[If you read this comic, consider yourself guilty of the sin levelled at many a child: you've been spoiled.]
Well, well, well, our friends the sex criminals return in issue #6, after we left them literally running from the law in the previous issue. To recap: our heroes Jon and Suzy are blessed with the ability to freeze time during their orgasms, a phenomenon called “the Quiet”. After exploring the erotic possibilities of this gift, they hatch a scheme to use the Quiet period to rob the bank where Jon works and use the money to bail out Suzy’s library. Only, things don’t go quite as expected, as they encounter another group of people with the same abilities, known as the “sex police”. When we last saw Jon and Suzy, they had escaped the sex police’s car into which they had been thrown after they were caught, and were literally on the run.
One of the many great things about this book, written by comics star Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, is that it breezes right past concepts and situations that would have been the focus of a lesser book to keep the focus directly on character and situation. And despite the “one impossible idea” that many science fiction works would have us believe, the key to the story is how it deals with issues that are very much of the real world.
Issue #6 is a great example of this, as Jon’s issues with mental illness are brought to the fore with a heartbreaking blend of reality and fantasy. Jon suffers from a potent stew of issues including attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, and a serious tendency to “act out” against authority in socially inappropriate ways. When we say, “inappropriate”, this includes defecating in a plant residing in his boss’s office during the Quiet.
Jon, prior to the events of Sex Criminals, had been taking medication for the disorder, but like many drugs for emotional disorders, the cocktail prescribed to him had the effect of rounding the emotional edges off of his life, and destroying his sex drive. He had refused to take the medication, preferring other, less pharmaceutical ways of controlling his illness, such as meditation and cognitive therapy. (At the risk of revealing a little too much, I sympathize with Jon and fully understand his issues and the almost Faustian bargain modern treatment of mental illness forces us to make.) But any treatment needs to be continued in order to be effective, drug-based or not, and with all the adventure and excitement in his life since meeting Suzy, Jon has been neglecting his therapy. This can be fine as long as there is lots of other stimulation, and the situation is distracting, but what Jon discovers in this issue is that, when circumstances change and become more routine (even fantastic sex games can get old, apparently), the issues are all still there, and stronger than ever. Jon is therefore forced to make a choice: burden himself and the woman he’s growing to genuinely love with his mental issues or start taking his meds again. He (for the time being) chooses the former.
Fraction tells the story with his usual fragmented sense of narrative time. Preferring to let Jon and / or Suzy tell their own story, we pick up the sex criminals some time after their daring escape, when they are in their apartment and seem to have gotten away with it. Everything seems fine, except Jon is drawn as an ashen, drawn echo of his former self. “Everything is not okay,” he says in his narration. And he shortly pulls down his pants to show us what he lacks, resembling – in the groin – the smoothed out angels from Dogma. Ill-equipped. It’s a great visual metaphor for the effect of modern psychoactive medications. “I don’t get mad now. I don’t get worried, I just….” As Jon puts it, fading into grey dullness as the world around him remains vivid. Eventually he and Suzy, though they remain a couple, simply stop having sex.
But issue #6 doesn’t jump to that immediately. Fraction and Zdarsky show us how bad things can get for Jon before he submits to being drugged, and the argument could certainly be made that his suffering and his tendencies put himself and others at risk when he refuses all treatment. It’s an agonizing decision to start taking the pills again, and the trade-off of a dull, unstimulating, and uncreative (never mind asexual) life seems worth it.
Aside from Jon’s struggles, a mobile phone that he and Suzy swiped from the sex police becomes an effective and interesting toy for them both, since it appears to be equipped with a special sensor that registers with a “bloop” whenever someone in range experiences the Quiet. They both presume that it was this detector that brought them to the attention of the police in the first place. Throughout the issue, the at first erotic, but later sad and lonely “bloops” it registers are used very effectively. In one sequence, the drug-numbed Jon phones Suzy at a low point to apologize for all that he’s put her through, but his disorder and his anxiety is so far advanced that he can’t even get the words out. After he hangs up, his phone registers a small, sad, “bloop”, as Suzy gets off without him. In another scene, Jon orgasms before her, trapping Suzy in the Quiet. Another bloop. (“Alone again….” muses Jon.) Similar to the yellow barrels in Jaws, the detector becomes a very effective “proxy” storytelling device.
In terms of the plot, Jon’s bank agrees to allow Suzy’s library to pay off the loan slowly, freeing the library of financial worries. But at the last minute, Suzy learns to her devastation that the bank has changed its mind. Coincidentally, Jon has noticed a similarity between a “fancy man” at work and one of the leaders of the sex police. It doesn’t take him very long to put two and two together, and see that the police are now messing with Suzy’s life in addition to his own. The issue ends with Jon, furious (lack of sex in their relationship is certainly not correlated with lack of love and commitment) and declaring war on the sex police.
Sex Criminals continues to justify all of the attention it has received in the past year. It’s daring subject material, knowing sense of humour, and deep commitment to character development have earned it a large audience as well as cosplayers at this year’s cons. It deserves it.