Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #108: Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 by Fraction & Zdarsky

Comics, more than any other medium -- yes, even the movies -- are great at the One Big Idea story. And the more visual and striking the idea the better. One man dresses as a bat to fight crime. Another draws his family's history and the darkest part of the 20th century as an allegory with animal heads. A kid's stuffed tiger comes alive to have adventures with him -- but only when they're alone. If you can think it, it can be a comic -- the only special effects needed are paper, ink, color, and imagination.

Those ideas can be pretty baroque, these days, after around a century of men in tights and domestic squabbles and teenage hijinks and cute kids -- the baseline has been set, and creators can bounce off from it in any direction. That's my theory about Sex Criminals, at least, which is somewhere in the loose territory defined by superheroes, crime stories, romance, and wild talents.

Suzie has a surprising ability: time stops all around her when she orgasms. Until the first time she had sex, she wasn't 100% sure that was weird -- who doesn't assume that her experiences are normal? But it is weird, and she came to get used to The Quiet, as she called it, as she grew up and got a job as a librarian.

Until she met Jon, who can do the very same thing. Luckily, their first encounter led to simultaneous orgasms -- or maybe this ability is a bit more elastic than that, but it looks pretty simultaneous -- and they each realized what they'd found. Doubly luckily, they like each other even aside from sharing that power, and they start to tell each other their stories and experiment with their abilities.

So much for Sex. The Criminals part is more complicated, and gets into the ways the worldbuilding isn't quite as solid. Suzy is a librarian, but that library is going to be knocked down and taken over by a bank. Oddly, the library doesn't seem to be a government function, but some private business, a rogue branch of Mudie's that fell through a timeslip. It doesn't have the problems of a government branch: lack of funding, opposition from politicians, bad leadership. And it can't solve its problems the way a government library could -- you don't see local banks evicting libraries very often, or their few librarians squirreling away the books in their apartments to save them.

All that is to say: Suzie needs a lot of money to save the library. Jon works at the big bank in town -- an unnamed, probably medium-sized town, situated nowhere in particular -- and already has anger issues, so he determines that they should steal the money from the bank that they need to pay back. It's elegant, certainly, but it ignores a lot of issues -- firstly, wouldn't the bank be surprised and suspicious when the nearly-insolvent library suddenly pays off its building loan?

Anyway, they start robbing banks, And they start attracting attention. And they have never considered that they discovered each other serendipitously -- in what seems to be their early twenties -- which implies that they're not alone. And that's how they become Sex Criminals.

Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick collects the first five issues of this ongoing series, written by current hot Marvel writer Matt Fraction and drawn by Chip Zdarsky. The story is not complete here, not by a long shot. But it's a good beginning, and Suzie is an engaging, wonderful character -- and Fraction was very smart to focus on her, since that makes this more the story of a woman's wants and needs and loves, when it could so easily have gotten silly or self-parodic or squickily male-fantasy-fulfillment. (See the movie Cashback for a related idea that skates much closer to the black hole of creepiness.) 

Sex Criminals has gotten a lot of attention, because it is smart and funny and feels deeply true about this one young woman's voice and life and desire. Zdarsky's art has a solid indy look to it, full of figures with realistic proportions and regular body language. (Which is exceedingly rare these days, in any comic book about people who can do strange things.) And Fraction tells this story in a compellingly gnarly way, having Suzie address the reader directly and moving among levels of flashback seamlessly to merge Suzie's childhood, teen years, and time with Jon. It's too early to say where the story is going, but, from the chunk we have so far, it's exciting and engaging and sexy in all of the best ways. And who doesn't want more comics about fun, happy, fulfilling sex?

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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