If there was any hope that Sex Criminals would be dragged out of the doldrums by Matt Fraction, that hope is dashed with the final hardcover collection being the weakest. What began as funny, sparky and interesting stories about sympathetic ordinary people having fun has turned into moany, introspective people whining about their relationships. The likeable Suzie and Jon, introduced at the start have been sucked into an ensemble cast, very few of whom are as pleasant, which wouldn’t be a problem if they were interesting, but they’re not. In as much as there’s a primary villain, it’s tech entrepreneur Kuber Badal. He’s intense and dull, despite eventually becoming key to revelations about what’s going on.

You wouldn’t necessarily understand the decline from just looking at the book, because Chip Zdarsky continues to supply one attractive looking page after another. It’s attention-grabbing and personality-rich, just as it has been from the start, but with only flashes of it servicing a viable story. Sex content remains high, and one of the best sequences concerns Suzie dating a pretentious art enthusiast, while living back at home with her menopausal mother’s increased sex drive. However, such scenes are just ghostly reminders of how funny Sex Criminals was at the start.

Originally presented in paperback as Five-Fingered Discount and Six Criminals, the first of them is the weakest book in the entire series, the cast stuck in a holding pattern as Fraction seems to have no idea what to do with them. Laughter has all-but disappeared, and even Zdarksy seems affected as the once plentiful background jokes in the art are few and far between.

Even accepting the change of direction to be a more adult examination of doubts and concerns about self-worth, these closing chapters are unsatisfying. They supply some closure for Suzie while explaining her place in what’s been going on, but not in any way that captivates. Even a final chapter set a few years in the future and offering the possibility for some creative redemption just becomes a meandering epilogue, although not without funny moments.

So much of this reads as if Fraction lacks any sense of direction, so self-indulgence becomes the defining concept. It’s so disappointing for a series that began so innovatively.