Book Review

Sex Criminals Volume I by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

A+

Title: Sex Criminals
Author: Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction Fraction
Publication Info: Image Comics 2013
ISBN: 0985301436
Genre: Comic

Book Sex Criminals Vol 1 Oooh I love it when I find something totally wonderful and I get to talk about it! 

Sex Criminals is a comic book series that is so great that I want to run around the streets yelling about how good it is.

Sex Criminals is about two people, Suzie and John, who have an interesting superpower – they can stop time, but only for short time immediately following an orgasm.  John suggests that they use their powers for Robin Hood style crime.  Specifically, they will rob a bank of exactly the amount of money needed to save a local library from foreclosure.  “It’s a victimless crime!” John declares.  “I’m pretty sure in this scenario the victim is the bank”, replies Suzie.  Things seem to be getting very weird during this bank heist operation and I don’t know what’s going on but it looks exciting!  And weird!

So let’s get this out of the way – Sex Criminals is not so much about robbing banks as it’s about sexuality, and there is a lot of sex. 

As it says on the back of Issue #1: 

“For mature readers, DUH!  Don’t sell this to a kid!  What are you, nuts?  Seriously!” 

And if that’s not enough of a disclaimer for you, Issue #2 says,

“For mature readers, DUH!  There’s like, an entire scene that takes place in a sex shoppe”. 

So there you go, you’ve been warned.  But it feels like real people talking very honestly about real stuff.  It doesn’t feel pornographic (except for the actual porn  – but that’s not presented so much in a titillating way as in a funny way).

This series is ribald and funny and thoughtful and moving.  The first issue is the coming of age story of Suzie, told by an adult Suzie in flashback.  As a young teen, Suzie discovers masturbation, and when she has an orgasm, time stops.  Everything glows in rainbow colors, and it’s quiet and peaceful.  She refers to this time as “The Quiet”.  Unfortunately, when Suzie tries to find out if this is normal, no useful information is forthcoming.  Since so many of us struggled to find good information about sex and sexuality when we were growing up, this part of the story rang especially true. 

In Suzie's backstory, she tries to find out if her time-stopping abilities are normal at school but they won’t teach her anything.  She asks her doctor, “DOCTOR WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU HAVE AN ORGASM I’M ASKING FOR A FRIEND” and he replies, “You fall asleep.  Next to your husband”.  Her mom shames her, and the “Dirty Girls” at school give her a hilarious and wildly gross tour of the bathroom wall chart of sexual positions, each more insane than the last.  Seriously, I just was laughing so hard and at the same time I totally need to bleach my entire brain.  This is by far the grossest part of the series so far and so, so funny in such a gross way!

Eventually Suzie has sex with another person, and time stops for her but not for them.  So she figures she’s alone in the world until she meets John, who, lo and behold, has the same reaction that she does!  Hooray!  His coming of age story (also told in flashback) involves using the time-stopping trick to borrow stuff from the local sex shop.  He loves the porn, being a curious young teen guy, but says:  “The porn wasn’t really the thing.  The porn very quickly wasn’t enough.  It was getting away with shit.  Of course, I didn’t realize that until later”. 

So here’s Suzie and John, two smart, funny people who are clearly soul-mates, not just because they can both stop time, but because they have the same outlook on life, great chemistry, they make each other laugh, they talk all night – and they seem to be able to tell each other anything.  Things are looking good for our couple until they try to rob a bank and the sex time police show up.

This series is honest and funny and sad and crude.  I’m as prudish as anyone who reads romance can possibly be and I loved every single minute of it, whether it was John mixing up the tapes in the sex shop (“Why shouldn’t the discerning viewer of Un Chien Anal-ou experience the no-holds-barred sexual depravity of Tootin’ My Own Horn just once?”) or Suzie taking advantage of The Quiet to scream at her unresponsive mother (so, so sad, you guys) or all the little weird jokes that are buried in the art.  The Sex Shop deserves special attention for hidden jokes, like the text of a poster on the wall behind a bookcase: “Men Fucking Lesbians!  Everyone’s having a horrible time!”

