Many years ago I remember reading an article that ranked the best super hero powers to have. Top among them was The Zack Morris Time Out, in other words, stopping time. Imagine the things you can do with the Zach Morris Time out! This is exactly the situation in which the characters of Sex Criminals find themselves, except, to actually stop time they have to have an orgasm. (This sounds too good to be true.) So what do they do with this new found advantage? Rob banks, of course.
Sex Criminals (Image) is from writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky, and is a funny and interesting, if a bit slow, comic. I’m going to review the first two trade paper backs in this series.
The first book opens provocatively with the two main characters having sex in a bathroom while someone is yelling at them from outside. The rest of the book is spent in flashbacks slowly revealing just how they found themselves in their current, awkward situation.
The first half covers the back story of the female lead, Suzie, the male lead, Jon, and the rules of the powers that they have. Each of them breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the reader and explains what they are seeing and reading as the story goes along. Periodically, the story cuts to a bank heist the two are trying to pull off which is interrupted by a mysterious trio.
Suzie is a smart, late twenty-something underachiever who loves books and has made it her goal to stop a bank from foreclosing on her beloved library. Her lover Jon is also a pretty smart, twenty-something underachiever who still thinks of himself as an actor but works at Bank Corp, the same bank that is trying to foreclose on Suzie’s library. The rest of the book is about what they decided to do with their powers.
Most of the book spends a good long while setting up the characters—nearly their whole life story from the time they discovered sex, learning that they can stop time when they have an orgasm, what they did leading up to the moment when they first had sex with each other and learned that they weren’t alone in the world. All the while, little snippets of their heist are shown but it takes a while for that to come into focus.
The book reads like a script to a comedy movie and most of the jokes land really well. However among all the jokes, sight gags, and sex, is a plot that only gets moving in that last third of the book when Jon hatches a plan to start robbing the all the bank branches from bank corp. These days, banks make for easy villains. In fact, banks have been excellent, unsympathetic villains since Grapes of Wrath.
Viewers looking for a heist drama will be very disappointed. This book doesn’t have all the motifs and tropes that make for a solid heist centered plot. Suzie and Jon’s days of crime are cut short by three other people that can exist in the time stopped universe (which is called The Quiet by Suzie and Cumworld by Jon). These three are aptly named “Sex Police” by the two and the book ends with the duo making a narrow escape from them.
The second book is just as sluggish, but Jon saves the story from grinding to a complete halt by taking matters into his own hands and figuring out who the sex police are. Although the story moves slowly, it does add a bit more drama and laughs, and expands on a few more characters. In fact, there are a few pages in Volume 2 that got me to laugh out loud like an idiot. I can’t remember the last time a comic did that.
Another wrinkle is added to the story when Jon’s teenage porn star crush, Jasmine St. Cocaine, is introduced and can also stop time. Much like with Jon and Suzie in the first book, Jasmine’s whole life story is given to us. Jon and Suzie track her down and learn that not only is she able to stop time with her orgasms, but when she does, she leaves her body and turns into a golden ghost thingy. You’re going to have to see it.
While the pacing of the story is Sex Criminals’ primary weakness, the book’s great strength is how true to life the characters feel. This isn’t a superhero story that features moral heroes trying to be role models for kids. They are just normal people trying to figure out how to live with this incredible ability. It also fearlessly dives into some real adult themes like sex work, porn, modern sexual relationships, bullying, safe sex, and even sexual violence.
The dialogue is sharp and smart, and even though the characters aren’t always reasonable, they are, at least, rational. Jon and Suzie are the heart and soul of the story. They are incredible sympathetic and easy to root for. The supporting cast grows as the story progresses and adds either the voice of reason or comic relief. The art work is fluid and clear. It kind of reminded me of a lot of web comics.
After two trades, it is hard to say where this story is going to go, which makes it tough to review since there isn’t much of a central plot or focus. What I can say is that this inventive, funny and great looking comic has got me hooked and I can’t wait for more.