Sex, and more so one’s introduction to it, is awkward. It’s only fitting then that Sex Criminals, the wildly inventive new series from Image Comics, revels in that awkwardness. Creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky take all that’s taboo about sex and thrust it front and center, crafting an accurate, yet cringe inducing, look into the confusing times of sexual adolescence. Also, superpowers.
Set in Ordinary, USA, Sex Criminals follows precocious middle schooler Suzanne from confused (and curious) youth to enlightened (and experienced) adult. After losing her father to a random act of violence, Suzanne finds herself navigating sexual waters without a paddle as her mom drinks herself into a saddened stupor. Left to her own devices, Suzanne decides to get in a little “me time,” where she soon makes one hell of a discovery. Turns out, any time Suzanne reaches climax, she stops time. Also turns out, this is the first time I’ve used “climax” in a comic review!
Rattled by her new found powers and completely baffled as to what to do about them, Suzanne turns to those who know sex best – the school sluts. This leads to an informative, if not entirely helpful breakdown of sex positions that leaves Suzanne as confused as ever, and left me terrified to ever raise a child of my own. After much trial and error, adult Suzanne eventually gets her answers, leading to her romantic rendezvous with wannabe actor Jon. I’m loathe to spoil much, but there is a reason the title is plural….
From the very first page, Sex Criminals is wonderfully different, made better by the straight forward approach Fraction takes to introducing Suzanne. This is no sugar coated, politically correct tiptoe into the world of sex. Fraction paints Suzanne’s curiosity and uncertainty in such a vivid life that even when things get ridiculous, she never stops feeling relatable. I like how Fraction often pairs the older Suzanne with the younger, as her floating narrator effectively maps out how she gets from point A to point B in an easy and convincing fashion. Fraction deftly balances the numerous beats at play here, many scenes both funny and moving a the same time. The writer has a real gift for “normal” dialog, as it’s easy to read the words as if they’re coming from the characters themselves.
On art duties, Chip Zdarsky gives us the most fun you can have with your pants on, each page and panel a treat. His slightly cartoony style strangely fits the story like a glove, as he’s able to really push the envelope with the content given. His Suzanne is a revelation; the younger fidgets, fusses and ponders, whereas the older gives off a cool sense of self confidence. Zdarsky also proves an excellent storyteller, everything from the wild, slightly psychedelic effects of the time stop to the dream like first meeting with Jon artfully realized. It’s clear that Zdarsky and Fraction are having fun with their artistic freedom, as they never miss a chance to go for broke. While the aforementioned sex position roundup is quite appalling (in the best way possible), it’s actually the face of Suzanne’s sexual partner, frozen mid-coitus, that will forever be seared in my brain.
Sex Criminals #1 is a triumph in every sense of the word as it skillfully marries ridiculous premise with fully realized and relatable characters. Fraction and Zdarsky are a match made in sex heaven, so expect many more “happy endings” to come.