“Sex Criminals” #6 is the start of a new story arc, and Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky waste no panel space as they set up plot twists revolving around the mechanics of The Quiet/Cumworld and deeper character development.
The biggest change is that Fraction switches the point of view to the other half the couple, Jon. Suzie, the protagonist of the opening arc, is a cute, sex-positive, book-loving nice girl; there’s nothing to dislike about her. Jon may be more polarizing. He has more edges as a character; he is funnier, more foul-minded and has a truckload more issues than Suzie, number one being that’s he’s not reliably on his psychotropic medication. He is shrewd and immature, neurotic and daring, irritating in long stretches, and yet even the substance of his complaints is vivid and hilarious.
Like Suzie, Jon directly addresses the audience. Fraction’s talents for dialogue are such as the speech feels colloquial and intimate, but the use of past tense and the intermittent breaking of the fourth wall decreases immediacy and suspense. Suzie and Jon’s direct address means that the reader feels like a trusted friend, but it also prevents the reader from being fully immersed in the characters’ minds. There is no reason why Fraction couldn’t have launched the story directly from Jon’s point of view, but true to style, he deliberately chose to have Suzie handle a recap of events and then hands off of the baton from Suzie to Jon.
“Sex Criminals” #6 is a departure from the opening arc, but it also feels like an organic broadening of both Jon’s character and the relationship between Jon and Suzie. Fraction’s characterization and humor are consistent but altered by new information. In the first story arc, Jon’s impulsive acts of defiance were softened by Suzie’s view of him. Now, the reader gets to know Jon, in his own words.
Fraction’s overarching mood for “Sex Criminals” was irreverent and playful. The landscape of “Sex Criminals” is the same in “Sex Criminals” #6, but it feels blacker now, like there’s bitterness mixed with the sweet and goofy. Suzie reminds Jon, “we are grown-ups,” and accordingly the plot dwells more on heartbreak and failure. While the jokes are the same and Jon’s actions aren’t more any more extreme than before, the humor and the reader’s perception of Jon feel different when overlaid onto sequences expressions his emotional distress, paranoia, mania and the end of the honeymoon phase of the relationship. In particular, it’s both a surprise and familiar news that Jon’s an angry guy. His low-simmering rage gives “Sex Criminals” new tension now that it’s in forefront.
Jon isn’t just a token. He is neither a bland spokesperson for mental illness and nor does Fraction make him only the sum of his issues. Fraction doesn’t diminish the effects that Jon’s illnesses can have on his functioning and daily life, and he includes Jon’s perception that his meds dull his emotions.
“Sex Criminals” is emotionally intense, and Zdarsky’s artwork does much to deepen characterization and suspense. In particular, the sequences with Jon’s “ghost” double are uncomfortably funny, and in the office interior scenes, Zdarsky’s uses different camera angles to reinforce the feelings of surveillance and paranoia.
The funny and ridiculous developments in the plot, such as the blooping “Cumpass,” are grounded by the realism of Jon’s mental state. In the final panel of “Sex Criminals” #6, Jon’s declaration of war on the Sex Police promises another new direction for Fraction and Zdarksky’s unpredictable and original story in the next issue.