Propaganda – Casanova: Luxuria, not just your average sci-fi superspy epic
With Casanova, as with The Umbrella Academy, I’m seeing an awful lot of Grant Morrison in here and a fair touch of Warren Ellis as well. But this is no bad thing when Fraction mixes it up so well and, after all, it’s my own fault for being old. Because Fraction’s possibly the first writer of any skill or note to really break through attempting to continue the sorts of things Morrison and Ellis were doing 10 years ago, so it’s perfectly natural and acceptable that I’m hearing their voices in all of this.
But it’s something more than that. In many ways it’s a Morrison-esque plot wrapped up in Ellis style dialogue. This is cool in so many ways: Casanova Quinn is the son of the director of E.M.P.I.R.E., which, like all multi-acronym organisations happens to be the world’s premier spy agency / peace-keeping force / bunch of psychotic sociopathic bastards intent on stamping on your lives (delete as you your political viewpoints dictate). His sister is daddy’s star agent and is hard at work trying to sort out recent space-time breaches. Casanova is the bad seed in the family; thief, villain and much worse – this is the man who punches God in the brain. Literally:
(Hitting the town after hitting God in the brain. Well how would you wind down after that? Gabriel Ba’s artwork from Casanova. (c) Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba. Published Image Comics.)
In the first 15 pages Casanova manages to kidnap a Ruby, fall foul of his dad’s favourite henchman (whom he later clones from a tooth sample provided from the company dental nurse he talks into bed), gets involved in a game of psychic staredown against three monks with their brains welded together, visits his sister’s funeral and jumps out of a plane whilst breaking across the time continium. In Fifteen pages.
Later on he get’s put to work by Dad, meets dastardly villain Newman Xeno (head of W.A.S.T.E – it’s not just James Bond and Nick Fury, there’s a Pynchon reference for you) and switches allegiances more times than he crosses timelines.
It’s a fast and furious piece and that’s just fine by me as Casanova is smart as well as fast, delivering all out action, sophisticated intrigue and more and more profound weirdness as the tale goes on. It’s a superspy sci-fi fantasy with an impressive scope and one that’s not afraid to play around with all sorts of cliches. Casanova himself is part James Bond, part Nick Fury, part Jerry Cornelius (I don’t imagine it’s any co-incidence that dad’s called Cornelius). It’s all about suave super-spies in dress suits, carrying a silenced pistol in one hand and someone suitably gorgeous in the other. Of course there’s mystery and intrigue, and Casanova does tend to play up to his name but it’s all done with a tongue thrust way into Fraction’s cheek. And the superspy idea just gets my attention every time, especially one that pushes all the right Steranko era Nick Fury button like Casanova does.
(This is what Casanova reminds me of. Steranko’s Nick Fury; a masterpiece that Casanova not only references but matches up to.)
But what ultimately elevates it above any number of comic superspy / sci-fi thrillers is the quality of Fraction’s Morrison/Ellis mashup writing and Gabriel Ba’s exquisite, minimalist and noirish stylings. Working in a simple monochrome and jade green palette and referencing Mike Mignola, Tim Sale and Eduardo Risso, he matches the frenetic and complex pace of the writing perfectly, making everything just that little bit angular, exotic and yet delightfully weird at the same time. A perfect match.
Later on in the series, the as yet uncollected Volume 3; Gabriel’s brother, Fabio Moon takes over the art and it looks like he’s doing a good job of matching his brother page for page, albeit with a different third colour this time round. The brothers are getting noticed as well, having recently been on Entertainment Weekly’s hot 100 list and getting the chance to draw their own portraits:
Casanova is absolutely top quality comics, paying dues to the past but striving forward to make weird stuff anew. A better sci-fi superspy thriller you just will not find for a long time..
Casanova: Luxuria is available as a hardcover and softcover. The hardcover’s an oversized thing with extras and well worth a few quid extra. And with something this cinematic and playing with cinema toys like James Bond it should come as no surprise that a movie deal was announced in July.
Richard Bruton will be outside playing spies for a little while until he’s called in for tea..