Sex Criminals - Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky (Review)

Amazon Summary: Named one of Time Magazine's top 10 graphic novels for 2013! Suzie's just a regular gal with an irregular gift: when she has sex, she stops time. One day she meets Jon and it turns out he has the same ability. And sooner or later they get around to using their gifts to do what we'd ALL do: rob a couple banks. A bawdy and brazen sex comedy for comics begins here, by Matt Fraction (Satellite Sam, Hawkeye) and Chip Zdarsky (Prison Funnies, Monster Cops).

"On the surface, this is a hilarious story of two people, Suzanne and Jon, with the power to stop time after they orgasm, and then rob banks while (almost) everyone else is frozen in time, which is an amazingly original idea. But underneath that, this is a story of the beginning of a relationship: its exciting newness, its terrifying possibilities, its ups and downs, its secrets and understandings, and, of course, its sex." - PW

Rating: 2.5 - 3 / 5

Review: I feel alone. Alone in the world of comic fans when it comes to Sex Criminals. I'm not trying to say I absolutely hated it or anything - but imo there's plenty here to criticize. And I have the utmost respect for the creative idea and the work that was put into this. But it just was not for me, in addition to their being bits I refuse to support that, I'll speak about towards the end. I don't know if it was a case of mismatched expectations while going in - but realistically I will probably not continue reading this run.

The idea behind Sex Criminals is simple (and cool!) enough to understand - our two main characters have the amazing ability to stop time temporarily whenever they orgasm. When I first heard about it I immediately declared "THIS IS A COMIC FOR ME!" I mean, it's an inventive idea that flawlessly allows for discussion of sexuality while still giving us the excitement and mystery of a standard comic. I began to imagine all of the creative directions an idea could take you in, and I created a sort of dark, edgy, sexy comic in my mind. You know, with dark colors and semi-abstract art and really serious discussions about the nature of human sexuality.

Lo and behold, this is not at all the vision that Fraction and Zdarsky had. The art in Sex Criminals is bright and colorful and there's very little angst or darkness to wallow in. And so you can see going in why I was a little thrown. Not that it's anyone's fault that I let my imagination selfishly run wild. This usually wouldn't be a huge adjustment for me either - I really like bright, feminine, bubblegum art. But Sex Criminals never managed to tickle that side of me either. As I've noticed, a lot of newer comics (not the big superheroes) tend to have less polished art and I didn't find Sex Criminals to be an exception. Most of the reviews I've seen really enjoyed Zdarsky's art but it just never hooked me. It felt unfinished, too cartoonish (for my taste) and I never found myself really wanting to stare at a scene longer than I needed. Something about their faces turned me off. I do quite like all of the cover art though! It always could come down to different preferences though.

Suzie and Jon, our main characters meet and quickly discover that they've finally found another person with their unique 'power'. For obvious reasons, this leads to a relationship between the two. After sharing stories about their childhood and the discovery of their skill, they begin to devise a more serious plan to help rescue the library Suzie works at from financial crisis. They decide to freeze time and rob a bank - only to find out there are other folks who can enter their frozen time zone. And they're not happy about their rule-breaking. To be honest, this portion of the story held my interest somewhat. If I were to pick up another issue in the future it would be primarily to get some answers about the frozen-time police, dammit.

But I disliked both the main characters and their voices. So watching them fall in love and reminisce about their life wasn't very fun for me. There are two specific moments in Sex Criminals that made me really fall on the "meh" side of the spectrum. There is a scene in which Suzie and Jon are at a pool hall where Suzie decides to lip sync "Fat Bottomed Girls" on top of the pool table in front of everyone? And this was supposed to be the moment Jon thought she was "REALLY SOMETHIN ELSE!" I guess? I don't know - like I got bad secondhand embarrassment reading this scene and the whole thing was very manic-pixie dream girl. And to make matters 100x worse - Fraction and Zdarsky were unable to get the rights to the song. So instead of picking a different song or cutting the scene out, they made an attempt at humor by overlaying each speech bubble of lyrics with a post-it note of themselves talking.

First of all, this scene goes on FOREVER. Like if I pay for a comic book I don't want to see multiple pages filled up with lyrics to a song I already know that lends itself to very little character development. And I especially don't want to see your self-indulgent attempts at being funny instead. Ick.

The second incident comes during a discussion Jon and Suzie are having about the type of porn he watched as a teenager. He shares that he really liked a specific porn actress, "Jazmin St. Cocaine". This already left a bad taste in my mouth - even as far as porn star names go, that's a little much. While looking her up online, Suzie literally comments "It doesn't say which of her uncles touched her, but it's Wikipedia. They have pretty high verification standards". 

But then - something even more bizarre happens. I'm still unsure if this was an attempt at humor, an apology, a commentary - I have no idea. But the scene then proceeds make the "internet version" of Jazmin speak directly to Suzie in a fantasy sequence. Jazmin (in the computer screen) says "That's not cool. That judgmental bullshit of yours. I'm a real person y'know. And just because I'm a sex worker, you don't get to shame me or insult me or insist I came from a background of molestation and abuse. And even if I did -" to which Suzie closes the laptop on her and replies "Jesus, god, you called yourself 'Jazmin St. Cocaine'. Talking a little shit was inevitable" before going up to Jon and mockingly saying "Hiiii Jonny. It's ya girl, Suzanne DeQuaalude-Handjob and I want you to rrrruin me". That's right. They had their main character shame sex workers, and than I guess to let us know that they knew that was bad, they gave the sex worker a fake voice for 3 panels to refute it - only to have Suzie close the laptop on her and walk away with no mention of it again.

This scene was the one that really made me say "what the fuck"? If you knew that you were going down morally questionable ground by reinforcing a harmful stereotype about sex and sex work in general (and making your female character seem catty and competitive to boot) enough so, that you had to put some type of "disclaimer" in there than DON'T WRITE THE SCENE IN! Unless it was an attempt at saying "how ridiculous" that attitude is and Suzie should be allowed to say whatever she wants about Jazmin. Either way - yuck, gross, not digging it. Not to mention, it's just sloppy writing if I'm actually that confused over the point of a scene. I've had multiple people read it and none of us have come to a conclusion.
Look, I even took a picture cause it made me angry.

Final Thoughts: Eh. I think I gave you enough information to decide if Sex Criminals is for you or not. I was put-off enough by the above that I most likely will not continue supporting this comic.

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