Mr. Vertigo Reviews 29: Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick; March: Book One; Miniature Jesus

Sex Criminals 1Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick

Written By: Matt Fraction
Art By: Chip Zdarsky

Image Comics

Suzie and Jon both have the same bizarre ability: when they have an orgasm, they stop time. They meet at a party Suzie has thrown as a benefit for the local library, which is being closed because a bank is foreclosing on the property. As a librarian I have difficulty imagining any way this could happen in the real world, but I suppose stranger things have happened. Anyway, it explains the “criminals” part: the couple are robbing banks to pay off the bank loan and prevent the foreclosure.

The robbery of the big bank branch (where Jon works, and Suzie’s father was killed) drives the action of this entire first arc: it’s foreshadowed in the first sex scene, on the third page of Issue 1. The story immediately shifts back to the death of Suzie’s dad, her home life afterwards, and her discovery of her weird ability. Puberty is confusing enough, but Suzie has this additional complication to figure out. It takes her awhile to establish that stopping time during sex is not normal.

Jon had a similarly confusing time understanding what was going on. Naturally when they get together, they immediately form a powerful bond. So it’s a love story. But there’s an additional complication, in the form of the self-appointed Sex Police (yes, they actually call themselves that). Apparently there are others with the time-stopping power, and they show up at the big bank robbery, complete with white uniforms and tazers.

Jon and Suzy manage to pull the Sex Police out of The Quiet (which is what Suzie calls the feeling of stopping time) and escape. We haven’t learned much about the SP, and they appear to know a lot about The Quiet, so this will clearly be a big part of the ongoing story. Jon also has a medical condition that he has stopped taking medication for, so that’s another part of the narrative. Not bad for a series that Fraction and Zdarsky never thought would make it past five issues. As Fraction jokingly suggested in a panel at the 2014 HeroesCon: “So, I guess they don’t get caught?”

The trade also includes a bunch of cool extras. There are a couple of pages of alternate captions that weren’t used in the comic, and the script of a radio drama created online to promote the first issue. Zdarsky contributes a couple of pages about his process, and a page showing how one of the alternate covers was Photoshopped. Last but not least, nine reprint and variant covers are reproduced.

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March 1March: Book One

Written by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin

Art by Nate Powell

Top Shelf Productions

March tells the story of Congressman John Lewis, from his childhood in rural Alabama, to his key role in the Civil Rights movement, and finally his career in Congress. This book is the first of three, but because it moves around in time it touches on several periods in Lewis’s life. The story begins on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. The confrontation between the marchers and state troopers became known as “Bloody Sunday.” It quickly jumps to Washington, D.C. in 2009 on the day of President Obama’s inauguration, showing us how far Lewis had come in the intervening years. As he shows some visitors around his office he tells them about his childhood on a farm.

So we get a broad chronological range in the first 50 pages or so. I especially enjoyed Lewis’s memories of caring for the family chickens. A trip up north to Buffalo with his uncle broadened Lewis’s horizons considerably, and his affinity for education took him to college. He heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio, learned of the murder of Emmett Till, and the arrest of Rosa Parks. He was inspired, which eventually resulted in the 1960 non-violent lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, the first civil rights actions led by Lewis.

While many readers could be expected to know the broad outlines of the story here–especially the large public civil rights actions–Lewis’s story gives this history a rich personal background. Like all good memoirs the story thrives on the intersection between the public and private, the way the personal details relate to the broad sweep of historical events. It’s a fascinating story, which Powell translates into visual terms very effectively. I look forward to the succeeding installments.

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Miniature JesusMiniature Jesus

Created, written, illustrated and lettered by Ted McKeever

Image Comics

Ted McKeever’s comics have always been idiosyncratic. His visual style favors distorted, expressionistic character designs (often in B&W), and the stories are dark and surreal. Miniature Jesus is immediately recognizable as McKeever’s work, but it has the most straightforward narrative of any of his many stories I have read, and the most conventional drawing style. Reading between the lines, it may also be the most personal and autobiographical of his stories. The protagonist appears to be modeled on McKeever himself, and the book is dedicated “In loving memory of my Dad. Forever in my heart.”

The story opens on a man in a hoodie sitting in an abandoned motel. He ponders his “twenty-six days of self-imposed incarceration,” then the carcass of a dead cat begins talking to him: the first sign that the story won’t be completely naturalistic. Chomsky (that’s his name) is a recovering alcoholic, and the cat is only the first of the demons he will confront. When another demon appears at his shoulder, it takes the traditional devil role. It looks like him, and is there to tempt him to start drinking again. Chomsky wonders where the angel is to represent his good side, and the question is answered by the miniature Jesus of the title.

The scene shifts to a country church where a priest is sermonizing to an empty sanctuary (except for one young boy who likes to watch). God’s response is not what he expected: first Jesus descends from the crucifix on the wall, then the hand of God pushes through the church roof, collapsing it on both of them. Chomsky had just been ruminating on faith, so this surreal action–which is presented as a real event, not a hallucination–serves as an answer to both him and the priest.

Much of the rest of the story involves Chomsky’s struggle with these two forces. The evil demon takes a female drug addict, to show Chomsky the futility of his struggle for sobriety. Chomsky glues the miniature Jesus’s arm back on, then reject’s God’s offer to take away his pain as a reward.  The pain is part of the continual struggle for sobriety.

Ultimately this is a story about the difficulty of staying sober. McKeever also questions the role of religion in contemporary society. Perhaps it’s a commentary on the religious aspect of twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous? At any rate, it’s a powerful story about individual moral struggle. I should mention that the collection is a bit oversized (7.3 x 10 inches), which gives the art more impact.

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