We are used to comics containing metaphorical representations of puberty. With the X-Men it is no coincidence that the mutant powers kick in when the characters reach puberty. There’s no better metaphor for the inexplicable changes the body partakes during puberty than to suddenly start shooting lasers out of your eyes. Let’s not forget Rogue’s power. Her near killing of a boy when acting on the urges that come from puberty is the perfect metaphor for promiscuity. Elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, we have Spider-Man. He is doing stuff in his room that he doesn’t want his Aunt May to discover. And, I think it’s pretty obvious what Spidey’s webbing is a metaphor for. With Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals the puberty metaphor is completely stripped away although new metaphors about sex come to the fore.
Sex Criminals is currently done with its first story arc after five issues. Within these these five issues Fraction has slowed time to a crawl (given what we’re about to discuss I wonder if this was intentional) with quite the decompression story-telling. About 30 minutes of present-day story occurs during these five issues because Fraction spends a lot of time in flashbacks. The first issue deal with Suzie and how she discovers her power. When she orgasms, time literally stops (hence my thought it goes along with the decompressed storytelling). Although I opened this article speaking about how Sex Criminals does not rely on metaphors to explore puberty, I do like the metaphor of time stopping since that is often a phrase used to describe orgasms.
What makes the story work so well and what made me want to keep reading Sex Criminals is the way Suzie discovers her powers as well as what she does next. After Suzie’s father is murdered her home life falls apart. One day she decides to try out some self-love and when she climaxes, time freezes. True to the experiences of most early millennials (those of us who came of age before the World Wide Web did), no one has ever discussed this with her. Sex ed has mostly been limited to STDs and pregnancy scares. What to do with the urges that appear with puberty and aren’t supposed to be acted upon until marriage is an exercise left to the reader, as they say in textbooks. So Suzie does the only thing she can think of – she confronts the “dirty girls” and asks them what’s up with time freezing when one orgasms? Their looks of confusion leave Suzie with a deep feeling of isolation. Her attempts to ask her gynecologist and to search at the library are also fruitless. This is where Sex Criminals truly excels.
What could better encapsulate the feelings of puberty than isolation and fear of asking questions for seeming to be the only one who has the experiences you’re having? In Suzie’s case, this is more true than it is for most, but it’s certainly still more realistic than feeling isolated because of super powers. Thinking back to my own experiences, it was a weird confluence of unhelpful sex education, unhelpful church advice, unhelpful medical texts (I had a hard time trying to research my way into figuring out what oral sex was), and a reluctance to discuss certain things with my parents – who were more open to discussion than most. As Jon mentions in the second issue, the Internet didn’t quite offer up the cornucopia of information that it does today. I’m not even sure things are better today because the pendulum has swung so wildly in the other direction. I’ve heard from those half a generation younger than me that it can be scary to find out about crazy fetishes before finding out about good, old-fashioned missionary-style sex. (At least when it comes to heterosexual couples)
The Quiet, as Suzie calls it when time is frozen, also serves to provide a good metaphor for the solemnity of random sex. It is heartbreaking, in the way that a good writer can get you to care about fictional characters, to read about the time when Suzie loses her virginity. She was hoping that, perhaps, things would be different when she had sex. Perhaps it would turn out that others also entered the quiet, but no one talked about it. Instead, she’s left feeling even more alone than ever instead of enjoying the feelings of climax and/or the feelings of togetherness that can come with a relationship. Just like people say you should save yourself for THE ONE, Suzie has yet to find THE ONE….at least until the end of the first issue.
The second issue focuses on Jon, the other person able to enter The Quiet. While Suzie has mostly focused on using The Quiet as a way to find some space away from the hectic world and her personal and family problems, Jon uses the frozen time to play pranks and buy porn he was too young to buy. In a way, they represent the couple that hooks up too quickly based on the one thing they have in common. While we are initially happy that Suzie and Jon have found each other (and no longer have to feel alone or like freaks), it becomes increasingly clear that just because they’re both able to freeze time during sex, doesn’t mean that they are necessarily perfect for each other.
As Fraction uses their time together exploring the power as a way to show us the limits and boundaries of their power, we slowly catch up to why we find them robbing a bank as the first issue opens. To sum it up, the rationale seems to be a combination of the reasoning behind the scam in Office Space, the fact that the Suzie’s dad was working at the bank when he died, and the general feeling in this day and age that banks have screwed us over so many times that they deserve to be screwed over. It’s a sentiment as old in America as the 1800s and was particularly strengthened in the 1930s and 2008-present. The bank is going to be all evil and foreclose on the library where Suzie works so Jon figures they should steal the money and then use it to pay back the bank. There are a lot of potential gotchas here, but I don’t think our little Bonnie and Clyde have thought things through in the heat of finding each other and testing their powers.
On its own, this could have been a pretty fascinating story. They could have gotten away with the first part only to come across the same problems as mafias and others that have too much illicit cash coming in – how do you spend it in a non-obvious way. They could have become corrupted and bold and forgotten the true reason behind robbing the bank as they went after ever-larger prizes. Matt Fraction could have done all of these things and I would have love the story and continued to want to read it. But Matt Fraction is not your typical writer, so, instead we are introduced to the fact that the world of Sex Criminals is a bit like the world of Chew – if all the powers in Chew were a secret. We find out there is a character, known as Kegelface, who is able to enter The Quiet by doing kegels. She is (allegedly at this point) part of a “police force” to help keep the sex-time-stopping powers a secret. She (and/or her superiors) feel that Suzie and Jon have been careless with their powers and risk ruining the secret. We don’t know much about Kegelface’s claims at this point because a lot of the exposition happened in the last ocuple issues and then Sex Criminals went on hiatus. It’ll be back next week and we’ll see where Fraction takes us on this rollercoaster ride.
Fraction brings his signature humor to the series. If you enjoyed his runs on Defenders and Hawkeye, you’ll enjoy Sex Criminals. Unless, that is, you dislike overt sexuality. Sex Criminals is definitely a mature book in every sense of the word. The first illustrated page has explicit sex and the second page is too explicit for me to put on this page without risking getting the site marked as NSFW. (It’s not porn, but definitely review this before sharing with your more mature kids). If you’re OK with the sexual content then you really SHOULD BE READING Sex Criminals. It’s worth every penny!
Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction with art by Chip Zdarsky is available at Image Comics DRM-free as well as on Comixology. This commentary covered issues #1-5. It is also collected as a trade which you can get on Amazon: Sex Criminals Volume 1 TP. Issue #6 will be released 18 June.