ADVANCE REVIEW: Fraction and Zdarsky Engorge the SEX CRIMINALS Universe

It’s been a while, but Sex Criminals is finally back, and Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky are going big.

"Sex Criminals #11" (w) Matt Fraction (a) Chip Zdarsky Image Comics $3.50
“Sex Criminals #11”
(w) Matt Fraction
(a) Chip Zdarsky
Image Comics
$3.50

The Image Comics series, which has received widespread critical acclaim and stands as one of the biggest sales successes in recent years, took a five-month hiatus after issue #10. In the meantime, the word has continued to spread about the wildly irreverent series. The first trade received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Graphic Story and, most importantly, it was announced that a Sex Criminals TV series was in the works from the new Milkfed Criminal Masterminds Entertainment brand run by Fraction and his partner in life and crime, Kelly Sue DeConnick.

With the latest issue, it appears that the creative team behind Sex Criminals is working to expand the universe beyond the adventures of John and Suzie to what seems to be a broader collection of people with similar abilities. While it may seem at first glance that this is a calculated move in service of providing more fodder for the forthcoming foray into live-action, it also serves to create expanded storytelling opportunities for Fraction and Zdarsky.

Jon and Suzie are still very much the focal point of the series, but now appear to be expanding their focus to finding allies in their ongoing conflict with the Sex Police. To that end, this issue of Sex Criminals introduces two new players to the cast. Doug Douglas, the first of these characters introduced, is the one most explored in this issue. His story is very much that of the introverted misfit, making him an interesting contrast to the extroverted misfit nature of Jon and Suzie. Where they are both social creatures, Doug is characterized as someone for whom the world beyond his job and home is something he largely eschews. In terms of rounding out an ensemble, Doug makes an excellent addition. By virtue of his nature he serves as a fine counter to Jon and Suzie, and Zdarsky also draws him with a very different body type from the realistic but still conventionally attractive series leads.

In case the introduction of one new character with a super-heroically alliterative name wasn’t enough, this issue also reintroduces readers to Robert Rainbow. First introduced in a brief interlude in issue #7, his return adds several necessary components in terms of diversity. As an African-American character, he brings some color to what has been a somewhat whitewashed cast. Beyond that is his occupation. He’s an OB-GYN. Of course. Because what story about people who have sexy super-powers would be complete without a gynecologist?

Fraction’s script for this issue of Sex Criminals was another fine example of the creator’s quirky nature, though it did have some issues. Jon and Suzie remain delightfully irreverent, and the banter between them and the supporting cast is still delightful. One of the best parts of Sex Criminals is the creators’ asides to the reader, delivered either in speech/thought bubbles or in complete panels. In the case of this issue, it did feel as though there were a couple of moments when the book’s metatextual commentary on itself became a little too much. There is an entire sequence in Doug’s story which doesn’t actually get drawn on the page, but instead is described in white text on a black background and reads more like an excuse for why it wasn’t actually drawn. While this is somewhat endearing, it also takes the reader out of the story and seems like the creators asking for a laugh.

In the same vein, the art in this issue isn’t quite as dynamic as past installments. While Zdarsky remains fantastic, the low number of occasions for trips into “cum world” means that the stunning color pallettes and dazzling effects which characterize that aspect of the book are kept to a minimum. The final result is that the issue feels somewhat muted in comparison to its predecessors.

VERDICT:

The return of Sex Criminals to comic shop stands is a mixed bag. The book has all the same elements which made it a raging success, but this issue feels more like what it is: a bridge from what has come before to what the book is about to become, which is a more ensemble-focused endeavor. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and as a bridge it does quite well. When collected in trade, it will make an excellent first chapter. The dialogue between the characters and the audience remains one of the book’s strong points, even if it felt a tad bit overdone in this instance. Zdarsky is fantastic even if he doesn’t get enough opportunities to strut his stuff. Overall, this is not the strongest issue of Sex Criminals, but it still delivers all the solid punches which have made the series so enjoyable.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

 

Josh Epstein

Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and resident of a real-world Smallville.

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