“Sex Criminals” #14 is the perfect example of why this series isn’t just good — it’s great. While the basic plot of this series is fun in its own right, it’s the storytelling that elevates it to something special. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s meta-fictional interlude has such charm that it’s hard not to feel a certain sense of glee.
Just in terms of the overall story arc, there’s a fair amount going on in “Sex Criminals” #14. Jon and Suzie’s work for Ana is putting the two into a slightly awkward position, between Jon’s early attraction for Ana and Suzie’s discomfort with that fact. Myrtle continues to gather information to use against Jon and Suzie, and Suzie comes to a very uncomfortable realization about her plans for the future. All of the characters are starting to move forward, and I appreciate that the cast of “Sex Criminals” is anything but static. With each new chapter, there’s an interesting progression that plays out. What’s more, for those who are solely interested in plot, it’s a good story.
That said, “Sex Criminals” #14 (and the series in general) is about a lot more than just its basic story. The actual storytelling here is a real treat as it plays with the nature of comics. For example, the way in which Fraction and Zdarsky portray Suzie tuning out someone else’s words is hysterical; it says a lot about Suzie and portrays that in a way which makes you instantly understand what’s going on, even as you start to nod in recognition of the times you’ve done it yourself.
It’s when the book goes completely meta, though, that it truly sings. Fraction’s script breaks the fourth wall to explain both why the next scene wasn’t working and the point of both that scene and the current story arc in general. This is great, not only because it gives you an inside look at how a script comes together but also because it’s a neat way of avoiding a dull and predictable confrontation while advancing the comic in a very different direction. When the veil is pulled off, it’s a mixture of honesty and self-effacement, but there’s never a woe-is-me moment. It’s still funny, there are some great little gags like the baked goods and it wraps the scene with a moment that pulls together multiple levels of deliberate ridiculousness from the series so far. It’s another reason why “Sex Criminals” #14 isn’t quite like anything else on the market and why this book continues to draw readers in so well.
A lot of these gags wouldn’t work without Zdarsky’s contributions, of course. There’s a gentle whimsy to how he draws himself and Fraction talking to one another, and that final splash involving the two is simultaneously silly and off-the-wall. There’s a lot on the more serious side that works here too, though; Ana’s face when she sees what Suzie’s been texting, Suzie’s expression when she’s objectifying Jon, even the way Jon concentrates when putting together furniture. When Myrtle’s slumped on the sofa and looks annoyed, well, there’s no better baleful expression in comics right now. Don’t mess with Myrtle.
“Sex Criminals” #14 is a comic that plays with format and structure but never loses sight of telling a story that’s both interesting and genuinely fun to read. What other title would create a recap page by reprinting its Wikipedia entry, after all? Once again, money well spent; “Sex Criminals” is a book that never disappoints.