Comics You Should Be Reading: Sex Criminals

Today, my head is full of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff: I’ve been reading lots of Sex Criminals lately, as well as a fair few novels with complex timelines. And I thought, perhaps, I should say a thing or two Sex Criminals over here where we like to talk about comics and wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey things and stuff.

sexcriminals1The series, which is written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, is just shy of two years old–its first issue was published on September 25, 2013. It was named Best Comic by Time in 2013, and it was nominated for two Eisner Awards last year.

The story is predominantly about Jon, an actor whose day-job is banking, and Suzee, a librarian. The two meet at a party, go home with one another, and have some sexy times. But Jon and Suzie are different from other people–when they achieve orgasm, they freeze time. And they’re apparently not alone.

In the first story arc (issues 1-5), Jon and Suzie find one another, and the two decide to use their powers to team up and save the library where Suzie works. They decide to rob the bank where Jon works, and perhaps a few others, to get the money Suzie needs to keep the bank from repossessing the building and knocking it down. But their activities get them noticed by the Sex Police, who are apparently a real thing in this universe.

The second story arc (issues 6-10) finds Jon and Suzie in a bit of a rut, quite removed from the chaos that ended the first story arc. We move backward to see how Jon and Suzie escaped and how Jon became a ghost of his former self and then forward to see how the couple deals with this kind of opposition. We also see more of the Sex Police and begin to get a sense of how many other people like Jon and Suzie are out there.

The third story arc is in its infancy, with only issue 11 published thus far, but it seems to be moving the characters from the first two story arcs together as Jon and Suzie search for other people like them using stole records from the Sex Police. Issue 12 drops on September 16.

So why should you be reading Sex Criminals?

  • It’s original. This is not another superhero story, even if there are superpowers and villains. I can’t even think of many things that it reminds me of—–and I’ve got no idea when the last time I could say that was.
  • It’s sex-positive. There are sex tips in most issues; the characters engage in various sex acts without a judgmental gaze from the narrator or illustrator. And that’s refreshing.
  • It’s funny and honest. Especially in the first few issues, as we see our protags go through puberty and learn about their abilities through first sexual encounters, the comic manages with incredible candor.
  • There’s going to be a TV series. In February 2015, Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick (fellow comics collaborator and wife) signed a two-year deal to develop the show with Universal TV.
  • Zdarsky can render expressions beautifully. And his art is an incredible addition to the series’ story-lines.

That said, the series could certainly use some more diversity. There are precious few sexcriminals2non-CIS, non-white, non-hetero characters, and that is a disappointment. Incorporating more diverse characters can really only help a series that is so sex-positive. I do have hopes though—the series introduced Rainbow in the second story arc, a black OBGYN and Jon’s old pal, and he’s continued to be a part of the third story arc. More characters like Rainbow! 🙂

Clearly, this one’s not for the faint of heart, either. While the art is not what I would classify as pornographic, the premise of the comic insists that there be sexual images and dialogue, and there are a few groan-worthy jokes about ejaculate. But sometimes a little crassness is A Good Thing.

Comics You Should Be Reading: Rat Queens

At the beginning of the year, I decided to make a concerted effort to Read All the Comics that my buddies have been raving about for years. When I was young, ratqueensvolume1comics didn’t interest me much (and were difficult to access in our small MS town); when I was older, I simply didn’t have time to devote to catching up due to massive amounts of required reading. Anyway, among the comics that I put on the TBR list for the year was Rat Queens, and when I got to the series, I gobbled them up.

Rat Queens is an ongoing comic book series created by Kurtis Wiebe and published by Image Comics; the series has been running since September 2013, and its eleventh issue was released today. The comics have been nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series; the first collection was nominated for a Hugo Award; and in 2015, the series won the GLAAD Media Award.

Unfortunately, the series ran into a bit of trouble in 2014 when the original illustrator, Roc Upchurch, was arrested on domestic violence charges. Wiebe issued a statementratqueensvolume2 on his blog, and Upchurch was removed from the publication. Stjepan Sejic took over as artist for the series, but fell ill and was only able to draw a few issues. Most recently, artist Tess Fowler and colorist Tamara Bonvillain have taken over illustrations for the series.

