Summary: Suzie’s just a regular gal with an irregular gift: when she has sex, she stops time. One day she meets Jon and it turns out he has the same ability. And sooner or later they get around to using their gifts to do what we’d ALL do: rob a couple banks. A bawdy and brazen sex comedy for comics begins here!
Sex Criminals, vol. 1, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky 7.75
‘Sex Criminals’. It sounds lurid, bringing to mind the kind of stuff that goes on in Eastern Europe. It leaves you with an icky feeling, as the two words probably shouldn’t ever be associated in any fashion.
Had I stumbled upon it on my own, I probably would have ignored this comic book series by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. But a friend recommended it to me, so I decided to give it a shot, despite its peculiar title.
What I discovered was an original, if juvenile, piece of work.
Narrated in flashback from Suzie’s perspective, she takes us to her teen years: In the shadows of her father’s untimely death, Suzie discovered masturbation by mistake, by taking baths to drown out her mother’s cries.
One day, she dunked under the water, as she usually did, but got too close to the running tap and had an orgasm. It’s how she discovered not just pleasure but what she calls “The Quiet”, where time freezes for a while.
Stunned by this discovery, she went around discreetly asking girls at school, her doctor, her mother, what the meaning of it was. Sadly, she quickly realized that she was the only one who experienced “The Quiet”.
Or is she?
Now an adult, she meets Jon at a house party that she holds to raise funds to save the library she manages. They hit it off. They hit it off big time. And when they decide to have sex together, they find each other.
…in “The Quiet”.
Obviously a relationship develops, as they share their knowledge and experience with “The Quiet” (or, as he calls it, “Cumworld”). And when he decides to help her save the library, they use it to commit robberies.
Hence, “Sex Criminals“.
As silly as it all sounds (because, let’s face it, it really does sound silly) from the start the series is rather engaging. The first issue alone evokes all the nervousness and anxiety of discovering one’s sexuality – times ten.
The narration helps because it gives the story a more familiar (dare I say, intimate) spin than it could otherwise have. The fact that it jumps back and forth in time, from Suzie’s teens to her adulthood to the present helps.
It keeps things hopping.
It’s also rather amusing, both due to the awkwardness of sex and relationships, but also because the authors have decided to poke fun at pretty much everything that has anything to do with sex, riffing on every modern trope.
The problem with this is that it comes off as slightly juvenile. Though they clearly understand their source material, spoofing the adult industry smacks of teen humour: How many “Barely Illegal”-type jokes do you need?
And there’s some stuff that’s just absurd, but is intended to be funny because, well, it’s sex. And sex is funny, right? So you see things like Jon’s glowing penis, or a Sex Police using rubber dildos as clubs, that sort of thing.
And yet there’s a really grasp of human behaviour and relationships in this book, which is its saving grace. Everything that Suzie is feels real. In this context, she would make absolute sense; she would be absolutely real.
The series is also clever in the way that it tells its story, using full-page spreads or playful panels to add a dynamic quality to the book. It actually makes for a rather enjoyable read, despite some of the ridiculous content.
For example, there’s a terrific, tongue-in-cheek moment when Suzie does a musical number to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”, which is covered in post-it notes with a commentary because they couldn’t get the rights to the lyrics.
I mean, who thought of the idea of doing a musical in a silent, static medium like a comic?
So, ultimately, this first volume of ‘Sex Criminals’ overcomes its limitations to become a creative and entertaining, if sometimes sophomoric, sci-fi romantic sex comedy. There aren’t tons of those around, that’s for sure.
So I look forward to seeing what volume two has in store.