Sex Criminals jumps into it's second arc and, in true Fraction fashion, it promises to ramp up the crazy to the plot while also adding another layer of humanity to it's characters. This issue adds a little bit more to the expanding Sex Criminals universe, but it also gives us a deeper understanding of Jon's psyche. Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction succeed in fleshing out the world and the characters that live in it, as well as providing a joke or two about boobs and semen.
The issue begins with a blasé Jon giving us a recap of the past few weeks. He starts by showing us Suzie and Jon having just evaded the Sex Police from the last issue. Excited and full of adrenaline, they blow of some steam and discover a cumpass (a smartphone that tracks when people go into the quiet) in Jon's pants. Then, succinctly summed up by a panel, “Life goes on”. And that's kind of what this whole issue is about. The fire that was burning between Jon and Suzie is dimming. They're suddenly not the only ones who can visit the quiet and the thing that made them so unique to each other isn't so special. They don't break up. They still have sex and spend time with each other, but it's not the same as it was in the beginning. It more feels like just routine. Things are starting to get stale. Suzie begins to put more time and energy into saving the library, and Jon starts to lose his hold on himself. His psychological issues that were brought up in previous issues come back with a vengeance. After a brief breakdown, he decides to start taking pills again. The pills work in curbing his anxiety, but they also numb everything else about him. He becomes distant and unresponsive. Another cog in the machine. But then, the bank backs out of a deal with Suzie and Jon finds enough rage in himself to tear away from the blandness of the pills and take revenge on who he feels is responsible, Kegelface.
Zdarsky is the perfect artist for telling this story. He mixes realism with a cartoonish feel to give the book a pretty constant level of humor. The constant background jokes like Jon's shirt saying “Don't Worry Be Worry” or the self-portrait of himself with a mullet in Jon's apartment are great little jokes. He also gives the characters such character through their faces. From Kegelface's constant, well kegel face, to Jon's puppy dog sulk, everybody expresses themselves in believable ways. They feel like real, flesh and blood people. We watch Jon quickly deteriorate and fall to pieces and Zdarsky does a great job at showing the descent. The shift from manic Jon to exasperated Jon to numb Jon is effortless but obvious. My favorite sequence of the issue was the one where Jon is driving, pops a pill, and then grays himself. The quick motion split into three panels is beautifully rendered with the speed-lines of other cars driving past. It's a beautiful image and kind of perfectly captures the point of the issue. He's lost himself. It's also very Noir-y and that's always a good thing.
On Fraction's end I can't help but feel unfulfilled. The whole issue feels like a rut. The first five issues were all sex and violence (mostly sex, very little violence) and now it just feels, bland. But Fraction captures that so perfectly, it's hard not to see it as intentional. The end of the issue, when Jon starts to become himself again is definitely where things start to pick up. We get action again. At least, we get the promise of action. But that's for the next issue. This one is about Jon and what is going on inside his mind. Fraction is great at putting his characters under the microscope and examining what it is that makes them tick. He did a phenomenal job at this with his last run on Casanova and he does equally well with Jon. Narrator Jon's cool demeanor as he reflects his own mental episode is a great way to really understand what he's thinking. He serves as his own sounding board as he quickly begins to lose touch with himself which ends with his assuredness that he has “Cancer-AIDS”. Unfortunately all of this focus on Jon doesn't leave much room for Suzie this issue, she's there, but only in small bursts of reassurance or disappointment. The scene of the cumpass going off with Jon repeating “wasn't me” kind of perfectly captures the distance that's started pushing it's way between the two. They don't have that same spark and they both know it.
Fraction and Zdarsky have created a weird world here and now they're starting to fill it in. We started with Jon and Suzie, then we got the Sex Police, now we're getting more and more. More people who can transcend into the quiet. While the world is becoming more and more full, Jon and Suzie are starting to go through the motions. They still care about each other, but the passion is starting to fade and they're becoming more and more comfortable. It happens to every couple. The thing that made it special in the beginning isn't so special after all. While this issue seemingly takes that idea to heart, it doesn't stick with it. The majority may be about hitting a wall, but it ends on the promise of excitement. The question now is if that excitement will pay off, or if the relationship was always meant to burn bright and fast. I guess we'll see with the next month. This issue, though a bit of a lull, definitely knew what it was doing and is well worth the disappointment.