Today, Patrick and Ryan are discussing Sex Criminals 10, originally released January 28th, 2015.
Patrick: I think we’re slowly starting to emerge on the other side of the age of the anti-hero: when your Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites and Don Drapers were the coolest guys on TV. If there’s one thing these guys all have in common — other than your suspicion that you couldn’t be friends with them in real life — it’s that they all know what they want. The means and methods by which they achieve their goals can be questionable, but as long as they continue to express an honest desire, the audience never goes away. It’s strong, and somehow morally correct. Even when their worlds are crashing down around them, we have faith in the anti-hero’s unwavering need to get what they want. So where does that leave us with characters that don’t know or can’t articulate what they want? That’s a relatable trait, probably more relatable than any of us would like to admit.
I’m talking about Jon, of course. He’s been in therapy with his new doctor for a while, and doesn’t seem to be making too much progress. The problem he’s run into — and it’s a problem that anyone battling with depression will recognize — is that he’s become accepting of his unhappiness. This takes the form of a black cube in Jon’s fantasies. The cube is featureless, but he always approaches it completely naked, and awkwardly erect.
Jon tries to express himself few times to his therapist, a few times to Suzie, but the worlds always get garbled, transformed into nonsense questions and statements like “can sex make you a bad person” and “I won therapy.” What makes it so hard for the reader is that we are otherwise surrounded by strong, assertive characters that know exactly what they want.
Let’s do a quick round-about and check in on all those everyones. There’s Dr. Robert Rainbow, whose heartwarming tale of why he became an OB/GYN has a clear trajectory through tragedy to an achievable happy ending. The dude started off in pediatric oncology (my girlfriend’s aunt worked in pediatric oncology, it’s objectively the saddest medical profession) and decided that he wanted to help children into the world instead of helping them out of it. Rainbow’s passion is clear and understandable, but more importantly, it’s a story that makes us love him. As if it’s not enough to fall in love with his confidence ourselves, Rach is hyper-smitten by his honesty, demanding that he put a baby in her right that second.
Or we can turn our focus to
Jazmine St. Cocaine Dr. Ana Kincaid who’s so damn assertive she seem to nullify Jon and Suzie’s abilities to express themselves simply by virtue of being in the room. Ana first asks permission to smoke in her office, and Jon and Suzie can’t seem to get on the same page, but they do end up sharing a speech balloon.
Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky play this moment for laughs, but it is interesting to note how much of Jon’s inability to a) decide what he actually wants; and b) say what he actually wants plays into this gag. And in the end, whatever he wants doesn’t make any difference anyway: Ana was always going to smoke her way through this conversation.
Later in the issue, as Ana unpacks all of her sex toys, Jon’s paralysis strikes again, only this time, Zdarsky makes the connection to the black cube explicit, dropping in a panel of the fantasy into the middle of the page, as though interrupting Jon mid-thought. Suzie even tells him that he just sort of trailed off, reinforcing the idea that this metaphorical cube acts as a literal barrier for him. Of course that’s against the backdrop of a woman who knows exactly what it’s going to take for her to get off. Ana is loaded for bear, with electric clamps, lube, a buttplug, a couple of vibrators, all Jon has is a big empty space. I love how even Jon’s graphic T gets this same idea across.
That’s almost like having a clever shirt that says something, but it’s so far away from actually expressing anything. That shirt, and it’s lack of commitment to any honest statement, is what’s holding Jon back.
Which makes the end of the issue kind of confusing for me. Ryan, what do you make of Jon, at Suzie’s coaxing, blurting out that he likes it when she cups his balls? Is that really the simple shameful desire that Jon needed to express? Or perhaps another placeholder for a bigger issue? I’m willing to believe that it’s a combination of the two, and that Jon doesn’t really have a secret wish that will make him better if only he can articulate it. I think the magic is in the expression. “I like it when you cup my balls” isn’t going to free his mind, but making the choice to express what he’s feeling just might.
Ryan: Placeholder, Patrick. PLACEHOLDER!! While Jon may, indeed, enjoy the corporeal pleasures of having his balls cupped (I wouldn’t blame him), it seems to me that his interrupted proclamation ties directly to his conversation with his Marc Meron-esque therapist:
It’s love, Patrick. Jon displays the same kind of post-post-modern angst that many feel in our generation: a hyper-awareness of their emotional processes and subsequent over-scrutinizing of feelings which can — much to Patrick’s point — paralyze one’s ability to take action. You should understand, noble reader, if you have ever let your brain talk you in circles with questions such as: What’s the point unless I can see myself marrying him? Could I love someone who still plays Magic: The Gathering? Do I deserve how much this person cares about me after how I ended my last relationship? Can it be true love if I met her on Tinder?
Furthermore, the National Comorbidity Survey, reports that 51-58% of those with serious depression also suffer from lifetime anxiety. The co-morbidity (cool word) between these two disorders often occurs with alcohol and drug dependence, and we all recall Jon’s difficult spat with self-medication. Supporting these findings are “two widely accepted clinical colloquialisms”, which I am lifting directly from the Psychology Wiki:
- agitated depression – a state of depression that presents as anxiety and includes akathisia, suicide, insomnia (not early morning wakefulness), nonclinical (meaning “doesn’t meet the standard for formal diagnosis”) and nonspecific panic, and a general sense of dread.
- akathitic depression – a state of depression that presents as anxiety or suicidality and includes akathisia but does not include symptoms of panic.
While Jon may not fit snugly into either of these categories of depression, and without forgetting that most of these labels are very limited and theoretical, we have seen our well-read actor, Jon, attempt to function through several of these symptoms, but still stop short of expressing his true feeling to Suzie.
Take this sequence which occurred before the orgasm experiment at the end of the issue for example:
Despite how supportive Suze is in the park, we know from the scene in Ms. Kincaid’s office that there is still tension between Suzie and Jon. However, how do we explain Jon awake, pill bottle adjacent, rubbing one out in the hotel bathroom alone while his darling lays just a room away? Is this stress over the impeding experiment, insomnia, or him grasping for the feeling he says he cherishes when he climaxes?
Depression obviously plays a huge role in this issue, as seen by the recurring visual motif of the obsidian cube at the end of the spa (brothel?) hallway. However, Fraction and Zdarsky still keep the plot moving with some interesting developments which I am eager to see play out, namely what happens now that Jon, Kincaid, and Suzie are all in The Quiet together, and what nefarious, unlawful schemes the Sex Police will enact next. Until next issue, we are left with only two options: stick to whatever routine keeps you happy and sane, and keep brimping.
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?