Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Sex Criminals 2, originally released October 23rd, 2013.
Shelby: Ok guys, I’m going to be frank; we’re going to talk about sex here for a bit. It’s not going to be weird, I promise. Well, actually, since we’re talking about Matt Fraction’s and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, a book about a woman named Suzie who stops time when she has an orgasm, and her new gentleman friend with the same ability, it might actually get a little weird. Ok, so a lot weird. All joking aside, this a story about sex and sexytimes, and Fraction and Zdarsky have a refreshingly open approach to the matter, so consider yourself warned. Just a heads up, there are some potentially NSFW images below the jump.
Issue one was an introduction to Suzie and her orgasmic time-stopping abilities. This issue takes place mostly as pillowtalk in what Suzie calls “The Quiet” and Jon calls “Cumworld” as he tells her his story. It’s a familiar one: a young man, curious about sex and masturbation and all those things that adults do that kids aren’t supposed to know about. In the days before easy Internet porn, he finally manages to get his hands on a hard copy (see what I did there?) and discovers not only the joy of orgasms, but that time stops until he’s ready to go again. Naturally, he uses his newfound power to freeze time and use the local sex shop as his own personal lending library. He quickly learned it wasn’t the porn that he loved, it was the getting away with things when time was frozen. This is probably what led to him convince Suzie they should grab a quickie in the bathroom of the bank and then rob the place. Someone is there trying to stop them, but these aren’t ordinary cops.
From concept to execution, I love everything about this book. I love that Fraction has taken that feeling that the world is standing still when you are having an orgasm and applied it literally to these characters. There’s a very shamanistic, ritual magic feeling to the story that, while certainly mysterious, is in no way dark. Fraction handles it with his delightful dialogue that is not just funny, it’s funny in the way my friends and I are funny. It’s a kind of funny that is believable, relateable, clever, and weird. The best example is Suzie and Jon as they discuss Jon’s first pornstar crush, Jazmine St. Cocaine.
Y’all can just call me “Shelby DeQuaalude-Handjob” from now on, because it’s just not going to get any better than that.
As much as I love Fraction’s brand of humor, I love even more that he’s applied it to the topic of sex. I was so impressed in issue one with the way he handled Suzie talking about masturbation. She’s so straightforward about it; she’s not crass, but she doesn’t hold back, either. In a world where sex and masturbation are frequently taboo, and women’s sexual appetites are often seen as mysterious, dangerous, or non-existent (in comparison to men’s, anyway), this is a refreshing approach. The same can be said of Jon’s story; the most important thing about it to me is there’s no shame in his story. Some embarrassment, sure; when you’re a kid, sex is embarrassing, and talking about that embarrassment as an adult can also be embarrassing. But through Fraction, neither of these characters feel any shame about sex, and I think that makes this book special and important.
Zdarsky, too, is a big part of what makes this book special. His style is cartoonish without being buffoonish, and I love the frozen time effects he uses. He’s a great match for Fraction, humor-wise, as well. There’s a scene from Jon’s past, when he unfortunately figured out just how long time was stopped and was literally caught with his pants down in the middle of the sex shop. Zdarsky makes that already funny situation hilarious with his diagram of Jon’s escape.
First of all, this is a huge, awesome sex shop. A recliner with a dildo attached? A vagina rug? Membership benefits? Hell, I’d shop there. Secondly, the board-game style escape path with it’s loops and leaps highlights the absurdity of the situation, and again mitigates any shame that Jon could have been feeling. It was wrong for him to be in there because he wasn’t old enough and was in his underwear, not because there’s something wrong with sex and sex shops themselves.
What’s really fascinating to me about this title is the different ways Suzie and Jon react to this bizarre shared experience. As I mentioned in my recap, Suzie calls it “The Quiet.” She had her first orgasm in the tub, where she’d leave the water on and go underwater to escape the sound of her mother crying over the loss of her husband. For Suzie, The Quiet was an inward-facing place of contemplation and peace. Jon’s experience, however, has always been very external and boisterous. His experience with Cumworld was being disruptive and getting away with it. I think this reflects a lot of ideas people hold about men and women’s differing views of sex. Not necessarily the reality of those views, mind you, just people’s perceptions of them. Drew, what do you think of this most unusual title? Are you having a sexy good time reading about sexy good times? Are Suzie and Jon really being pursued by Sexy Time Cops?
