Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick Review (Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky)

Long before the middle of the book I was - and you will be too - deeply in love with Suzie and Jon (the titular Sex Criminals) and their story, but it was the middle of the book when Suzie jumped up on the pool table to belt out Fat-Bottomed Girls by Queen that I realised I was reading a completely new kind of comic I’d never read before. As soon as Suzie opens her mouth, the lyrics are blocked out by captions from Matt Fraction explaining why they couldn’t reprint the Queen lyrics because certain things hadn’t gone through the legal department in time. It’s an absolutely perfect moment. 

Sex Criminals was the most original comic of 2013, in a year filled with terrific and original comics, and if you’ve never heard of it, I’m here to tell you this is a book everyone (provided they’re over 18) should read. Suzie and Jon can temporarily freeze time when they orgasm and they can walk about in the frozen world. Jon works as a personal assistant in a bank which is foreclosing on Suzie’s library and, after the two meet at a party and discover their mutual ability, they decide to rob the bank to keep the library’s doors open. But Suzie and Jon aren’t the only ones with special powers and they’re about to find out what happens to sex criminals when the sex police show up!

The premise is excellent and completely unique but what really makes the comic so good are the characters. The first chapter introduces our heroine, Suzie, as she narrates her life story directly to the reader, taking in her tragic home life - father committed suicide, mother became an alcoholic - which is an unexpected tack to take in a book that’s marketed as a comedy, to finding out about sex and her powers. Jon’s story follows with its own bumps along the way (what’s a story without conflict, eh?) which questions the overly medicated youth of America in a funny way and explains why he chooses a creative location for his daily poops. 

Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky pull off an amazing balancing act of telling an original, exciting story with well-rounded, believable characters, with tons of great jokes that are perfectly suited to the comics medium. I already mentioned my favourite scene with Suzie singing Queen, but there are loads of great moments like when Suzie’s in high school and learning about sex. I dare you to keep a straight face when the older girl doodles on the bathroom stall, describing the various sex positions (my favourites - and by that I mean the ones that made me laugh the most, not because I do them myself - are shrimping, brimping and the Dutch microwave. Read the book to find out what they look like!).

Zdarsky deserves a lot of credit for his work on his book. I think any other artist on this simply wouldn’t have had the same effect as he has had - his art is absolutely first class and perfect on every single page, but his imaginative layouts takes Fraction’s script and makes it something else. The scene where Suzie meets Jon for the first time and they walk about the party while Jon quotes Nabokov’s Lolita was stunning, especially when Suzie’s feet lift off the ground, the background falls away, and the two, sat on the sofa, lift off the page into white nothingness. 

Even the background stuff - especially the background stuff - is amazing. When the two visit Cumworld, a sleazy sexshop from Jon’s youth, there are too many background gags to mention that are so much fun to discover for yourself but I’ll mention one of the pornos: Hard-On Fink starring Johnny Spurturro and directed by Joel and Ethan Boen. But the best background gag is Sexual Gary - I won’t say any more than that except that Sexual Gary is the best background gag in comics ever. 

As you’d expect in a book called Sex Criminals, there’s a lot of sex and nudity but it’s done in a very matter-of-fact and realistic way so that it’s never exploitative or sleazy but comes off instead as surprisingly charming. And because Suzie and Jon are in love with each other, those scenes do feel romantic and sweet, like you’re really seeing two people falling for one another as two people would in real life. 

There’s not a single thing I can critique in Sex Criminals - it is a flawless comic. It’s art and writing is both smart and funny, entertaining and clever, where the tone is pitch perfect and possesses an intoxicating mix of contemporary drama, sci-fi and comedy, as well as featuring two of the most realised characters you’re like to meet in Suzie and Jon. It’s an utterly beautiful comic too with some of the best art you’ll see all year. One Weird Trick is a startlingly original book that is quite simply a masterpiece. Fraction and Zdarsky are doing something special with this series and I can see Sex Criminals easily becoming one of the major high points in 21st century comics. 

These guys… if you haven’t already, get in on this one immediately and see two incredible artists producing the greatest work of their career. It'll also probably be the only time in your life you utter the phrase "I love Sex Criminals"!

Sex Criminals Volume 1 TP

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