The premise of this series pokes fun at but also celebrates a lot of things regarding sex and the relationships that develop around it, both platonic and romantic. Every human interaction is transactional after all, most notably when the business of 'doing it' is concerned. With the chemical tandem of writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarksy, Sex Criminals is a real crazy romp in the sheets that manages a feat like no other; it examines the troubles of relationship-building and intimacy in a way that is both comical and poignant, a biting yet introspective commentary on the nature of love and sex. I've read the first volume in passing and would have written a review about it last year, but other things got in the way. Now, I'm very pleased I also read the second volume right after re-reading the first one, because man, oh, man, these books. These. Fucking. Books. Let's talk about Sex Criminals, shall we?
Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky have something special, and they understand each other very well as co-creators. Their chemistry is apparent in every panel and dialogue, in every careful yet also wacky developments between plot and characters. As a reader, I can tell that they're having fun with their creation, letting everything run wild yet also applying a great literary sensibility in regards of how they approached the sensitive topic of sex. But why is sex such a sensitive topic anyway, subjected often to secrecy and shame if it's about abstinence, and outright exaggerated hedonism if it's associated with sexual liberation and freedom? And why are other factors that are just as elusive, such as romance and dating, being treated by most mainstream media as nothing but a festival of good feelings and climactic confessions complete with a well-orchestrated music in the background?
Fraction and Zdarsky provides a creative and low-key deconstruction of this in Sex Criminals.
~ VOLUME ONE: ONE WEIRD TRICK ~
Published in 2013 by Image Comics, this series is still ongoing and have currently produced three volumes in trade paperback and fifteen issues released. This is definitely more recommended for mature readers but anyone above eighteen can very much enjoy this a lot because of how humorous and quirky the storytelling mostly tackles its subject matter. Fraction provides many instances of breaking-the-fourth-wall as well as an off-beat narrative that naturally ebbs and flows because there never was a moment he made his characters take themselves too seriously. Meanwhile, the illustrations deftly produced by Zdarsky are just astonishingly appealing; his panel choices were rendered a perfect complement to the fast-paced comedic style of Fraction's writing. Readers truly get the sense that this comic book is written by two people who are close friends, essentially telling this story because it is meaningful for them as well as buttloads of fun! Colorist Becka Kinzie also deserves much credit because there is a depth in the textures and harmony in her palette choices that bring about the freshness and vibrancy of the story across the pages.
The first volume of Sex Criminals unfolds in two parts: respective point-of-views of the Girl and Boy of the story, Suzie and Jon. One can consider this comic book like a quintessential rom-com--but more honest and unafraid in breaking the long-held conventions and stiff opinions about what relationships should be about versus what they become most of the time anyway if you don't put enough work and compassion in communicating and sharing your life with the person you are in love with. But this examination happens later on in the second volume. For the first volume, we get acquainted with our protagonist couple, burdened by a magical power of being able to stop time when they orgasm.
Yes, let me repeat that: Suzie and Jon as individuals can stop time when they orgasm.
In One Weird Trick, readers become privy of their personal backstories. They get to know Suzie during her puberty as she tries to discover the strange things that are happening to her body, with the added bonus of the time-stopping orgasmic bliss she often finds herself in. She calls this piece of solitude as "the Quiet". Inside it, Suzie is alone and can pretty much do anything. She's also very passionate about books and learning new things, so after school she became a librarian. It's not an easy to keep a library open these days, what with the technological downside of e-books and other ways to read stuff easily online, so Suzie tries to save up enough money so that her library won't get closed by the bank. In doing so, she hosted a few charity parties and in one of these parties she meets Jon. And sex happens.
And then one mind-numbingly fantastic orgasm later:
Jon's side of the story comes much later on after the two kids discover that they share the same superpower. Thrilled that they have that thing in common, they began to talk about how Jon became aware of what he can do. Unlike Suzie who is pretty much tougher than she looks in spite of her difficult upbringing as a child of a an alcoholic single mother, Jon didn't fare as luckily as she did. He was diagnosed with an antisocial disorder, prominently manifesting in rebellious behavior even as an adult man now. He isn't a nihilistic, dangerous fiend, of course, but he does have impulses that can only be monitored through doses of drugs and therapy sessions. However, Jon had stopped medicating, mostly because the pills make him numb all over and affect his libido as well. Jon would rather live with his reckless compulsions than become a zombified version of himself, no matter how he seemed well-adjusted on the outside. I really found myself intrigued by Jon's personality and hardships while I also identify slightly with Suzie, particularly her zest for books, and how she treats them as her sole companions that armed her with self-knowledge back in her troubled times as a youth.