The reason I love this series is that it isn’t just about sex.  It’s about the human experience, and sex as being one part of that.  Suzie and John are excited to meet each other because they have this amazing thing in common, but the ability to stop time isn’t what keeps them up talking all night.  They are excited because they connect – they have physical and emotional intimacy even in the very first rush of infatuation.  Suzie is baffled by her reaction to her first orgasm, but I don’t think she’s really that much more baffled than the rest of us were.  We’ve all had to figure out what’s going on down there, and whether sex is dirty or sacred or something in between.  It’s pretty easy to find out where babies come from but very difficult to find people who you can talk to about sexuality in both mechanical and emotional terms, so we can relate to Suzie and John’s confusion.

When Suzie describes her sex life between her first sexual encounter and meeting John, she says this: 

“Sometimes it felt very real.  Sometimes it felt very silly.  Like a mistake.  Sometimes it felt important and adult.  Some of it was exploratory.  Sometimes it just felt like something to do instead of falling asleep alone.  And sometimes it was entirely forgettable.” 

Well, Sex Criminals doesn’t feel like a mistake and it certainly isn’t forgettable, but I’d say the rest is a pretty nice summary of this complex, fun, silly, mature, romantic series.  With Issue #4, Suzie and John get serious about using The Quiet to rob banks.  Their plan is to use the money to save the local library.  At this point, the series takes a slightly darker turn, as Suzie is clearly way over her head.  She's not cut out for a life of crime and John loves it a little too much.  So it will be interesting to see where this series goes.  You can buy the first five issues collected in Sex Criminals: Volume One, One Weird Trick.  I can't wait to find out where this series is going and what will happen next.  I didn't expect to like this series at all and now if it were a person I would hang a medal on it.  It's the kind of books where I feel jealous of all of you who about to read it for the first time.  Guess that means I'll just have to read it again!

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo.:

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Karen D says:

    I don’t mean to be pedantic but I think there is a typo in the beginning that caused me much confusion. I think you mean they can stop “time,” not “crime.” I puzzled over why people who could stop crime would then commit a crime. Anyway, this is a very interesting setup and I enjoyed your review.

  2. 2
    jimthered says:

    I definitely have to find this book.  Unfortunately, I’ll probably have to go online to find it, because so, so many comic book shops are fearful of stocking any adult material (no matter how segregated from the all-ages section) because of the perception that “comic books are for children” (those folks have never read THE WALKING DEAD, PREACHER, WATCHMEN or SANDMAN, apparently) and carrying anything for adults could get them sued .  (The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has plenty of examples of this.)  It’s also ironic that some of the best-selling pornos are superhero parodies, yet for the aforementioned reason many comic book stores won’t (can’t?) carry them, even though I’m sure there are plenty of comic book fans who would love to see their favorite characters gettin’ it on.

    To quote MONTY PYTHON, Well, I seem to have wandered a bit…

  3. 3
    CarrieS says:

    @Karen D – you are right1 Thanks – I’m fixing it now! 

    @jimtheread – I don’t know about comic book shops, but my local Barnes and Noble has it in-store, so you might try that if you prefer not to shop online.  I got my copy from Amazon.  It’s gotten a lot of buzz so despite the suggestive name it seems to have decent distribution.

  4. 4
    Amanda says:

    I’m so glad you reviewed this Carrie! I’ve been wanting to get it for a while and I trust your judgement.

    Another one I’ve been meaning to try: The Illegitimates. It’s about the illegitimate children of a sexy secret agent. The main character is also a woman of color and a spy!

  5. 5
    Elyse says:

    Thank you Amazon Prime… Totally bought this

  6. 6
    Tabs says:

    I read this last week after hearing you mention it on a recent podcast and my response when I realized I had reached the end was “Nooooooooooooooo!”

    It’s so smart and funny and awkward and seriously bent and just so wonderful.

    Plus, it espouses a love of libraries and librarians! (The heroine is one. And one of her awkward teen flashbacks is of when she fell in love with librarians—not libraries, she already loved them—but librarians in particular.)

  7. 7
    jimthered says:

    I don’t know about comic book shops, but my local Barnes and Noble has it in-store, so you might try that if you prefer not to shop online.

    Thanks for the tip—I got my copy from the “local” Barnes & Noble.  (Sadly, no such luck with WONDER WOMAN UNBOUND, which they don’t even stock in-store, which led me to eBay for that one.)

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