The fantasy story revolves around the Rat Queens, a group of four female mercenaries in a small medieval (mostly) town: Violet (a dwarven warrior), Hannah (an elven mage), Dee (a human cleric), and Betty (a smidgen thief). The girls are rowdy, foul-mouthed, and buckets of fun.

The first 5-issue story arc revolves around an attempted assassination of the town’s mercenaries, while the second story arc (also 5 issues) focuses on a quest to keep an ancient god from being summoned and annihilating the townspeople. There’s also a special issue from January 2015 (Fowler’s first involvement with the series) that gives the backstory for Braga, leader of another mercenary group called the Peaches.

ratqueensbragaspecialGiven that the story has such a large Dungeons and Dragons and RPG influence, I was dubious about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you—it’s just that I’ve never really been good at playing RPGs. But my, am I glad this story a chance.

The characters are multi-dimensional….not to mention diverse. There are different sexual orientations, races (and not just fantasy races—Rat Queen Dee is a WoC), classes, religions, and body types among the characters. Violet wears full armor, and both she and Dee rebel against cultural norms. The four girls are friends, good friends, and we  learn a lot about them through the lens of their relationships with one another. That’s a rare enough thing for it to be really special. There’s a lot of crass humor, jackassery, and goriness—-and it’s fun to see four BAMF women at the center of that.

So why should you read Rat Queens?

  • The story is nostalgic, original, and funny. Wiebe has said that the story is a “love letter” to his years playing D&D, and he once described the series as “Lord of the Rings meets Bridesmaids.”  Also, there are excellent insults to be had in those pages.
  • The characters are diverse and complex. Violet ruminates on the beard she shaved, an unheard of, bold move in her home culture. Dee is an atheist cleric. ratqueensissue11There are LGBT characters and women of color, and they don’t take background seats.
  • It’s beautiful. Even with Upchurch’s removal from the series, there has been a consistent emphasis on design, both of characters and of the page itself. Facial expressions are a delight, as are the gory battle scenes and the (relatively) quieter moments in the Rat Queen’s home.
  • There’s going to be a TV series. It’s going to be animated, and I’m sure it will be glorious. Better read the books first, though!

And now, I’m off to find that new Rat Queens issue myself and give it a peak.


Penny Dreadful: And They Were Enemies Review (S2 E10)

All apologies for our lateness with my review of this week’s season 2 finale of Penny Dreadful. I have had a bit of a busier weekend and start to the than intended because of some family and work circumstances, but I’m back now. And my, oh my, what a note did the show go out on this season. In the finale, we saw the finale battle with the nightcomers and a disbanding of the fellowship that brings lots of questions about season 3. (Warning: Spoilers below here!)

When last we saw our group, they’d invaded the witches’ home and split up in searchEthan of Vanessa and Sir Malcolm; that turns out to be a prophetic sort of ending, mirroring the characters’ eventual separation.

But first: Sembene is well and truly dead. I’d supposed as much but hoped for better. And Vanessa is walking farther and farther down a dark path. And naturally the battle with Evelyn really comes down to Vanessa facing herself—looking into the life-like eyes of that fetish doll and seeing herself reflected back.

Or really, what Vanessa sees is an illusion, a vision of what she most desperately wants: two adorable, mischievous children and a loving husband, one Ethan Chandler, who dote on her. It seems as though Vanessa might give in to this promise—but no. She doesn’t want “normal” anymore.

And something in her snaps. She chants the Verbis Diablo, and when she touches
vanessa2the puppet, it shatters, sending scorpions crawling everywhere. “Beloved, know your master,” she says.

