Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
There’s a girl. She’s a little weird and she has a secret that makes her feel isolated from everyone else. However, she meets a boy with the same secret and they bond instantly over finding each other in this big cold world.
Okay, you’ve heard that one. Obviously. Let me try that again.
There’s a girl. She’s a little weird and she finds out she has a superpower that makes her feel isolated from everyone else. However, she meets a boy with the same superpower and they bond instantly over finding each other in this big, cold, superpower-less world.
No, wait, you’ve definitely heard that one. You could describe half the romances in X-Men with that. Let me try this one more time.
There’s a girl. She’s a little weird and she finds out when she’s in middle school that when she has an orgasm, time stops. It makes her feel isolated from everyone else, especially the people she has sex with. However, she meets a guy at a party and after she sleeps with him, she realizes that they have the same power of time-stopping orgasms. They bond instantly over this ability and decide to use this power to rob a bank.
Yeah, I bet you’ve never heard THAT before. Welcome to Sex Criminals, my friends.
You’ve probably heard about Sex Criminals already. The Matt Fraction-Chip Zdarsky creation certainly has had it’s share of controversy already with Apple refusing to sell issues #2 and #3 on iOS (which lead to Fraction and Zdarsky dedicating the issue to Apple aka “the eternal home of [their] fourth favorite Jobs in the world”). However, the controversy makes it sound like some sort of sexy romp with not a whole lot of story.
Well, there is sex and there is romping, that’s for sure. There’s also a lot of clever and funny writing, beautiful art, hidden gems in panels, and lots of heart.
I think what surprised me the most about Sex Criminals is along with being fiercely orginal and fun, it is about how much of it is rooted in our societal view of sex. Suzie finds out about her ability to enter “The Quiet” (her code for the space that happens when time stops during an orgasm) when she’s in middle school shortly after the death of her father. It becomes a welcome retreat fr0m the stress of her home life, but it’s also something extremely confusing for her that she can’t get answers on. The “slutty” girls at school don’t know any more than she does, her mother calls her a whore when she dares to ask about sex, and her doctor tells her that she’s supposed to fall asleep with her husband after she has an orgasm. Even with the ability to stop time, Suzie’s story become intimately relatable. The lack of comprehensive sex education in the US makes it hard for teenagers to have their questions answered, especially for young girls when their sexuality is constantly stigmatized. I know I was woefully undereducated and anxious to ask questions, but unlike Suzie growing up in the 90s, I had the Internet to help me. Somewhat.
That’s also part of what is refreshing about Sex Criminals. Most sex comedies are painfully male-centric. Lots of jokes about dicks and the shenanigans men go on in search of sex, but women are often shunted to the roles of straight men or crazy characters. The most iconic joke about female sexuality still belongs to When Harry Met Sally and it’s been 24 years since that movie came out. No other jokes about female sexuality have entered public lexicon. No one wants to crack jokes about women faking it or the weird things that happen to them in their sex lives. In Sex Criminals, Suzie is our focus character. She is the first person we meet, she breaks the fourth wall to talk to us, and everything we see outside of flashbacks are from her perspective. Suzie is our POV character into the world of Sex Criminals, and she’s just as perverted and funny as any male lead in a sex comedy. She’s also complex, lonely, and providing an interesting perspective that doesn’t exist a lot in fiction, let alone in comedy.
She also sings the crap out of some Queen in issue 3 in one of the best page sequences in comics you’ll see all year. Even if they weren’t able to get clearance on ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ in time.
In typical comic book fashion, the power that Suzie has ends up becoming a metaphor for something bigger. In this case, it is the impact sex has on the relationships we share with people. For Suzie, the fact she can stop time when she orgasms makes her feel isolated from most everyone else when she realizes it doesn’t happen for everyone during sex. Until she meets Jon and they realize they both have that power. From then on, they’re no longer alone. They’re alone together, and it’s something that’s ultimately freeing for them.
That’s a lot like sex itself. I certainly can’t stop time, but sex can be an isolating thing. It can be damned if I do, damned if I don’t, especially if you’re a woman or queer identified. You’re either judged for all the sex you are having or questioned about all of it you’re not having. Sometimes, you have to keep things secret out of fear of judgment. However, sometimes you find someone like you or people who don’t care and it suddenly becomes less scary and isolating. Sex is complicated, and adding the ability to stop time adds a beautiful layer to showing how complicated it can be.
Of course, that sometimes brings up the question of when ‘you and I’ becomes ‘us,’ but it’s still early in the run for Suzie and Jon.
Not to mention that it freaking hilarious! I don’t think I can properly express how much this comic makes me laugh, but I do know it features a Morrissey stand in named Esteban singing about how awful everything is to the point I doubt you’ll ever think of Morrissey the same way again, the title of “the DeQuaalude-Handjob Royal Breakfast Nook,” and constant use of the phrase “butt stuff,” and that’s good enough for me.
By the way, have I mentioned that Chip Zdarsky’s art is gorgeous? Along with Becka Kinzie on color flatting, the two have created a world that pops and explodes with color, both in and out of “The Quiet.” (Would it be too cheesy to say it’s orgasmic? Probably, yeah.) Plus, Zdarsky’s handle on expressions and silly sex puns breathe so much life into Fraction’s hilarious and poignant writing.
Sex Criminals #4 comes out on December 11, which will give you plenty of time to catch up on this refreshing and hilarious take on sex and relationships. If anything, read it for the Letter Daddies section at the end of each book, which features Fraction and Zdarsky answering fan letters in ridiculous ways. My favorite currently is the response to the letter about the bear in issue 3. I do hope they’ll keep the letters in the trade, but I’ll at least settle for Chip’s diagram on where the clitoris is being printed as extra material. (Spoiler alert: Take it with a giant bag of salt.)