By: Matt Fraction (writer), Chip Zdarsky (art), Becka Kinzie (color flatting)
At this point I think it’s safe to say that Jon and Suzie are two of the most human and relatable characters in mainstream comics today. Sometimes that means giving voice to those quiet cries for companionship that find us all from time to time and sometimes that means making truly terrible dick jokes; I don’t judge and neither does Fraction.
This issue continues out exploration of the strange pair, examining why and how they found themselves in the bank the series started in. One of the most interesting elements of this issue is the dramatic tension of Suzie starting to realize that things aren’t alright. Jon’s simmering anger towards the bank he works at has been fascinating since it was introduced, but, now that Suzie has started to catch onto it, it’s actively taking on a near Shakespearean quality. Surely her complicity in his revenge will come back to bite her.
But, as we learn, Jon’s not the only one who can act on a grudge. This interlude is nothing complex and highly familiar, but Fraction denies us true catharsis, reminding us how insufficient such revenge fantasies truly are. It’s smart and reminds us that Fraction has things to say in this series.
You may have noticed that I referred to that sequence as an interlude. That was conscious. Four issues into this series, we’re still following the same bank-flashback-bank structure that was introduced in issue one. Interesting as Suzie’s vengeance is, it doesn’t feel wholly necessary and at times I had to wonder if Fraction is actively padding this book.
Indeed, despite the title, there’s not really a lot of sex or criminal activity in this series. This issue features more of the later than any previous installment, however it’s just Suzie and Jon testing their limits and the sex is entirely in service to that testing. Suzie puts it quite well, “mostly [we’d] have lots of sex, which, y’know. Is pretty great.” Sex is “pretty great” but entirely casual. This series is really about connection and that’s wonderful, but a lot of series would focus on human connection more if they could afford not to advance their plot.
This issue also finally starts to give us some hints about one of the most interesting elements of the series: the Sex Police. While many of the major questions remain tantalizingly unanswered, Fraction does provide just enough to throw these characters into a very different light; they’re hardly ‘the Sandman’.
These revelations hold the possibility of opening a number of interesting doors, however they aren’t handled in the best way. The first two pages of this book contain some of the most ridiculous bits of a series that previously featured a musical dance number with no music, text or otherwise. Though there are some weird moments on the first page it really starts at the top of page two when Suzie asks, “What kind of police get to carry…that?” referring to the heavy-set Sex Cop’s dildo-night stick, but vaguely pointing towards him in a way that seems to highlight his creepy bulge just as much. Then Suzie, in a refreshing display of chutzpah, charges the guy and grabs his wallet, declaring, “Holy shit! This guy’s a bus driver! THESE GUYS AREN’T REAL COPS!” I’m sorry, was that still in question? What failed to tip you off; the glowing white uniforms? The Japanese nationalist bondage ninja? The ability to move through frozen time!? It’s a weird moment and, stranger still, later on Jon is still asking to see proof that they’re legal law enforcement.
Though the third member of this strange trifecta remains mum, we get a couple of cute moments with the mysterious bus driver and some good development of Officer Pantyshot. We also find out that Jon and Suzie might not be as alone as they thought. This issue does a lot of things right in regards to setting up track, but it would be nice if we got a bit more incentive than the breadcrumbs Fraction is offering.
It may not be to every taste, but Chip Zdarsky continues to turn in some truly lovely artwork. As much as Fraction’s care with his stars behind the series’ success, I doubt that it would receive quite so much love if it were not for Zdarsky’s ability to speak through their faces. The beauty of one early panel of Jon is only matched by its intensity. I still think that ‘Sex Bruce Willis’* looks more than a little like David Bowie, but honestly it’s nice to see an artist unapologetically draw a women who looks so distinct.
Fraction and Zdarsky clearly understand eachother very well, for the number of panels and sequential gags in this comic would not be possible otherwise. Though distance sometimes has a negative effect on the detail of Zdarsky’s work, he manages to fit a shocking amount into each page. And that’s not just panel count. Whenever possible, there are a slew of clever sight gags hidden in the backgrounds. It really feels like Zdarsky’s having fun on this title and that gives us permission to as well.
It’s also necessary to mention the contribution of Becka Kinzie, who continues to fill Zdarsky’s world with marvelous color. The balance between bright and dull tones is carefully measured and colors just flow together beautifully. The quiet remains a stunning and iconic comics ‘location’, but it’s only a small part of Kinzie’s excellent work.
The Conclusion: Sex Criminals is a good comic. Sex Criminals is also a slow comic, and, at this rate, it will quickly become a frustrating comic. So as much as I celebrate the human dimension that Fraction and Zdarsky have brought to this series, I worry about the balance of character and plot.
The comic looks great as long as you can square yourself with Zdarsky’s sensibility and the colors are lovely. Meanwhile, Fraction continues to introduce interesting elements to the plot and deepen our understanding of Suzie and Jon.
Ironically for a series about orgasms, Sex Criminals is desperately in need of a climax.
*You wish someone referred to you that way.
- While it’s totally acceptable for a character, Fraction does hit one of my pet peeves when he has the chief Sex Cop offer Suzie and Jon a “Kudo.” Let’s hope his handle of ancient Greek is better in Ody-C.
– Noah Sharma