Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is on its third issue this week, and it continues to be one of the oddest beasts on my pull list. The characters have a power based on orgasms. There are sex gags abound. People are banging, like, ten times an issue, and Apple actually banned it on iTunes because of its no porn policy. Three issues in, and they haven’t justified any of this beyond “Heehee, sex! Sex is funny!” And yet, somehow, almost inexplicably, it has some of the hands-down best writing in any book I’m reading.
I’m pretty vocal about my love of Matt Fraction, and this book exemplifies why. He gets wildly creative, and his wit is on full display as he messes with conventions and breaks the fourth wall numerous times just to sort of chat with the reader. From the “Previously…” page that takes its job too literally to the extended “musical number” to a song they didn’t get the rights to, a lot of this book was straight laugh out loud funny.
The plot to Sex Criminals has been taking its time to unfold, but it looks like this will be the last of the set up issues. The characters’ backstory has caught up to the heist that began in the first issue. We also finally get a look at the people who live in “the Quiet,” and start to get some vague sense of who they are. The plot has been a bit scarce so far, but what’s there is pretty interesting. Instead, Fraction and Zdarsky give us a whole lotta character development. It probably would have been too much of that and not enough plot, but these characters are already some of the most real I’ve read in a comic. Both of them look like average people, not super models, and their dialogue is unbelievably genuine. Some scenes almost feel like a candid scene between a real couple, and it makes you wonder just how much these characters might be based on Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick. (They’re married. Everyone knew that already, right?)
On the art side of things, Zdarsky’s work reaches a new peak here. Earlier issues featured panels, drawings, and inserts that were often a bit messy and childlike. It was clearly a choice, and it didn’t really look bad, but those are gone at this point, and it’s honestly a more aesthetically pleasing book for that. I love the visuals he and his team do for “the Quiet,” especially the coloring. Overall, I’m honestly not the biggest fan of his style, but that’s purely a taste thing. He does it well, and it’s not like I dislike it enough to drop the book or even dislike it at all: it just won’t be making any of my favorite lists.
Interestingly, despite the book’s sex still existing without justification, it has yet to actually be gratuitous. Full-on nudity is actually quite scarce, and when it does show up, it’s usually in the background and is always tasteful. It’s certainly not porn, despite what the Apple controversy might suggest. There’s nothing like penetration shots, and I don’t think we’ve even seen naked breasts in the same panel as one of the numerous sex scenes. It’s one of the many dualities that make this book such a conundrum to describe.
Sex Criminals is immature, raunchy, and tasteless. It is also touching, clever, and flat-out funny. I’m confused by the feelings this book makes me feel. But I’m confused in a good, tingly way, and I’m totally going to keep reading it.
Jay Gabel is an avid video gamer and general nerd living in Madison, WI with two roommates and his cat. He’s an active member of Madison’s theatre community, which keeps him busy, but he likes to write about comics when he gets the time. You can (and probably should) follow him on Facebook or on Twitter under @ThunderyOyster.