SEX CRIMINALS #23/ Writer: Matt Fraction / Artist: Chip Zdarsky / Colourist: Becka Kinzie / Publisher: Image Comics/ April 04, 2018
Things have taken a turn. The story is moving away from sex as a driving force and looking at it as background noise- and in turn, how this affects everyone’s relationship to sex and to pleasure in particular.
In my review of issue #21 I said that it was remarkable how easily the series managed to blend comedy with fun, silly, but above all safe sex- I mean, consenting, sane sex. It’s wild, sure, but at no point am I worried for the protagonists. All parties know what their hangs ups are, what their needs are and embrace them. It’s what gives them power, literally.
But we’ve hit a point where the sex isn’t… as consequence free as it once was. That’s not to say consent has become an issue- thank Christ. What’s being addressed now is sex as a crutch. Sex being used as an unhealthy coping mechanism and the imagery of sex becoming so ubiquitous that it ceases to have all meaning.
Both Jon and Suzanne have begun to come to the same conclusions about how they see sex and pleasure, but have traveled vastly different paths. What used to make them feel alive and powerful, now feels a little like going through the motions. None of it feels brave or different any more. Jon wanders aimlessly round an orgy while Suzanne stares at the same dull sex related themes in modern art and nothing works any more.
Jon has tried to go back to his adolescent indulgence in sex in order to get back at the all powerful sex weirdos who made him and Suzanne go on the run; whilst Suzanne has tried her hardest to be normal, to confront her feelings and to follow them where they may lead. Around them, we see the rest of the cast all beginning to feel the same hollowness surrounding their interest in sex begin to seep in. They are all miserable, but only our protagonists are reaching an epiphany.
This is a bold direction for a series about how weird sex is and it’s hitting me in the feels. I know these feelings all too well, I suspect a lot of us do. We have all tried to find comfort in healthy things that, through repetition, become very unhealthy when we use them as security blankets. For me it has been social media and fandom as a way of avoiding my anxiety about my day job and for the characters in Sex Criminals it’s all sorts of things from trauma, unfulfilling lives, mental illness and fraught family relationships.
Yes, this is still the same series that had the dick golems, astral projection, time stopping and sentient magical girl jizz. Don’t worry, there’s still some weird sex powers as we get a better look at our main villain and there’s visual clues that might be linked to a recurring dream from Jon’s past. It’s ticking along nicely in the background, but that’s not what has stood out about these last few issues.
The writing has lulled to a tired, numb place that feels so true to those of us who live with brains that hate us. Fraction has famously tackled depression with such deft in Hawkeye and he brings it here as well. There are still fun gags and absurdist dialogue, but it only serves to emphasis the ennui. Hell, there’s long stretches of silence, interrupted by a flurry of conversation, then more silence.
To bring this home, Zdarsky’s art has become a lot more sedate, with more blank spaces and repeating panels to stretch out just how much nothing is happening and, once again, embrace that emptiness. There’s less dynamic colour which serves to compliment this theme nicely. In any other comic, this would be dull as all hell; but given just how much has gone down in Sex Criminals up until now, it’s a noticeable change of pace and shows just how important this particular part of the story is.
I want to talk about some of the just pitch perfect moments that have elevated this series once again, but I also don’t want to give them away; so I’ll simply say the last shot of this issue in particular is iconic.
I just want to emphasize this- not much happens, yet so much is happening. This is heartbreaking, yet uncomfortably familiar. It’s a difficult read, but I mean that in the best way. Please go read this. You’ll thank me later.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
I’m a thirty something British nerd-mum and wannabe author, fueled by tea, poor decision making and a need to be distracted. Cursed to watch favourite characters die and ships sink.