Let it be known that this is the issue of "Sex Criminals" where someone is literally slapped in the face with a phallus.
Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky continue to blend honesty and absurdity in a frank, funny package that doesn't disappoint with "Sex Criminals" #3. Despite delivering a pretty blatant metaphor for the alienation and experimentation involved in the search for love, the material never feels trite. (The porn jokes probably help.) "Sex Criminals" #3 only just begins to climb out of the backstory, and it's still one of the most interesting titles on the shelves. After finishing the issue, I was smiling and showing the panels to all my roommates, crowing, "Isn't that funny?"
On a more critically valid note than "This book was funny so I liked it," "Sex Criminals" plays with narration in lively, rewarding ways. For instance, one sequence consists almost entirely of Suzie and Jon's day-long exchange of texts, broken only by shots of their contented faces. Over these two pages, Fraction and Zdarsky present a very relatable, modern courtship (emoticon ejaculation and all) that doesn't require any dialogue. By complementing the limits of texting with the comparative freedom of comics, they take what could be a gimmicky idea and give it life.
There's also a would-be karaoke sequence involving Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls" that is just balls-to-the-breaking-of-fourth-walls brilliant. In place of the actual lyrics, Fraction covers Suzie's speech bubbles with a series of authorial tangents, touching on everything from why they couldn't get the rights and Freddie Mercury is awesome to his thwarted music video career. It's clever, it's engaging and it still manages to build the characters.
This inventiveness is even more appreciated because of its relative scarcity. There's a good amount of experimenting with the ways that innovative visuals and boundary-pushing layouts can stretch the capacities of this medium (think "Hawkeye" and "Young Avengers," among many others), so I appreciate that "Sex Criminals" is instead playing with the ways that text can be used more dynamically.
This isn't to say that the art is just phoning it in. Zdarsky and Kinzie offer some brilliant work: the coloring in the Quiet, Suzie's sudden and somehow subtle transformation into costume, and the anthropomorphization of crappy music as a creepy, purple-shirted shadow singing in the background of other people's sex. As with everything else about this comic, it's a lot of fun.
With so much going on, it isn't surprising that a few transitions feel abrupt, and it's occasionally difficult to track whose point of view the audience is meant to follow. However, these jarring moments are infrequent and easily remedied by re-reading a panel or two.
The tone is one of my favorite things about the series so far, and I hope it doesn't change as the plot heads into scarier territory than "my sexual errors and misfortunes 2001-present." It looks as if the next few issues will dive further into what the Quiet is, who's running it, and how Suzie and Jon can survive there. I'm excited for the next issue, and I hope it stays as wacky as the first three.