Sex Criminals six is a radical shift in tone from the usual Billy Wilder-esque sexual romp that Fraction and Zdarsky have been showing up with every month. In the way that the first issue with Suzie was intensely personal and talked a lot about her discovery of who she was, and how she and her sexuality fit into the world, this issue focuses on Jon and the loss of who he is because of sacrifices he has to make for their relationship. In the immediate aftermath of last issue, Jon and Suzie retreat to their home with a new device that lets them find out when and where people are who are entering the Quiet/Cumworld. Suzie recently became aware of Jon’s mental health issues, and they begin a slow process of drifting apart. It’s not a breakup, but it is that phase in a relationship where all of a sudden neither of you are firing on all cylinders. You’re not meshing like you used to. For a person like Jon, that kind of not-meshing can, and often does, lead to a slippery slope of self-doubt and anger. Sex Criminals is going to some dark places, y’all. Buckle up.
I’m going to say at this point that I’m probably not going to be able to review this issue super objectively, because Jon and I have a number of the same mental afflictions. Having said that, this issue was a gut punch of a comic book. There are those that will say comic books are the realms of superheroes and flights of fancy, not fit for actual cathartic literature. To those people, I say first, “go fuck yourself and the PhD program you rode in on,” and second, “while you may be right, read this comic and tell me you’re not intensely involved in what’s happening.” It’s not trying to be Ulysses, but this comic means something. And since most of it is about sexual discovery or how relationships work in this world, they’re very basic human things that everyone’s had to deal with. They make the universal specific, which makes it universal again.
There’s the idea of criticism as being the answering of three questions: 1) What was the artist trying to do? 2) Did they do it well? and 3) Was it worth doing? I’m not going to sit here and say we’ve never read a story about a white dude who is going through a break up and also has some mental/existential/dissociative tendencies, because we have. We’ve read a thousand. But this one really nails the feeling of the thing. These are two artists who are on the same... I don’t know, harmonic vibration with each other that they’re turning out gold like this every month. It’s certainly not to be missed.
There are a few beats in this book that didn’t read well to me, but on looking through it again, it seems like they’re designed to be that way. Our narrator, Jon, is pretty severely unreliable, compared to Suzy. He’s off meds to try and self-regulate, but he’s not regulating, he’s just spiraling, and the way he’s viewing the world is going with it. The fact that Fraction and Zdarsky do all this while adhering to a strict 4x4 grid is consistently impressive.
The laughs in this issue are, as always, to be found in the letter column. If the title of each page doesn’t make you burst out laughing, you might be a dead person. You might be an actual corpse. And I’m just gonna say this: Chip Zdarsky (or should I say Respected Canadian Newspaperman Steve Murray) gets top-notch fan art.
This is an unusual issue for Sex Criminals, but it is and always has been an unusual book. I’m thoroughly excited to see where they take this in the next few months, and hopefully we’re not all too emotionally shattered at the end to soldier on.
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Chip Zdarsky Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 6/18/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital