Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick
Written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky
Category: Best Graphic Story
The premise of Sex Criminals, as it’s usually stated on the back of the book and so forth, is this: the main character Suzie has the power to stop time when she has sex. She meets John and discovers he has the same power, so they team up to use their abilities to rob banks. This is indeed a great premise, although when you try to explain it to people they sometimes give you funny looks. However, it’s not really what the book is about.
This is telegraphed by the fact that, while it opens in medias res during a heist gone wrong, most of the book is occupied with how the two protagonists discovered their powers, how they found each other, and how they got to the point of robbing banks. (Suzie and John aren’t just doing it out of greed—it’s a Robin-Hood-esque scheme to fund the local library.) Over the course of the story, it becomes clear that the central premise is meant to operate as an extended metaphor for the emotional experience of sex, similar to how the supernatural elements of Buffy are meant to represent the teenage experience.
This being the first volume of a graphic novel, it’s an origin story, and this particular origin story naturally starts with puberty. Everyone’s experience is unique, but Suzie’s is especially unique, and particularly isolating—she’s literally alone in the timeless world she finds herself in (she calls it The Quiet), but she also has no one she can really talk about it to. She eventually works out the nature of her power on her own, but even as an adult it continues to be an isolating experience, emblematic of the lack of emotional connection with her sex partners.
But finally she meets John, who has the same power, and now she’s no longer alone in the Quiet. Now that she’s met someone that she has a real connection with, The Quiet isn’t an isolating force: it’s something that brings them together, their own private world. It’s wonderful and exhilarating, but it also leads to them convincing each other they should start robbing banks. And this gets them into a bit of trouble. (It turns out there are Sex Police in addition to Sex Criminals, although I’m not sure how that fits into the metaphor—maybe that’ll become more clear in volume two.)
Actually, I find that the premise works better as metaphor than it does as a plot device. When I think about the details I immediately run into a number of Fridge Logic questions (do John and Suzie always have simultaneous orgasms? How do the Sex Police get into The Quiet if time is stopped for them?) But as a literary device, it adds an extra poignancy to the flashback scenes that comprise most of the book, and makes them stronger material than the heist that serves as the frame story.
This was an enjoyable read—funny, affecting, and true-to-life despite the fantastic premise. It’s also not as pervy as it sounds, so quit looking at me like that. I’m curious to see where it goes in volume two.