Literacy 2021: Book 16: Sex Criminals

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s comic series about people whose orgasms stop time.

Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

30 issue comic series (with a finale issue 69) collected in 6 compilations (or, recently, 3 larger editions).

A woman whose orgasms have the power to stop time happens to meet a man with the same ability. They decide to use their power to rob banks.

Smart, mature, and respectful, while still frequently being laugh-out-loud funny. Pretty good balance between high-brow and low-brow, and often jumps seamlessly between the two. Frequently resists the story’s natural inclination to go towards action or violence, instead having characters resolve conflicts by talking to each other. Casually breaks the fourth wall from start to finish, and it somehow works more often than you’d expect. Great sound effects throughout. Does a good job of capturing what the honeymoon/infatuation stage of a relationship feels like, without being overly twee. Suzie and Jon are genuinely charming, and it’s easy to get invested in their relationship. One extended fourth-wall-breaking sequence could’ve been insufferable if not for increasingly over-the-top jokes depicting Zdarsky as a comics superstar. The alternate cover with Fraction & Zdarsky in a family portrait is an all-time classic.

Extremely pleased with itself. A little too much of the fourth-wall breaking is clever enough to work (e.g. speech balloons so full of text that they’re crowding out all the people in the panel), but still comes across as annoyingly defensive. The supposedly “highbrow” stuff feels really over-written, and lampshading it doesn’t help much. Gets weaker the longer it goes on โ€” it’d be unfair to expect a series that ran for seven years to keep up the potential energy of its first issues, but man, reading it all at once really makes it feel as if it’s crawling up its own ass. Resolution felt extremely anti-climactic (ironically). Has extended parodies of other comics that could’ve worked as gags, but feel obtuse when stretched out over a full page or even an entire issue. Even as someone who likes Queen, I don’t see the point in spending an entire half of a comic just devoted to a character singing a song.

A Bigger Con
Every one of the male/female relationships has a weird dynamic: the women are generally treated as blameless, and everything that goes wrong with the relationship is treated as the man’s fault. There’s no sense of partnership; when there’s any conflict, the woman is free to be as caustic as she wants, and it’s up to the man to recognize and acknowledge what he’s done wrong. Suzie doesn’t appreciably change over the course of the series; she learns more about herself, but I get no sense that she’s felt any obligation to change her behavior at all.

Smart, clever, genuinely funny, and deservedly one of the classic comic series of the 2010s. I just think its defensiveness about being too “on the nose,” its weird relationship dynamics, and its somewhat lackluster conclusion kept me from being completely satisfied.