Things escalate quickly. Evelyn begins rapidly aging, and it sends her into a panic. Hecate, who has been watching from a safe distance, releases Ethan from the room he and Sembene were trapped in. Ethan runs in, quickly slashing Evelyn’s throat. So long, Mistress Kali. But he seems almost to recognize Vanessa. The monster in him recognizes the monster in her, perhaps. She’s about to touch his face, but he runs away. A scorpion crawls into her palm to rest there instead, and she somehow absorbs it.

Evelyn’s death releases Victor and Malcolm, who were thisclose to committing suicide, from their enchantments. Lyle is able to kill one of the witches with his gun. Another is killed in the scuffle. Only Hecate is left, and she seems to have disappeared entirely.

Back at the mansion, the group begins to deal with their losses. Sir Malcolm declares that he is going to return Sembene’s body to Africa. Vanessa declares her love for Ethan—but he’s too caught up in what he is, too stuck in guilt. He writers her a letter saying as much and goes to turn himself into Rusk. Only, surprise!, there’s an extradition order. Ethan is going home.

creatureThe Creature, though is still locked in the Putney’s soon-to-be freak show. They offer him certain privileges for his cooperation, such as a cut of wages to buy more books and perhaps eventually some time out of the cell if he behaves properly and plays as a “father” to the freak show they are trying to build.

But the Creature has other plans. He is, in fact, strong enough to rip through those bars, and after he does so he kills both Mr. Putney and his wife. When Lavinia comes looking for them, she is still spouting horrible things. But the Creature leaves her to discover her parents’ bodies. He exits the building, and moments later we hear Lavinia’s screams echo down the street.

She goes to the cholera dens, where she finds the Creature. The two discuss their mutual sorrows. The Creature reveals that he is leaving, and there’s a beautiful moment where we almost get a season 3 of the two living in the Cut-Wife’s Cottage. One can dream. Ah well. Tehy bid one another goodbye.

We see Sir Malcolm on a ship with Sembene’s coffin next to him; and we see Ethan on a ship, locked in a cage. Rusk stands close-by. The Creature is on a ship, too, and we see it arriving in somewhere incredibly icy. The Creature is leaving civilization.

byebyeAnd then there’s Vanessa. Now at home, she’s turning off all the lights in the mansion, and perhaps the most symbolic is the first–the room where we’ve seen our characters group so many times before as they’ve had discussions and shared confidences.

As Vanessa shuts her bedroom door behind her, the camera pans in her point-of-view and lands right on the cross that’s hung on her wall. We’ve seen her kneel and pray so many times right in front of that cross. She walks up to it, lifts it, and throws it into the fire.

Victor, meanwhile, has returned to an empty home. He decides to confront Lily and Dorian, and to that end, he packs a pistol in his belt. Lily and Dorian are in the reallyreallyimmaculateportrait room, dancing. They’re both immaculately dressed in white. Victor confesses his love for Lily, asking her to come back home. When she refuses, he shoots her.

That doesn’t work, of course. Lily is too well made for that. She reveals to Frankenstein that she’s always know what she is. This time, Frankenstein aims for and shoots Dorian, and he is terrifically confused when Dorian only laughs. While Dorian and Lily debate what to do with him Frankenstein looks more and more horrified.

In the end, Victor is sent home. He contemplates his day as he rolls up a sleeve to reveal an arm that looks terribly painful, revealing the extent of his drug habit as he has to use a vein in his finger. Lily and Dorian, meanwhile, are dancing through the room, a trail of blood in their wake. Oh, my.

And that’s all for season 2, folks. There will be a season 3 of the show, and you can catch me here blogging it when it happens! 🙂

Penny Dreadful: And Hell Itself My Only Foe Review (S2 E9)

Sunday night’s penultimate episode of Penny Dreadful Season Two left a lot of questions going into the finale, though many of them are well-answerable by the end of the season. A few hunches from earlier in the season were confirmed, and there were a few truly shocking moments as the show laid the framework for closing out season 2. (Warning: Spoilers lurk below!)


