It’s a slow week in comic book releases. There just isn’t anything that really pops out for readers to grab on to.
I guess that’s not entirely true. There’s the debut issue of Justice League of America, by Steve Orlando and Ivan Reis. But that’s just another Justice League book, which also happens to be spinning out of the recent crossover “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.” There’s also the well-received All-Star Batman number seven, looking at Poison Ivy in a new and exciting light for readers to take in. But that’s a book I’ve already gone on about. None of these really feel like the kinds of books I want to be talking about this week.
Instead, I’m going to talk about an older comic series that’s getting some new love from the ascending star of one of its creators. Having made his name on the acclaimed Sex Criminals and the darling Hawkeye, Matt Fraction’s work is being regarded once again as postmodern in its approach and fun to read at the same time. Nowhere is this more apparent than his sci-fi super-spy story Casanova, created with artist Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.
The first volume of the series, Casanova: Acadia, follows the exploits of Casanova Quinn, super thief and estranged son of the head of one of the largest global espionage organizations in the world. Electing to be more rogue than hero, Casanova follows his own questionably moral compass in whatever endeavor he chooses. That is until Newman Xeno, famed interdimensional terrorist, kidnaps Casanova from his universe and propositions him for the ultimate con – replace his counterpart in another universe (who just so happens to be the greatest spy in his father’s organization) and bring down his duplicate father’s power once and for all.
Like I said, it’s a trippy concept. The series revels in the fact that it is all about the science fiction elements and doesn’t back down from bombarding the readers with the rules (or lack thereof) that their world has. In the opening issue, we see Cass stealing a sex android from a compound, seduce a dentist for a decayed tooth from one of his father’s chief lieutenants, engages a mutated floating head in a battle of wills and mental strength that is personified by black spiders and aged monks, and sell said tooth to said floating head to create an army of mindless drones…and that’s all before the main narrative begins.
The entire first volume isn’t nearly as dense as the first issue, but each issue carries with it some kind of hook to make it stand out from most everything else that is being published today. From an island that can only be accessed once every few decades and holds “savages” that are actually more technologically advanced than us, to an entire island filled with “airborne love” that drives people to have sex constantly and is filled with members of a secret society that only talk about the Beatles, the series lets its freak flag fly. Villains wrapped in bandages, bikinis made out of AmEx black cards, missile silos filled with money…it’s all in there. Even the more straightforward issues have non-linear storylines to keep readers befuddled.
It’s a lot to process. Fortunately, Fraction makes sure that Cass is a suitable anchor to keep the reader emotionally invested in the story. With such wild elements happening at a breakneck pace, it would be easy to just gloss over and let the visuals take you along. But Fraction’s characterization of Casanova is always worthy of your time. Part John le Carre spy, part Austin Powers cook, and part Han Solo rogue, all of it feels both fitting for the story and emotional enough to get you to care.
This caring is shown right from the beginning, as Cass shows some humanity at his sister’s funeral, right before getting into fisticuffs with his father (his real father, not the father from the alternate universe). Later on in the series, after showing Cass killing those who stand in the way of Xeno’s mission, he shows true affection when he discovers his mother is still alive in this new universe. The few scenes he has with her and her caretaker are gentle reminders that he isn’t as bad as he is being made to act.
Accompanying Fraction on this tale is Ba and Moon, who combine to render the book in all its abstract and obtuse glory. The wild elements of the book are what makes the book obviously great, as the designs feel a healthy mix of being lived-in and abstract. Seeing a gorgeous sunset on top of a skyscraper-sized robot seems to be the best depiction of this idea. But alongside these visuals are how both artists draw the human figures the drama is crafted around. Each character has their own unique body structure to help differentiate the many looks and ethnicities on display throughout the series. From the folds of bandages along Xeno’s face and the craggy lines on Cass’ mother’s face to the alluring curves of the women who dance through Cass’ field of vision and the bags under his father’s eyes…you get the idea. It looks stupendous alongside the wild ride of the narrative.
Even though it’s not the greatest week for character-driven new releases, there are still older books that you can dive into to get your comic book fix. Casanova stands as one such book, with three completed volumes and a fourth currently being published by Image Comics. If super-spies are your kind of thing, try one with a little LSD mixed into its DNA.