Typically, on Comic Bastards we talk about a comic on its own as each issue comes out. Understandably so too given how much there is to talk about when it comes to both stellar and not-so-stellar issues. It’s something I really enjoy as it puts us writers in the position of getting into deeper discussion than just the ‘oooooh pretty’ variety. However, I realized that as a result of the distribution gods we somehow managed another instance in which two Matt Fraction titles have been released in the same week. While that’s happened on other occasions, the pairing of Ody-C and Sex Criminals felt pretty significant to me after reading both issues. So first off to get it out of the way, you should buy these two issues. Simply put, you’re crazy if you’re not. Put more verbosely, you are eating-your-Converse hightops-because-it tickles-your soul bonkers. In both comics, Fraction, along with Christian Ward on Ody-C and Chip Zdarsky on Sex Criminals, tells stories that explore the way in which society acculturates people to grossly mistreat women, shame people about sex, and categorize themselves and each other in ways that prove only harmful. What these two comics also have in common is an unapologetic tone that looks right at the patriarchy and says how screwed up it is (Hint: Really #^*$ed). Utilizing a Homeric-inspired meter in Ody-C’s narration, Fraction’s narrator not only provides information vital to the plot, but also critiques the actions of its characters. When the predatory The Specialist sexually assaults He, the comic’s male version of Helen of Troy, things take an unexpected turn when a new ally kills him to which the narrator states in reply ‘You reap what you sow, motherfucker.’ It’s a move away from the narrator’s typically ‘high’ language that shows his the narrator’s her agreement with the action.
Meanwhile, Sex Criminals continues to show just how absurd, fun and silly sex can be. The wonderfully named Robert Rainbow, uncomfortable at his relative lack of sexual experience and kink as compared to his new lover, dreams about being in a group sex situation with her and an increasing number of men. With each panel, the men present become more and more absurd until there’s a giant penis with a penis waiting in line to get his time with Rainbow’s lover. It’s a hilarious page that shows just how anxiety-inducing sex makes us all when we assume that there is some ‘normal’ we ought to be aspiring towards. This quest for ‘normal’ is a major theme of this most recent issue, bookended by perhaps the only fictional lecture from a former porn actress, a lecture that concisely and bitingly critiques how notions of normal sexuality and gender merely exists to maintain heteronormative male culture in power.
For a second, I considered taking an angle on this to talk about how these two titles allow Fraction to explore these issues from two different angles with Sex Criminals allowing Fraction to tap into the humorous and perverse side of sex and sexuality and Ody-C functioning as a more direct allegorical indictment of Western’s society’s long history of dehumanizing women. I recognized though that that’s just a gross over simplification of Fraction’s writing talent, assuming he can only access one aspect of himself whenever working on a project. Time and time again, Sex Criminals has traversed dark spaces whether its main character’s struggle with depression or the way several characters experience shame and insecurity as a result of their particular quirks (or lack of them as in Rainbow’s case). Inveresely, Ody-C has some moments of genuine levity like in #7 when a ragtag group of men explain their desire to escape their paradise simply due to boredom.
Both of these comics reinforce that writing comics is something that I need to do. Matt Fraction makes me proud to be a reader of this medium in a way that few other books though. Collaborating with some of the most fantastic artists in the industry, he shows that some things are worth talking about again and again and again even if each repetition sways the opinion of only one new reader. Sex is awesomely wonderful in all its consensual forms, and boys who rape should all be destroyed. Fraction champions both ideas, and doesn’t ask for forgiveness in extolling them.
Score: 5 out of 5 for both
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist on Sex Criminals: Chip Zdarsky Artist on Ody-C: Christian Ward Publisher: Image Comics Release Date: 9/16/15 Format: Ongoing, Digital/Print