Roper, the survivor of Ethan’s werewolf attack on the Mariner’s Inn, has tracked Ethan and Vanessa to the Cut-Wife’s cottage. He barges in on them, ordering Vanessa to cuff Ethan. When he threatens her, though, Vanessa grabs a knife; in the scuffle, Ethan is stabbed in the shoulder and Vanessa pulls out the knife, using it to kill Roper.

Well, there’s that neatly wrapped, though there is still the Inspector to worry about. (Apparently, he’s traced down Ethan’s real name–Ethan Lawrence Talbot—and his military record. He seems on the cusp of realizing something supernatural, but using phantom limb to explain it was really bizarre.)

Anyway, Victor Frankenstein suddenly arrives in a coach, come to fetch Vanessa and Ethan to help Sir Malcolm. Lyle recounts his treachery, vowing to help the group in any way he can. Vanessa is ready to go into the witches’ den, insisting that they go that evening. Ethan protests because He Has a Thing (the kind that happens on the full moon, and guess what—the moon’s full!). Also, Ethan points out that the witches are stronger during the nighttime. I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m sure they aren’t called “nightcomers” because they do their best work in the daytime. It’s a sound enough theory, and everyone appears to agree.


Across town, Evelyn looks exhausted as she stands and listens to Sir Malcolm’s screaming. She’s leaning on the wall in the puppet room, but she still seems winded, and her skin has a clammy look to it. Hecate is more openly disdainful than before, more transparent about her feelings: her mother is old, and she is young; youth is everything. It’s only what she’s been taught.

Hecate decides to pay Ethan a bedroom visit. She’s still quite bent on corrupting him, and it just might work. It’d seem that Ethan would understand “wolf of God” as a good thing, but his fears about himself are sometimes what brings out the worst in him.

And speaking of the worst in Ethan…Everyone’s going to see it. Because suddenly, everyone notices that Vanessa is gone to rescue Sir Malcolm. And that’s exactly what the witches want. Ethan refuses to stay behind, chained up. He asks Sembene to do what must be done if the time comes.


Meanwhile, Lily and Dorian are chatting in Dorian’s portrait room. They’re both being a bit coy, figuring one another out. And then Dorian (who I’ve though this whole time must recognize her) calls Lily “Brona.” He does know, indeed. And Lily knows something, too. “How old ARE you” she purrs. She demands that he tell her what he is—-insists by biting off his ear and asking him to heal himself. And Dorian does. There are sexy-times, of course.

Across town, the Creature is not having nearly the day that Lily and Dorian are having. When Lavinia Putney asks him to take her to see the new wing of the museum that is under construction, he reluctantly does so. He sees rows and rows of cages, makes a joke about a zoo. All I can think is “run.” But he doesn’t. And in return, Lavinia locks him in one of the cages. The Putneys are, in fact, creating a zoo—only it’s a human one, and the Creature is their first capture. Oh, Mr. Clare. Oh, Caliban.

And finally, we’re back at the witches’ castle. The group splits up when they arrive: Sembene and Ethan go one way, while Lyle and Victor go another. It’s Victor and Lyle who find Sir Malcolm. When Victor goes into the room, he’s locked in by one of the witches. At first, Frankenstein’s mind is clear; he’s speaking with Sir Malcolm to try to get him to return home. But suddenly, he’s also talking to the Creature, and to Lily, and to…Proteus. Oh, Proteus.

Sembene and Ethan aren’t have much luck, either. A trap door closes, and they’re stuck, stuck in a tiny space with a full moon rising. Ethan is panicked; he tries to kill himself. Sembene intervenes, though. “I’m just a man,” he says. “You have been chosen by God, my friend.” A few moments later, a werewolf version of Ethan lunges at Sembene. Nooooo!

Upstairs, Vanessa walks into the puppet room. She sees the doll like her. But then—it opens its eyes. Eep! And oh, it starts speaking. “Murderer,” it says.


Next week, it looks like we’ll see the final battle with the witches. I’m also hoping we’re going to get a teaser introduction to Dracula, since we’ve now learned that he’s Lucifer’s other half/brother/hell-spawn-compatriot.