Sex Criminals #4-5 Review

What’s going on with our heroes, the sex criminals, for issues #4 and 5? Well, a bit of sex, a bit of criminality, and somewhere in there a bit of reality intrudes. This continues to be one of the most creative, intelligent and self-aware comics I’ve experienced in quite some time. When we last saw Suzy and Jon (these kids… these “fucking” kids, as the comic would put it) they had discovered their time-stopping power, their “quieting”, that happens during their orgasms that they were using to rob banks.  They had also discovered that this was an ability shared by some mysterious, authoritarian characters in white. The “Sex Police”, as they’re introduced in issue #4 are clearly in the service of some sort of Force, but we’re not sure who. Either way, they represent the sexual authorities, and clearly there’s more than one use for this special skill.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. In issue #4 we met the Sex Police, led by the evil villainess known as “Kegelface”. It turns out that the authorities (who Suzy imagines have some sort of high-tech lair somewhere) have been watching this couple for some time as their debauchery and playful criminality has escalated from pranks such as cuddling with a frozen tiger during the “quiet”, or wreaking some sort of havoc on the local sex shop, tastefully called “Cumworld”. It is in the aftermath of one of their rampages through Cumworld that the Sex Police finally narrow in on Jon and Suzy, although in an intriguing twist, they’re also betrayed by Suzy’s roommate, Rachel.

(Rachel, if you remember from issues 1-3, was Suzy high school “sex advisor” and self appointed informal President of the slutty girls society. But times have changed since high school, and College, as they have a tendency to do. Rachel in adulthood is mostly lonely and searching for self worth, without sexual conquests to show off every weekend. Whereas the mousey librarian Suzy is a Sex Criminal and a sexual superstar. It isn’t difficult to see the metaphor, or to feel a certain empathy with Rachel in the situation. When she calls the authorities on her roommate, and is put straight through to Kegelface at the police station, there is an important narrative and character-driven motivation. I mention this in some detail because this is the difference between good writing, which this comic most assuredly has, and the sort of cliche-ridden lazy writing that could have sunk this book into a simple curiosity.)

The overall tone of these two final issues in what Fraction and Zdarsky are calling “volume one” of Sex Criminals is a bit less “clean” than the first couple, as the plot and motivations stay deliberately muddied. Even at the end of issue #5, we’re not sure exactly who Kegelface is working for and what their agenda really is. And you have to pay very close attention over all the issues to pick up some crucial plot information, namely how long does the “quieting” last and what is its trigger to end and the real world to return? (The answer, as I understand it, is a metaphor for the refractory period. So, when Suzy or Jon, or anyone else with this power, becomes interested in sex again or at least interested in having another orgasm, the quieting ends.) This very “fluid” timescale metaphor allows for some interesting dramatic devices, such as using a vibrator as a weapon against the sex police to zap them out of the quiet and escape running, which is how issue #5 ends.

Fraction and Zdarsky have really embraced the whole ridiculous nature of this comics enterprise, issuing a hilarious “family portrait” style variant cover for issue #1, for example. Though they don’t have the genre (or even medium)-bending musical production number of issue #3, there are plenty of little asides that keep the self-aware humor in the story. For example, when Suzy tells the story of how she used her power to get Rachel’s blonde, square-jawed All-American boyfriend expelled from College for pot possession, Suzy narrates in a variety of outfits applicable to the setting, such as the Hamburgler or a stereotypical College Professor type. All while discussing masturbation and tomfoolery. That’s the straight-faced, winking, knowing humor of Sex Criminals and it’s still on full display.

But in issue #5 the emotional stakes are raised just a tick with the revelation that Jon suffers from “Oppositional Defiant Disorder”, which drives him to act out against certain people in ways that most would consider inappropriate. Case and point: while doing a “test run” on the bank in order to get a sense of what their robbery is going to be like, Suzy finds Jon, deep in the quiet, taking an enthusiastic “deuce” in his boss’s office plant. Though they have experimented with every sex toy designed by the nation of Switzerland, this simple act of defecation seems more than Suzy is willing to bear. Jon, of course, tells the whole story, starting from a childhood with ADHD and a long stint on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds that did in fact curtail this acting out behavior but pretty much destroyed his sex drive. And his enjoyment of food and life in general. When eventually he had lost an important relationship due to the fact that he was never interested in sex, he decided to go off his meds and deal with his problems in other ways. He explains to Suzy that this acting out against his boss is one of the only ways and times that his tendency surfaces and that there isn’t anything to be worried about.

Suzy still worries, though. Apprehensive from the start about explicit criminality, now she seems to be thinking that this whole plan to break into the bank to save the library is part of Jon’s continuum of oppositional behavior towards his hated boss. And just as this revelation is being made (in a diner), Kegelface herself walks up to the table and says simply, “Children. We know.” Her parting words are the chilling (and resonant), “We’re watching you. Behave”. The combination of the warning and the revelation of Jon’s disorder leads Suzy to take “a break” both from the plan and from Jon. But she soon decides to go through with the plan, and we arrive back at where Sex Criminals began, in the middle of the bank heist, where things are unraveling.

But the end of issue #5 we seem to have had all the “backstory” we’re going to have about Jon and Suzy. The story has come full circle and here we are again in the thick of criminal activity. My feelings about this book haven’t changed: I think it’s still the smartest and warmest comic I’ve read in some time. And in this latest issue the tone actually survived a trip into “serious” territory (with Jon’s revelation of his disorder). Kudos to Matt and Chip for negotiating those dangerous waters. When we pick up the story in issue #6, I’ll still be reading, and curious where the adventures of Suzy and Jon are going to go from here. Probably some sex. And a bit more criminality.

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Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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Also by Ian Dawe:

The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe


A More Civilized Age: Exploring the Star Wars Expanded Universe


A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Exploring Star Wars Comics


A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe


New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


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