Both well known for their wry sense of humour, writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky’s description of Sex Criminals as a “sex comedy for comics” seems a little broad for their tastes. Upon opening the book, I realised they were wrong. It’s not a sex comedy – at least not in the way they mean, in the 40 Year Old Virgin or Porky’s sense – because it’s a hell of a lot more than that.
High concept pitch: Sex Criminals is about two twenty-somethings with the power to stop time when they orgasm who meet and begin a life of crime. Issue #1 gives us the female lead Suzie’s backstory in the form of flashbacks narrated by her adult version with an endearing pathos and self-awareness that’s to be expected from Fraction’s writing. Teen Suzie uses her blossoming sexuality as an escape from the pain of her dead father, and that’s another clue that “sex comedy” really is a misnomer for this book. It’s definitely got a bunch of funny moments, sure – especially if you look at Zdarsky’s wondrously warped background images and come-faces – but there’s much more of an emotional core than there are belly laughs in this first issue.
There’s a darkness to Suzie’s early years, from her exploitation of sympathetic middle-agers on Hallowe’en to her frozen-time yelling bouts at her alcoholic, widowed mother – but also a deeply felt sense of romance to Suzie and Jon’s first meeting, in which he recites the opening passage of Nabokov’s Lolita and the party they’re at slowly falls away to leave them alone on a couch in a white void. Zdarsky’s art is incredibly cinematic, effectively conveying the stoppage of time in an obviously difficult medium to do so and bringing something new to almost every page in terms of layout and panel allocation. Maybe there’ll be more actual comedy once the plot properly kicks in, but for now Sex Criminals is just a romantic, charming, insane story about glowing penises and time travel.
Which I’m just fine with.