Sex Criminals is not just as dirty as it sounds — it’s far more perverse than that. So, if you are even slightly likely to be offended by intentionally offensive material, then I’d stop reading right now. On the other hand, if offensive material becomes less offensive to you by the very fact that it IS intentional — as is the case here for me — then please read on: You just might find Sex Criminals does it for you.
Matt Fraction is currently one of my favorite writers, and he’s created a shocking work of fiction with Sex Criminals. The premise isn’t that complicated, but it’s bizarre: A guy and a girl have sex and discover after the big O that they both have the same secret power — a secret power that each one of them thought was unique — the power to stop time and the people around them right after they’ve peaked. So, whenever young Suzie has had sex up until she meets Jon, the guy she is with freezes in time, and she is able to get up and walk around, enjoying the contemplative post-coital moment. Imagine her surprise when she has sex with Jon, and they are both still moving around in “the quiet,” as Suzie calls it (Jon has another, less poetic, name for the quiet). And that’s the Sex part of Sex Criminals.
The Criminals part involves Jon’s past and his personality: He tends to be socially deviant as well a sexually deviant, and he likes to use his special power to play pranks in public places. Many of his acts are very disturbing, I should warn potential readers. Eventually, he lures Suzie into his prankish activities. However, they break even more laws when Jon realizes that Suzie needs money to save the library at which she works from closing. They then start robbing banks with a method — I feel safe in saying — that has never been employed as a plot device in the history of fictional narrative.
So why read this book? First, it’s funny, if you find this type of humor amusing. Second, the art is fantastic — particularly the colors and effects used to create and signal to the reader that Suzie and/or Jon has entered “the quiet.” But ultimately what make this comic book worthwhile are the serious topics and themes that Fraction explores through this otherwise outlandish story.
My favorite parts of the story are the coming-of-age components: Suzie talks to the reader in first person as she relates to us the struggles she faced as a child who is trying to understand her newfound sexual power. Obviously, Fraction is talking to us about what we all go through, and by Suzie’s realizing that she is unique, Fraction hits upon a great truth about sexual discovery: For each one of us it is actually a discovery that feels like finding out we have some secret power that nobody else knows about and that we certainly can’t talk about. It makes us feel special, it terrifies us, and it isolates us all at the same time until we find that one person with whom we feel we really click, with whom we share that exact same “power.”
I love the method of story-telling: Suzie in the present talks directly to us as readers while in the panels we watch the young girl Suzie stumble through school, take time alone in the bathroom, and confront the schoolgirls she hopes will tell her more about sex. This story-telling is aided by a visually effective trick: In many of these past scenes, the older Suzie is actually in the panels with the young Suzie. As she narrates, the present-day Suzie can see the younger Suzie, but the young Suzie obviously can’t see the present-day Suzie.
Jon’s presence adds at least two other levels to the story: First, he tells his coming-of-age story, his discovery of his power, his origin story. And Fraction shows us how different people are in reacting to their sexual discovery and sexual coming-of-age. Second, Jon allows Fraction to address a common problem: What happens when the person with whom we are most sexually at one turns out to be somebody we aren’t in sync with as much as we had at first hoped? How important is sexual compatibility? How potentially dangerous is sexual compatibility in misleading us to think somebody is the “right” person for us?
As with any sexually explicit artistic work, Sex Criminals will not be appreciated at all by those it will offend based on the premise alone; however, I do believe it is not merely a goofy, sexually explicit comic. I believe that Sex Criminals — like the first, and only the first, American Pie movie — basks in its sexual content while considering serious, everyday issues involving human sexuality.