52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.  This week is all about taking your pants off for Mr. Matt Fraction.  He seems like a funny and nice guy; I could be horribly wrong though.

Matt Fraction

Thanks in part to his celebrated runs on several Marvel books as well as his creator owned work for Image, Matt Fraction has never been more popular than he is right now.  On the Marvel side of the fence, he’s done work on characters ranging from Iron Man to Iron Fist, Thor to Hawkeye and seemingly everyone in between.  Fraction has recently seen a major breakthrough in his creator-owned content he’s done for Image Comics, producing the likes of Casanova, Satellite Sam, ODY-C, and who could forget the mega-hit, Sex Criminals.  Matt Fraction is an oddball writer who uses his style of writing weird things in funny way to win fans over.  Take his great sense of humour and mix it in with some genuine moments where he just tugs on your heart strings and you’ll see just how in touch Matt Fraction is with the rest of the world.  Today we’ll take a look at one of his many works from under the Marvel banner, examining the first good chunk of stories from his Uncanny X-Men run.

Uncanny X-Men Complete Collection By Matt Fraction Volume 1

Uncanny X-Men The Complete Collection by Matt Fraction Vol 1 coverThis collection of stories kicks off with the over-sized 500th issue of Uncanny X-Men, which Matt Fraction co-wrote with Ed Brubaker.  The two share writing duties for issues 500 all the way to 503 before Fraction takes over fully and spins the story in a bit of a different direction.  Fraction takes the time to splinter the story and break it off into several individual stories.  The entire volume occurs after the X-Men decide to up and move to San Francisco following the events of House of M, where the living population of powered mutants is reduced to roughly 200.  In San Francisco, the X-Men provide a whole new sanctuary for mutants, with or without powers.

This volume is jam packed with plenty of characters, as any gathering of the X-Men should be.  In doing so, Fraction is able to flesh out and develop some of these characters in new directions, none more so than Colossus, who gets himself past a personal hump due to the loss of the love of his life, Kitty Pryde a.k.a Shadowcat.  The development of the character Colossus is definitely one of the best parts of this entire collection of stories as you see him go from a lost, lovesick puppy to the strong, driven hero that he should be.  He takes some questionable actions at first to kick start his new path but it proves necessary as it allows the character to go full circle, coming back off the precipice of awful moral decisions to change the lives of many people.  The other two characters who help to improve the entire collection of stories are Emma Frost and Pixie.  Emma Frost is split between the X-Men and the villainous Cabal, run by Norman Osborne.  You watch Emma grapple with the growing distrust between her and Cyclops, which actually results in a great issue that sees her teaming up with Colossus.  Most of Pixie’s development happens while Brubaker is still on the book as you see her transition from scared and abused to courageous.

Colossus gets it.

Colossus gets it.

What makes this volume such a fun read is the momentum it builds as it carries on.  The initial wave of stories is a little slow to start but that’s during the period where you have Brubaker passing the torch off to Fraction.  As Fraction’s time on the book starts he immediately gets the ball rolling, setting up multiple avenues for the story to unfold under.  It’s as these stories start to flesh out that the volume becomes a truly engaging read.  It’s more than just a matter of feeling invested in the story having already read “X” amount of issues.  The story becomes genuinely interesting because Fraction leaves so many early hanging threads open for such a long time, feeding in little pieces of the puzzle as you get closer and closer to the conclusion of each issue.

As nice as it is that Fraction does manage to extend some of these plot threads throughout the entire volume, doing so does hurt a few of these stories.  In playing the long game some of these plot developments feel underused and just come off as awkward due to them popping back into play at unusual times.  A perfect example of this is the use of Magneto and the High Evolutionary during the entire collection.  They make seemingly random appearances in the first issue to set a few things into motion only to not be mentioned for another several issues so that their sudden appearance can be an excuse for a cliffhanger.  Instead of developing that storyline out in a manner that grabs the reader, it’s used as shock value at the end of the issue.  Obviously it all comes back around full circle in one of the later volumes but it’s still one of the larger hanging threads from this series of stories.

Storm controls lightning, just so you know.

Storm controls lightning, just so you know.