Drew: You know, I don’t think of myself as a modest person, but the frankness with which this title addresses sex makes me blush. A part of me wanted to call its irreverent treatment of the material “juvenile,” but I realized I only associate open discussions of sex with immaturity because I haven’t had such a discussion since I was much younger. It’s somehow “mature” to broach the subject in innuendo or not at all, while actually talking about it is only done by teenagers and R-rated comedies, neither of which have the most enlightened views about sex. I’d be embarrassed at this realization if I didn’t think it’s exactly what Fraction and Zdarsky are going for.
Shelby included the panel of Jon’s escape from Cumworld citing the awesomeness of the space, but it’s also filled with jokes. Zdarsky is immaculately consistent in his layout of Cumworld — which helps make that escape so thrilling — even down to the posters on the wall. Some of these are believable titles for porn parodies (Black to the Pooper, Smokey in the Bandit, Uncle Fuck), but others seem to reflect Jon’s subjectivity (Not the Life that I Anticipated, Girl on Girl on Girl on Girl on Coke, or the sign promising “Everything you need to be happy I guess). (My particular favorites are the titles from the store next to Cumworld, Mrs. Chockbluster’s non-erotic videos & more: Debbie Loves Dallas, Girls Gone Mild, and Anal Queens: Organizing their bookshelves by spine color.)
We never see Jon laughing at any of these things, but the over-the-top mixture of sex, shame, and humor feels distinctively like that of how an adolescent boy relates to sex. Perhaps the most important part of the escape is the way it cribs the plotted path gag directly from Family Circus — the most sexless, childish comic strip in the history of sexless, childish comic strips — because in that moment, Jon is not a worldly expert, or even a jaded, teenaged porn connoisseur; he’s a kid who’s just done something he’s not supposed to.
Fraction makes this taboo safe for us by couching it as the attitude of an unenlightened adolescent, but the point is clear: we’re not much better. Sex is still a private thing we don’t talk about — something we pretend to not even think about — in polite society. All that is to say, Jon’s experiences (and Suzie’s from issue one) feel very relatable to our experiences as adolescents, but they also feel relatable to us now. On the other side of the coin is Jon and Suzie’s budding relationship — one that’s almost exclusively built on this kind of open discussion of their earliest sexual experiences.
That kind of intimacy with one other person is inherent in any sexual relationship, but Jon’s initial request for “a shred of modesty” at the start of his story is entirely understandable. Sex is somehow even taboo to talk about with the person you’re having sex with. Most relationships get over that discomfort — either by necessity or desire — and this issue rather beautifully guides Jon and Suzie through that tricky bit of navigation.
I don’t mean to overstate Fraction and Zdarsky’s goals with this series; for all of the refreshing openness about sex, this series is apparently about a couple of super powered people who decide to use their powers to commit crime. I’m certainly intrigued by the “Sexy Time Cops” (or STCs) — do they also have this power? Do they need to orgasm simultaneously with Jon and Suzie in order to enter the Quiet/Cumworld with them? — but I think I’m actually more interested in what got Jon and Suzie to this point. There are hints that Jon might abuse his power to do things that are wrong, but they both seem like relatively well-adjusted people. In the flash-forwad, Suzie mentions something about her dad and Jon’s job, which means we have a few more wrinkles to uncover before we can really understand what’s going on there.
What a great series. I’ve had fun explaining the premise to people, but it’s the execution that really stands out. Fraction and Zdarsky have crafted two unique, believable characters — enough to make anyone return to this title — but have also hinted at a much bigger world just on the periphery of our current focus. Some of the highest praise I can offer a comic is that it’s unlike other comics on the market, but this is unlike any comic I’ve ever read. It’s a singular experience, and one that I’d highly recommend.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?