As for their chemistry, it's definitely a realistic one. It's not yet love since they are still strangers who are bound by their shared secret of time-stopping orgasms, but the potential to be something more is undeniable. Suzie and Jon have felt different and isolated all their lives. To be sexually intimate with people and yet also being capable of entering into a transcendental plane of reality alone after every sexual encounter that leads to orgasm? That can be the loneliest of experiences. Sex is supposed to be a union not just of flesh but of mind and spirit, and neither of them ever found a partner who can be with them in their quiet worlds of the afterglow...until now, that is.
For the first time in their lives, both Suzie and Jon found somebody else who understood this weird thing their bodies can do, and of course they'd be more than eager to be around one another, and discover new and better ways to be intimate and accepted together. Each relationship has to start somewhere, no matter how strange the origin.
The protagonist couple are endearing and relatable enough, especially when they are remorseless in how they try to understand the other's insecurities and social hang-ups about their sexuality and experiences. I like them as people, and I like them to stay together because they're an engrossing pair, especially what comes after next:
~ VOLUME TWO: TWO WORLDS, ONE COP ~
While the first volume introduces readers to the wacky sensibilities and grueling sexual histories of the protagonist couple Suzie and Jon, the second volume of Sex Criminals entitled Two Worlds, One Cop delivers a more well-balanced story arc which enhanced my appreciation and enjoyment of this series. It solidified my fan status for what writer and artist Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky respectively have accomplished.
Suzie and Jon had just reached a breaking point after their misadventures last time when they decided to use their time-stopping orgasms to plan a heist and rob for the bank Jon is working for in order to save Suzie's library from being closed. As it turns out, they are not alone. Other people have the same ability and this is when they were approached by a unit of three people who call themselves the Sex Police. They are led by a woman named Myrtle Spurge whom Suzie and Jon fondly referred to as 'Kegelface". To save their relationship and get out of the Sex Police's radar, Jon decided to go back on his medication. Suzie was more than happy to have a normal relationship again except that she also began to understand that Jon is pretty immature and repressively angry in many ways.
As for Jon, he admits readily in his POV issue that he was doing it all for Suzie which is not the kind of mindset someone with an antisocial disorder should have if he truly wants to get well, mentally and emotionally. As a gap grows between the two, a heated argument took place that drove Jon to commit something he will later forget.
This second volume was amazing in both the subtlest and explosive of ways! Fraction's writing is not only just humorous and sardonic--it's also touching in a lot of places, given the depth he tackled Jon's depression and impulsive behaviors geared towards anti-authority. The issue focusing on Jon's struggles to be noticed after his parents have more than stopped caring about him even as a young boy is pretty fascinating and sad to see unfold. I really felt for Jon's solitude whenever he is in the Quiet (or the Cum World as he personally prefers it). Inside that transcendental plane of reality, there are no rules or rejection; it's just him being able to scream and kick and wreak havoc as much as he wants to. What I think was sympathetic about this is that Jon doesn't want to be some kind of a terrorist who hurts people; he just wants to express his anger and frustration over being abandoned in ways that are not dangerous per se but are still detrimental to his well-being as a person.
Meanwhile, Suzie opted to take a break from Jon, assessing that as much as she cares about him, she has to look out after for herself first. In a panel sequence, she even expressed that she's not with Jon because she wants to fix him. She stresses that Jon should want to get better and seek help with his psychological difficulties, and I think this was a truly positive message to convey for a lot of young women who have this gratingly twisted way of perceiving themselves as life givers for the men they love. I've had friends and have met various women who think they can repair someone by the power of their love and support and that sucks balls because life begs to differ. Sometimes love isn't really enough for a person to get better and stop being disruptive in their personal lives. More often than not, we should all learn to cut off abusive people from taking advantage of our kindness and devotion, and I'm glad Sex Criminals and its creators made the right decision in making Suzie say these things to the readers because it's uplifting and empowering:
I won't be spoiling the crucial moments in this volume anymore because I would like to encourage EVERYONE to read this scintillating series, especially this volume in particular that has a lot of heart and guts. I'm pleased that a comic book like this got published. Fraction has instilled enough humor and self-awareness in Sex Criminals that can be valued a lot more than just its entertainment factor. Zdarsky's illustrations were also splendid, particularly on how he drew Suzie. She has curves in her body and is not that drop-dead gorgeous-looking either, much like Jon is typically just average-looking too. In a nutshell, Sex Criminals is a promising and important work that you should not missed out on!