Four issues into “Sex Criminals,” and by this point Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have developed a pretty good rhythm. The basic idea behind the comic — two people who can stop time when they have sex decide to rob banks for altruistic reasons — was fun right from the start. But in the shift from conception to birth, “Sex Criminals” has turned into a book that gleefully slips from one time period to another, inserts narrators into the past, and all-in-all is a fun time for all.
“Sex Criminals” #4, like the previous issues, has a fair amount of plot set in the present day as readers see how Suzie and Jon’s attempt to rob the bank that Jon works at goes horribly wrong. After being teased for several issues about the sex police, “Sex Criminals” #4 inserts them all the way into the plot. In doing so, “Sex Criminals” shifts from a slightly abstract (but very enjoyable) story about two people discovering someone else like themselves, into one where we now have a greater thrust about where the book is going. It’s a logical step — if two people have this ability, presumably others do too — and it advances the tension greater than just, “Will Jon’s hormones jump back into overdrive again?” and presents a tangible foe.
At the same time, Fraction’s script regularly pulls out and instead deposits readers into the past, as Suzie explains everything that led them up to this moment. Fraction’s story of how Suzie used her ability in the past to get revenge on Geoff after he had his way with Rachel is only three pages long, for instance, but it’s surprisingly gripping. It brings some more insight into Suzie’s thinking, even as it also presents another twist into just what can affect “The Quiet” zone of stopped time. It’s also worth noting that in another book, implied date-rape might feel potentially crass or out of place. In a book titled “Sex Criminals,” though, it fits. Fraction and Zdarsky skirt around showing any of the actual event (which is a good thing), and treat it with the appropriate amount of sensitivity.
What’s nice is that the sliding in and out of different time zones doesn’t feel forced, or confusing, or even false. Rather, it feels like the way that people tell stories. They start at the beginning, then jump to somewhere earlier, then to the present, then off to the side, and so on. Having Suzie sitting in her flashbacks as a narrator, talking to us as she explains what’s going on, is a perfect way to achieve that overall feel. All in all, the storytelling in this comic is excellent.
Zdarsky’s art is also part of what makes “Sex Criminals” #4 work so well, mind you. What gets me with the art is how well the little touches come across under Zdarsky’s pen. For instance, in the “Suzie vs. Geoff” flashback, Fraction’s verbal description, “He smelled like a men’s magazine and looked tan all year round” matches up so well with the actual drawing of Geoff, it’s startling. I don’t just mean that he’s tan, of course, but rather Zdarsky gives him that frat-meets-model-meets-privileged look. His expression, his posture, his clothing — Zdarsky nails it. The slow pull back of seeing him with his arm angled towards Rachel, and then seeing in the next where it is on her leg and the side of her skirt hiked up is a great reveal, too. It uses the progression of panels from one to the next so that we are being fed bits and pieces about Geoff, each new drop of information making him that much more unlikable.
Even the character designs in “Sex Criminals” #4 look great. Suzie and Jon are both average looking people, and while I appreciate that they’re both good looking and charming, neither one of them are model-beautiful. (So far, only the hated Geoff has fallen into that category.) You could see either one of them walk down the street and not bat an eye. Then you add in the sex police, and their strange white, black, and red outfits are eye catching not only because of how they stand out against the real world, but the contrast between pure white fabric and their muted skin as it is revealed beyond the seams. I love the physical comedy here, too; where else could you get a character pointing at a bulging crotch with such disdain? As great as the dialogue is, there’s something about the way that Zdarsky has Suzie pointing her index finger at that member of the sex police that brings the joke all the way home.
“Sex Criminals” #4 is another strong installment in a great new series. It’s gleefully silly, it’s deadly serious, it’s whip-smart, and you don’t need to take a shower afterwards. If you haven’t read “Sex Criminals” yet, I urge you to give it a try. I bet once you’re done, you’ll come back again and again.