors are spirited, perfectly complimenting the tone of the book (Christopher Sebela fill in on the second chapter). Kinzie’s otherworldly style for “the Quiet” is a trippy disco haze success, with its striking blue and pink swirls and glittering sun spots. Kinzie ties Suzie and Jon together immediately when they meet at a party. All the partygoers are lit in a golden hue while the fledgling couple are appear spotlit, the red on Jon’s shirt and shoes are a perfect match for Suzie’s blouse. Kinzie’s bold color choices, often to make the backgrounds pop, give “Sex Criminals” an outstanding visual energy.
Perhaps the brilliance of “Sex Criminals” is the legitimate nature of Suzie and Jon’s relationship. Fraction and Zdarsky put forward plenty of effort to build a credible bond between these two that goes far beyond their bizarre abilities. They smirk at one another, they banter, they pass their time apart texting, they make passionate love. By the close of the first volume, Fraction and Zdarsky have successfully made up believe that Suzie and Jon are in love. Is that enough to make their relationship work? Fraction adds a new element towards the end to remind us, no matter how strong a bond may be between two lovers, there is always room for complications with the potential to unravel it all.
“Sex Criminals” is that satisfying series you want to share with anybody who reads comics and deserves entry into that circle of books you recommend to people who don’t.
“Sex Criminals, Vol. 01”
Written by: Matt Fraction
Art: Chip Zdarsky
Colors: Becka Kinzie, Christopher Sebela
Publisher: Image Comics
Original Publication Date: September 2013
Pages: 128 pages