by Ryan Desaulniers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
[He] felt he had to choose between being a failure and being a fake
Because going against our natural inclinations can make us feel like impostors, we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable.
Herminia Ibarra, The Authenticity Paradox
“Authenticity” is a big, nebulous word. I normally encounter the concept in the realm of art — whether it be performance or otherwise — as an indicator of a work’s sincerity or the artist’s commitment to an original, unique vision, but there’s no rubric or scale to truly measure these values. The same can be said about authenticity in one’s personal life. How can one accurately and honestly gauge whether their actions or behaviors come from one’s natural, earnest inclinations when any given person, on their journey through life, undergoes so much change due to a litany of reasons? At what point can the quest for authenticity become a detriment to further development instead of being a welcome pillar of deeply-held tenants? Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals 23 reads as a very busy issue, featuring an array of close-ups on the characters of the series, and these moments succeed in showing the struggle for authenticity, though these moments occur within a messy-feeling broader plot.
Let’s start with Jon, who opens the issue back in the Red Cube (Box?) sex/lifestyle club which he attends with his roommate/sex buddy Polly. And he’s…not really feeling it, you know? Since he and Suzie broke up, Jon’s been chasing the idea of a happily non-monogamous life which might be his concept of what his “best life” sans Suzie might be, but his alcohol consumption, days wasted in bed on his phone trying to spike his dopamine levels, and his crusade against Badal, Kegel Face, and the rest of the Sex Police indicate that this Jon might be using these trappings as a pressure bandage on the wound that is his breakup.
While at the club, Jon spies one of his cum compatriots, Dr. Ana Kinkaid.
Zdarsky is so great at these dialogue-free moments. Ana sees Jon, sees Jon seeing her, and offers up that little shrug from the sex swing, as if to say, “Hey, man. We all cope somehow.” And coping is the word for it. While I’ll always love Ana’s unapologetic sex-positivity, this particular romp with strangers comes from her running away from the tedious pains of relationship management with Jon’s (former) therapist. She retreats to anonymous sex — what she perceives as her “authentic” self — instead of confronting the rising tide of issues with her beau.
As those characters resist change, Suzie finds herself on the opposite side of the spectrum. She has worked hard to try to change her natural, authentic self into one who can date that super lame guy who we all hate and move on from Jon, but it’s not quite working. I love the scene of Suzie and her boyfriend at the art exhibit; it is by far my favorite in the issue.
As the two look at an art installation featuring bugs petrified in amber and in flagrante delicto doing bug sex, Suzie and and audience again encounter this idea of authenticity. The guy (whose name I refuse to learn because he sucks) insists on trying to assign a higher meaning to the “art”, going so far as to incite Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, solely because the “art” is popular. The art itself insists that it makes a statement whether it does or not, and the creative team shows us Van Gogh’s Starry Night as the counterpoint: a piece with vision and weight and authenticity. Here, she has her epiphany.
It’s the entire issue rolled into one moment. The “a-ha!” moment. Suzie recognizes her departure from her authenticity. What that means going further, only Fraction and Zdarsky know. Maybe Suzie’s revelation can help our other characters find the strength and self-awareness to reconnect with their authentic selves and move out of their own comfort zones. But that shit’s hard. Like I said, it’s a heck of a nebulous word.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?