Special Edition Review – Sex Criminals # 1
I spent a good part of my time as a comic book fanatic turning Image Comics into a punchline. We all remember the nineties. Now it has the nostalgic place in our memories the way that previous decades did. You can use the nineties as a period piece now. We’re far enough removed from it to work. The way Scorsese made us look at the seventies and eighties when he made Goodfellas, I can imagine someone doing for the nineties; distilling the time period down to its elements and showing us what we were all too caught up to see. I look at the Image comics output of that era and, generally speaking, it was nonsensical man-child crap that was disposable then and outright embarrassing in hindsight. So of course as a know-it-all nerd I would joke about how Image was a garbage imprint and that they could never put out anything worth reading. I feel like the last ten years have been a veritable challenge to every notion anyone ever had of Image. Kirkman’s Walking Dead and Invincible were revolutionary. Bendis cut his teeth on Powers there. It has become the creator-owned slice of heaven that the founders of the company intended it to be. Books like Morning Glories, Saga, Lazurus, and Thief of Thieves are the sort of thing that prove creator owned comics can be done to perfection and reinvent ideas associated around a single company. The last ten years have been a controlled burn in making me eat my words about Image as a company.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals is going to be another one of those books from Image that makes everyone sit up and take notice. While DC comics relies on gimmick covers to sell books with characters that nobody recognizes and Marvel works harder on mining their character catalog out for TV and Film adaptations, real visual storytelling is taking comics in the direction it needs to go and the one company publishing those books right now is Image. Fraction and Zdarsky give us a book that is unlike anything else on the stands. Visually or narratively, I dare you to find something that compares. The voice of our lead character recounts the story of her oddball sexual education in comedic and dramatic flashbacks that give us a good sense of who she is as a fully realized concept before ever getting to the crux of the book’s premise. We learn that she finds herself stuck in time, a swirling mass of colors and euphoria enveloping her as she reaches sexual climax. This is obviously a frightening and unnerving experience for her, one for which there is no context or assistance readily available. Suzanne is mysterious, and a mystery herself, but she is also fully fleshed out and her quirks and tics seem like logical and organic reactions to stimulus from the character’s background. The dialog that spews forth from her may seem hyper-realistic in the style of a Diablo Cody screenplay at times, but while Juno was just some quirky teenager, Suzanne’s sensibilities and personality traits can be traced back to her childhood trauma. What we see of her is a mix of the shield she puts up to cover her pain and frustration as well as the resigned true self that she tries not to let slip. This is a well written, character-driven book. Matt Fraction has really outdone himself here.
Chip Zdarsky’s artwork makes the book sing though. His artwork is unlike anything you will see at DC or Marvel. His line-work is crisp and doesn’t fall into the overly realistic post-Hitch style that we see so much of nowadays but instead presents us with clean artwork that flows from panel to panel effortlessly. He has a mastery of body language and facial expression that this book requires to truly work. Suzanne emotes more than a little bit with her body and a look in her eyes or the sloop of her shoulders holds as much meaning as any of her dialog. This is a book about sex, after all, and how important are the little details like the positioning of a hand or the angle of someone’s face when trying to convey a sense of intimacy? Zdarsky seems to understand this and peppers the book with expressive, emotive artwork that may not be everybody’s cup of tea but serves this book better than any artist out there right now.
In all seriousness, this is a compelling book. If you like truly well written characters and intriguing stories I suggest you buy this issue. My shop ordered a metric ton of them. Because myself and the store manager believe that the market for good, outside-the-box comics is only growing and we want people to have the opportunity to read something like this at its debut. Don’t kick yourself like you do for not getting in on Walking Dead, Invincible, or Saga at the ground floor. Pick this one up and remember just how engaging comic books can be.