SEX CRIMINALS #1/ Written by MATT FRACTION/ Art by CHIP ZDARSKY/ Published by IMAGE COMICS
Sex Criminals #1 is not a comic book for children. This should seem blatantly obvious given the title and the cover, which features a naked woman with a cat-of-nine-tails in one hand, a gun in the other and an open book obscuring her “reference section”.
Despite this, the back cover features a helpful warning to retailers and oblivious parents that reads FOR MATURE READERS. DUH. DON’T SELL THIS TO A KID. WHAT ARE YOU, NUTS? SERIOUSLY. Such is the puckish humor we’ve come to expect from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarksky, who can be accused of everything except subtlety where this book is concerned.
There’s no small irony that Sex Criminals #1 should be released in the middle of what is National Banned Books Week in the United States as this book was seemingly tailor-made to inspire attempts to ban it. Once one gets past the shocking title and adult cover, this book also features depictions of underage masturbation, teenage sexual experimentation and bisexuality.
There are also some decidedly liberal rants on the power of books and knowledge, the importance of libraries, the poor quality of sex education in America today and a demonstration of over a dozen sexual positions with stick-figures. Lots of material to make your local parents group or religious leaders very uncomfortable and that’s before we get to the book’s core concept!
The main focus of this first issue is Suzanne – a woman who has the power to stop time whenever she has an orgasm. Most of the issue is told in flashback, as Suzanne shows the reader her past while cutting in to explain different things, much like Emperor Kuzco in The Emperor’s New Groove. We see how Suzanne discovered her super power at a young age and how she struggled to get straight information about sex in general before finally discovering that what happens to her when she gets off is not normal.
Towards the end of the issue, Suzanne (now an adult) meets Jonathan. Jonathan is an aspiring actor who shares Suzanne’s love of Nabakov. They also discover, to their mutual shock and excitement, that they share the same superpower. How this leads to the two of them using their powers to become criminals is left unexplained but it does establish a firm lure to hook the reader into the next issue.
Matt Fraction milks the humor of this situation but also explores the pathos of Suzanne’s dilemma. Most people went through the awkward phase of adolescence where their body seemed to be turning against them and they had nowhere to turn to for answers. It’s easy to imagine the subtle horror one might feel at discovering that their worst nightmare is true – that what they are feeling isn’t normal and that nobody can help them! This serious layer helps the humor of the issue to hit home all the harder.
Chip Zdarksky’s artwork is the perfect complement to Fraction’s script. Zdarksky’s figures are all clearly designed and sport a unique and memorable appearance. There are also a number of interesting sight-gags in the artwork. One of the best is that Narrator Suzanne magically changes into an appropriate costume for every scene of her flashback. She dons a naughty nurse costume when her younger self asks her doctor about what is supposed to happen after an orgasm then changes into a referee’s black-and-white shirt and a whistle for a scene set on a middle-school sports field.
There is much to recommend Sex Criminals #1, unless you are the prudish sort who doesn’t like to see sex in their comic books. That’s fine. The rest of us will happily laugh our heads off between crying in sympathy while you’re missing out on one of the best new books of the year.