Artist: Chip Zdarsky
Publisher: Image Comics
Release: September 25, 2013
Sex Criminals is a surprisingly literal name. Not that Suzie and Jon commit crimes directly through sex, but the sex definitely facilitates it. The sex makes it happen. The sex makes everything happen.
What if the intensely personal power of the orgasm actually stopped time, instead of merely feeling like it does? That’s the quandary facing Suzanne, a young woman whose early teen years were disrupted by the shocking death of her father when she was in middle school. His murder imploded her world, just as a fortuitous evening with a bathtub faucet not long after rebuilt it into a perplexing (but very satisfying) puzzle. How is she supposed to know if her time-freezing, laser light show sex is superpowered or just normal, mundane sex magic?
Somehow writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarksy have made a comic that’s entirely about sex, but not remotely prurient or salacious. It’s like they’re adults who know how to tell stories, or something. They capture that mind-expanding innocence and fearful shame of everybody’s first orgasm and never lose sight of it, even as a twenty-something Suzanne quickly catches us up on her sexual history. She’s an amiable host, a smart and independent woman that lesser talents would turn into a girlfriend for a boring nebbish of a leading man. This is her book, and Fraction is one of the few mainstream comic writers I’d trust to write an engaging female lead who doesn’t feel like a stereotype or a stab at wish fulfillment. Fraction and Zdarsky depict the young boho mindset without belaboring the point or embarrassing themselves, and the flashback where the middle school’s “biggest ho-bag” teaches Suzie the mysteries of sex while blatantly making shit up is what a Wes Anderson teen sex comedy would look like.
Zdarsky’s tasked with drawing Suzie at two very different times of her life, and excels at finding both her youthful innocence and confusion as well as her fully assured adult sexuality. His figures resemble the work of Daniel Clowes, but blockier and more vivacious, and there’s a fantastic use of color throughout, from the rich reds and cool silvers of Suzie’s pivotal first experience, through the dark murk of her less powerful and memorable engagements.
Sex Criminals #1 is a splendid introduction to an immediately likable character, and the final twist is both genuinely unexpected and an intriguing set-up for the book’s true plot. I wouldn’t trust most comic creators to turn a sexual awakening into compelling pulp fiction, but Fraction and Zdarsky pull it off masterfully.