San Francisco is a perfect setting for this series of stories and it becomes more evident the further you get.  It’s a great decision to move the X-Men into such an accepting community as San Francisco due to its very strong gay community.  With the X-Men being a book that often deals with prejudice it’s a natural fit to move the team somewhere they will have a better chance at fitting in.  As a result of the move, the stories are energized with an active libido, as is mentioned in one of the earlier issues of this collection.  Just because the primary setting is San Francisco doesn’t mean Fraction shies away from moving the team around some.  Fraction establishes the X-Club, a gathering of highly intelligent characters to try and find a way to kick start the X-gene so that more mutants can be created.  The X-Club is started by Beast and Angel, with their travels to gather more members being one of the primary story lines for the entire volume.  The growing group travels to the far corners of the Earth to gather more members resulting in the occasional break from the San Francisco setting.

In terms of the dialogue in the volume, Fraction delivers a bit of a mixed bag here.  His stylish sense of humour is constantly on display, churning out some laugh out loud dialogue multiple times through out the volume.  Even with his joker side on full display, Fraction still manages to inject more than enough personality into all the characters.  With this in mind, there still are moments where the dialogue just feels like it’s there so there’s something for the characters to say instead of doing something to push the story forward.  There’s more than a few instances where characters repeat themselves within the same word balloon.  You get a sense that Fraction almost tries too hard to have these characters speak organically but the end result causes them to sound rustic and robotic.  On top of all this, as many funny moments as he manages to inject into the story, there are a few jokes that just fall flat.

That awkward moment when even Colossus can’t make being an Oakland Raiders fan cool…

That awkward moment when even Colossus can’t make being an Oakland Raiders fan cool…

Best Character:  Colossus

Best Line of Dialogue or Caption:  “I take it back.  I quit.  Who wants to save a bunch of terrified American bigots?  I’m going back to Canada where I enjoyed socialized health care, the metric system and tolerance.” – Northstar

Best Moment/Scene:  The Sisterhood’s assault on the X-Men – Issue 509

Best Issue:  Issue 507.  This issue has a fairly light tone to it as it flips between Colossus and Emma Frost taking out foul human traffickers and the X-Club, a brain trust of the smartest X-Men, trying to recruit Yuriko Takiguchi into their cause of finding out how to correct the “M-Day” incident.  The action switches between each team in a way that the opposite group is almost reacting to what the other group is doing or finish their line of dialogue.  It’s fun, snappy and still tells a great story at the end of it all.

Why You Should Read It:  In my eyes, the X-Men have always been that group for Marvel that brings the element of cultural awareness to their stories.  Prejudice, racism and homophobia are all things you can see the X-Men grapple with, henceforth why they move to a place like San Francisco, a city where anyone can seemingly be whatever they want.  It’s intelligent and in touch with our culture in that sense.  Fraction does mold the X-Men for modern times and does it with his wit, humour and charm he’s well known for having.

Sex Criminals Vol 1

Sex Criminals Vol 1 coverWhen Sex Criminals was first released it was met with as much critical acclaim as it was criticism.  New York Time’s proclaimed it the “Comic of the Year” for 2013 and the book went to multiple printings, none more popular than the fourth printing of issue 1 (look it up if you haven’t seen it already because it’s hilarious).  Long before this announcement came the news that Apple refused to allow the purchasing of Sex Criminals from its iOS marketplace so readers from sites like Comixology couldn’t even get the comic due to its banning, starting with issue 3.  At the same time that issue 3 was rejected, issue 1 was retroactively removed from the marketplace, creating widespread uproar over the wavering guidelines for submitting content for purchase.  Even with this minor setback, Sex Criminals went one to easily be not only the best comic of 2013 but also be one of the most successful comics from that year as well.

Sex Criminals is all about sex…and criminals…and criminals who have sex but really aren’t criminals in the conventional sense.  Cool?  Suzie is a young woman who discovers early on in her life that she has the ability to stop time whenever she orgasms.  She enters “The Quiet”, a state of suspended animation where the rest of the world stop but she remains active.  Suzie’s life is in an odd place as she has to deal with the fact that the bank is threatening to foreclose the library she works at.  This problem finds a solution when Suzie meets a man named Jon and discovers that he too can stop time when he orgasms.  Jon proposes that the two rob multiple banks to generate the funds to stop the bank from foreclosing the library which in theory seems like an okay idea.  Not everything goes as planned though when the two time stopping love monkeys try robbing the bank Jon works in and find out that maybe they aren’t the only people with these powers.

