The Sex Criminals have issues, probably more than the number of issues already… issued. That’s what has come front and centre in the last couple of editions of Sex Criminals, and the time that Suzy and Jon are taking to deal with their issues are starting to distract them from their real problems with the Sex Police. Their “issues” started much earlier, of course, long before the start of this comics’ narrative (remember, the first line in issue one was about the violent death of Suzy’s father), but they really came to the fore after their bank heist was foiled by the Sex Police. Ever since then, their relationship has suffered, and their personal issues have surfaced with alarming ferocity.
One great thing about this book is that it allows characters the time to deal with their own issues and doesn’t shy away from showing all the details of both their physical and emotional problems. (This issue, for example, opens with a long scene of Suzy receiving a pelvic exam, which gives way to a safe sex tutorial recounted entirely in striptease. Later, Jon has an impromptu therapy session in a mall food court with a man who bears a striking resemblance to one Chip Zdarsky.) The characters are still there, and a new character fits right in.
For the last few issues, Sex Criminals seems to have been walking right up to the main plot line and then digressing into a flashback or some other sort of character-based introspection. I suppose the book has always had that structure, but having now reached issue #8 I’m anxious to see where all of this is going, and to get back to main conflict of the story. Of course, the argument could be made that all the digression and character development and relationships are the main arc of the story and the Sex Criminals vs Sex Police really is the macguffin. If so, then I suppose what I’d really like is a bit more balance, and some forward momentum. That’s not to take anything away from this title – Sex Criminals is still a fascinating and challenging comic, with a great sense of humour and a refreshingly adult sensibility about sex. I just think if it’s going to be a mystery thriller as well, then it has to pay more attention that plotline.
So, Suzy has a perfect cervix. As in, medically interesting, especially to her gynocologist, the dreamily handsome Dr Robert Rainbow. Suzy’s struggles with her birth control in previous issues have led to her seeking a medical consultation, and she meets Dr Rainbow by chance, as he is rotating through that area of the hospital. Without a doubt, the sequence in which Rainbow describes the major forms of birth control available while performing a sexy striptease (this is Suzy’s imagined accompaniment to the lecture, anyhow) is a classic Sex Criminals moment. Entertaining, funny, grown up, frank and actually medically accurate. Suzy, unsurprisingly, asks him out and while they do address the numerous ethical dilemmas, he agrees, and that’s when we discover Jon’s connection.
Jon hasn’t been doing well at all. He and Suzy are officially “taking a break” as Suzy puts it in the first panel. His issues have simply become too much and he hasn’t been taking care of himself. Job accepts this and moves on, spilling a long story to his rather useless mall therapist before emerging into the food to court to find a middle aged man eating chicken fingers alone. It took me a few minutes to realize the brilliant bit of stunt casting, and having seen the way Chip Zdarsky has drawn himself in other instances (such as the infamous one-man comic con held recently in Toronto with himself as the single guest, quoted as saying, “Yeah, I’ll probably be there..”) I can confirm that this character is indeed a middle-aged version of Chip.
What’s just as interesting is what Dr. Chip has to say to Jon, as they play out a whole therapy scene like a punk version of Good Will Hunting. Dr. Chip essentially takes Jon to task for not practicing better self care, but he’s listening, which is more than Jon can say for his previous therapist. When Jon asks to be taken on as a patient, Dr. Chip plays hard to get, lecturing that “This is a dark ride,” and “Life is awful.” A brutal truth, but the point seemed to be that Jon needed to fully experience pain before he can recover from it, and stop hiding from it. But eventually he agrees to take Jon on, with the condition that he carry out 45 minutes of exercise a day for ten days first. Sure enough, the prescription works better than any drug. The next time Suzy bumps into Jon (wearing an oh-so-butch pink headband and pink running shorts), he’s a new and better man. And, coincidentally, she finds him speaking with Robert Rainbow, the gynocologist.
A lot of this book’s plot turns on characters knowing each other through many strange coincidences, but then again, surely we have all experienced “small world” moments. I suspect this is a knowing observation on the part of Matt Fraction, the always-excellent writer, rather than lazy storytelling. In any case, Jon and Robert were friends as children, and their shared traumatic memory is of one particularly grim Halloween. Robert, Jon and two other friends were going out trick or treating as Kiss, with Jon in full Paul Stanley makeup and Robert somehow preferring Peter Criss. (There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.) While Robert is rummaging through his father’s bedroom for a spiked collar to complete his costume, he discovers his parents in the middle of an elaborate session of Dom/Sub roleplay. His father (a Bill Cosby type, except wearing a spiked leather collar), explains the whole situation to young Robert, who takes it all in but is understandably shaken. This is one of the great things about Sex Criminals: it’s very sex-positive. At no point is Robert’s father made a figure of absolute ridicule: different strokes for different folks, right? As long as it’s consensual, it’s all good. But the book also shows that, despite our lack of moral judgement about the acts themselves, you can understand how all that would be terribly confusing and possibly traumatic to a 12 year old. Robert’s father does the best he can, and it doesn’t seem as if Robert has any lasting trauma, but that night was sort of ruined. How does one put on Peter Criss makeup with a fresh image of your father with a gag ball in his mouth being spanked by your leather-clad mother? (And again, Peter Criss?) So, Robert stays in that night. Leaving Jon and the other two members of the young Kiss to be mercilessly beaten up and egged by bullies. The comic portrays this as a very logical and almost inevitable consequence of wearing Kiss makeup for Halloween at age 12, and perhaps they have a point. Once again: the knowing truth of Sex Criminals is one of its strongest suits.
Soon joining Jon, Robert (who has to earn Jon’s forgiveness for having left him to take a beating as kids) and Suzy is none other than Rachel, the “wild card” character who has shown us mixed loyalties before. As the foursome walk down the street, having dealt with their issues and looking forward to getting back on track with their lives, they see Suzy’s library getting literally demolished by the Sex Police. Kegelface herself leads the demolition crew. The meta message appears to be: you’ve ignored this plot for too long while dealing with your issues. Now, as they say, “it’s on”. (Or at least that’s what I’ve been told they say.)
Stunt casting, great dialogue and a funny new character actually save this issue from any plot digression criticism. It’s Sex Criminals, so it’s always worth your time.