In the time since I last picked up an issue of Sex Criminals, my feelings toward the series seemed to change. With distance — and, perhaps, with lack of retention — I approached Sex Criminals #12 with some apprehension. I had swallowed the first eleven issues in one huge gulp (sorry… poor choice of phrase… this comic is a little infectious), and I had enjoyed them quite a bit. But the feeling had started to sink in over subsequent weeks that maybe Sex Criminals is really not the mature, adult comedy I initially treated it as. Maybe it’s just the comic book equivalent of that horrible guy you know who likes the brag about all the sex he has — an insecure and ultimately juvenile version of what it means to be an adult.
Basically, I thought that my original feelings about Sex Criminals had been wrong. But catch your breath, folks, because I’m here to assure you I’m not going to suddenly start hating on Fraction’s and Zdarsky’s cult-favorite series. Long story short: I was wrong about how wrong I was. But it took a little more than reading issue #12 to remind me of that because, to be honest, issue #12 is not the strongest entry to the series.
Don’t get me wrong, issue #12 has its strengths. The creeping feeling I had started to get over the past couple weeks was that maybe Sex Criminals was actually kind of… stupid. And that’s a point where I can confidently say I’m not wrong, and I don’t know that Fraction and Zdarsky would necessarily disagree with me. There’s a lot about Sex Criminals that’s juvenile — brazenly so. Glowing manga-inspired angels made from cum with a monstrous tentacled demon that lives in its panties? That’s stupid. Potato sack races around porn stores in vagina-shaped sleeping bags? Also stupid. Kegelface? Do I even need to go there?
But giving characters the ability to stop time during an orgasm as a means to explore themes of connection and loneliness? Well, actually that’s not a stupid idea. In fact, it’s just such an idea that makes genre fiction so wonderful in the first place. It’s not the premise of the series itself that’s juvenile, it’s its trappings and its willingness to go anywhere for the sake of a laugh that are. Fraction and Zdarsky are smart guys, and they anchor the ludicrous main trajectory of the story (Jon and Suzie’s attempts to escape from Doug D. Douglas’s “weird cum angel”) by cutting back and forth to Ana Kincaid giving a class about what has historically been considered “normal” and “abnormal” when it comes to human sexuality, and how this dichotomy has been used to marginalize and degrade people (women in particular). The speech reflects major themes of Sex Criminal’s overall story, namely that no one experiences sexuality in quite the way that anyone else does. But it also serves to highlight more specifically the growing disparities between even those that can enter The Quiet/Cumworld. This is a group of people who believed they were completely alone. They eventually discovered that there were people just like them — that they are not so alone. But now they’re starting to realize that maybe their comrades in The Quiet/Cumworld are not as similar as they initially thought. Whenever something like this happens, some of that original loneliness and isolation is bound to creep back in, and we’re starting to see that in Sex Criminals with Suzie. Why doesn’t she possess any particular powers outside of her ability to stop time? Why don’t her genitals glow? Why can’t she create a “weird cum angel,” or do anything unique to her?
Those are questions left for further down the road because, like the previous issue, Sex Criminals #12 relies more heavily on serialization than the series did when it began. All of its characters are present and accounted for, but their scenes are quick, their stories incomplete, and the issue is over in a flash. Because of this, when taken on its own, Sex Criminals #12 doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of emotional weight behind it. Sure, its thematic elements are strong, but I never believe that Jon and Suzie are in any kind of danger from the weird cum angel (this just isn’t that kind of series). And a scene meant to explore Rainbow’s insecurity at his lack of experience in his relationship with Rach falls a little flat emotionally because of the completely over-the-top way the idea is presented. The closest we get is another scene exploring Kegelface’s ho-hum, joyless second life as a wife and mother — the fact that she is just so ordinary and uninteresting by day is by far the most fascinating thing about her. But at this point we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of her character.
After I read issue #12, I returned to some of the issues of Sex Criminals during its first and second arcs, and in doing so I started to erase the doubts I’d been having. This series’ greatest asset is its ability to seemingly reach inside you and lay bare your innermost feelings. Yes, it makes silly sex jokes, and sometimes seems quite sure that it is much cooler than you, but the way it discusses sex, life, and anxiety can often be painfully authentic. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of that on display in issue #12 alone as it seems the series is now relying on the strength of the arc more so than the separate issues. Fans of the series definitely should not miss it, but I have a feeling that those who are waiting for the trade might have a better time of it.
Sex Criminals #12
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Chip Zdarsky
Published by Image Comics
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Luke Dorian Blackwood lives and writes in and around Ithaca, NY. In his youth, he was obsessed with silent cinema, Leo Tolstoy, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle. These days he by far prefers superhero comics and movies with ‘splosions, leading some to speculate that he’s a psychological Benjamin Button. Which is fine. He’s much happier now.