One of the most fun things about issue one of 'Sex Criminals' was the book ending on a note where I had no idea what the rest of the series could be like. It was a tightly written issue, written almost more like a one-shot, so when it ended on the giant tease of things to come it left my brain puzzling on how Matt Fraction could make a whole series out of his premise. Well, issue two has arrived and it looks like that answer is yet to come, but it could matter less as it's a near perfect follow-up to a near perfect first issue. This is exceptional comic booking. It almost feels like a pity to go into any real detail about 'Sex Criminals' as it's something that needs to be experienced as a reader rather than something you get a sloppy picture of from Internet hype. I've been recommending it to my friends with the notation that they should learn as little about it as they can before picking it up, and so far it seems that most of my fellow geeks haven't heard of it to begin with, so a good start.
It's a book about sex, but despite Fraction and Zdarsky's cheeky 'giggle-about-boners' attempts at bathos, it's a really, really wonderful book about sex. It also weaves in isolation, gender, sexual culture, and the general terror of childhood. Issue one dealt with the sexual awakening of a young woman while issue two concerns the sexual awakening of a young man, and the contrast, summed up succinctly in the adolescent names the two characters name their supernatural post-coital intermission from the space-time continuum, is as hilariously insightful as it is tears in the eyes funny. There's a certain empathetic intimacy to Fraction's depiction of young sexual experience, both extremely personal and conversely widely relatable; it's impossible not to compare your own blind gross fumblings in that sticky era of your life when need was at its greatest and was paired with the complete absence of healthy perspectives to rely on.
In the second issue we get much more direct parody of America's bipolar sexual culture, venturing into an adult shop that is wall-to-wall dense with Fraction and Zdarsky's sick fun at the expense of the porn industry, more visually dense with throw-away humor than a panel of 'Transmetropolitan'. Despite the obvious extremes they go to, it rarely feels out-of-place because it's largely no more ridiculous than what is actually available in porno shops. While it does feel like tonal gear shifting, it still seems to tie in to the heart of the book; it isn't that Fraction feels the need to lampshade the sweaty hormonal lewdness of the book out of uncomfortablility with the subject matter but rather out of awareness that we culturally are uncomfortable. We don't take sex very seriously in mainstream fiction, tucking it in the art house or as a motivating factor for college sex comedy protagonists. Fraction is writing a comic very clearly about sex in relation to people and throws the wink-wink in to both recognize the inherit comedy in early sexual experience but also to identify that our shyness is what causes this tragically comedic cycle to continue. Fraction isn't afraid of sex, but it is a book the addresses the fear we have of it.
It's a book I'd love to hear a female perspective on, the male story of the second issue probably more than a little biographical in some parts for its writer. While the world of comic culture finds itself embroiled in debate over gender in comics and on the convention floor, here is a comic that is concerned with gender, is sexually aware, and above all, is deeply human. It's unlikely to start any dialogues in the Batman and Deadpool crowd, but it should. I may not know how Fraction plans to make a whole series out of this, but I can't wait to find out and hopefully soon you will too.
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Chip Zdarsky Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 10/23/13