Before we even start let’s get it out of the way and give props to the artist Chip Zdarsky for the phenomenal work he’s done of the series.  I know this column is supposed to be all about the writers but without Zdarsky this book just wouldn’t be the same.  He is the comic talent equivalent of Matt Fraction’s soul mate as the two creators are a perfect match for the book and each other.  No Zdarsky would mean the humour wouldn’t have the same zing to it and for that reason alone he deserves at least one paragraph.

We’ve all wanted to poop in our bosses plants at one time or another right?…Right? No? Just Jon and I then? Alright.

We’ve all wanted to poop in our bosses plants at one time or another right?…Right? No? Just Jon and I then? Alright.

So about that humour.  Matt Fraction does what he does best which is make a story funny but genuine all at the same time.  There are more than a few instances in this volume that are hilarious but still make you smile because of the honesty that comes with it.  Whether it’s the disturbingly comical bathroom stall scene from issue one or the moment where Suzie uses her powers against her best friend’s ex-boyfriend in issue four, Fraction always manages to find just the right balance between being funny and being serious.  It’s his ability to make something stern come off in a light manner that makes this series a rewarding read.

The story itself is very straight forward but it’s the twist of having sex to stop time that continually turns the series on its head.  Throughout the volume Fraction finds more than enough fun and different ways to use and abuse this amazing skill.  You can rearrange a porn shop, poop in your boss’ plant or just simply rob banks if you’d like.  There’s never a moment where you feel like these powers aren’t being used in original ways that just so happen to also pay off in some laughs.

One of the main areas where the balance between comedy and actual story development is struck up is in the scenes of the book set in the past.  This comic jumps back and forth between a past and present storyline, going as far back as the childhood of characters to then jump back to only moments before the present timeline.  It’s during these past sections of the book where most of the truly engaging moments happen.  You’re forced to watch accelerated character development as from one page to the next you can see the change in a character because of the jumps in time.  Even still, Fraction keeps the characters grounded and wisely chooses to not put these characters through drastic changes too quickly.  The past is well plotted out so that it pays off in the present and sets up the future in an interesting way.

With the past timeline constantly in play, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.  On one hand it sets up some great things and informs the characters motivations.  On the other hand it hurts the present day storyline, causing it to drag out longer than it needs to.  When you look at the present storyline by itself, it’s something that could hardly fill a single issue of a comic.  It’s not a weak story by any means, it’s still dramatic and engaging but without the past timeline it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.  In that regard the comic relies far too much on the past to set things up and that halts the gears to a stop for the present storyline at times.  There is something rewarding about waiting five issues to get the full answer but it’s only a five issue wait because Fraction had to fluff the story a bit with a lot of past experiences.

Suzie sounds like she has way cooler orgasms than most people do.

Suzie sounds like she has way cooler orgasms than most people do.

Best Character:  Suzie

Best Line of Dialogue/Caption:  “Except for, like peeing in the woods when I was a kid, I don’t know if the sun’s ever even hit my junk.” – Jon

Best Scene/Moment:  Bathroom stall sex positions – Issue 1

Best Issue: Issue 3.  The obvious choice is issue 1.  The under appreciated choice is issue 3.  What makes issue 3 stand out from the herd are plenty of reasons ranging from informing us more about a character to unforgettable scenes that people are still talking about.  It perfectly summarizes what relationships have become in this day and age, spinning it in a way that suits this story perfectly.  Issue 3 has it all from Jon’s Esteban fueled loss of virginity to Suzie inability to legally belt out Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” and even the rearranging of an entire porn shop.  Oh and someone gets smacked in the face with a dildo…because that’s what makes good comics…dildos…and faces.

Why You Should Read It:  Sex Criminals might be one of the funniest comics you’ll ever read.  On a purely comedic level it’s better than any comedy film you’ve watched in the last five years.  In terms of a story, it may be a funny book but it’s also intelligent.  You care about the characters and what happens to them.  You become invested in “The Quiet” and how it works, much like how Suzie obsesses about it early on in her life.  The comic will make you feel tingly in all the right and wrong places which is about all you could ever really ask for from a series called “Sex Criminals”.