COMICS REWIND: ‘Casanova: Luxuria’

This is the part where I admit my limitations as a writer.

I generally attempt to give some sense of what exactly you’ll encounter if you happen to pick up any of these comics I’m recommending to you each week. I try to outline the mainframe of the plot, give you a few character names to make you feel at home, maybe even tease a spoiler or two. I can’t do that this time. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to, it’s just that this time we’re talking about Casanova, and Casanova isn’t easy to peg.

Matt Fraction is now the guy who writes The Invincible Iron Man (and wins Eisners for it), the guy who engineered Marvel’s Fear Itself event, the guy who turned in impressive runs on Uncanny X-Men and Immortal Iron Fist, the guy who brought The Mighty Thor back to cosmic glory. Before he was those things, he trumpeted himself to the comics world with this book. Why is it so hard for me to articulate just why Casanova is worth your attention? Read on, because I’m at least going to try.

Casanova Quinn is a thief with style in the grand tradition of all thieves with style. You know how you see a heist movie and even though you know you could never pull it off yourself, you look at the screen and say, “I wanna be that guy”? Well, that’s Cass, except Cass has the added advantage of living in this comic book world, which is immediately dense and wondrous and psychedelic, like a really good Floyd record.

Casanova’s situation is made slightly more complicated when you factor in that his Dad is the head of E.M.P.I.R.E., a worldwide spy network that doesn’t take too kindly to thieves of any sort, even thieves with style, even thieves that are in the family. To make matters even more complicated for Cass, his sister Zephyr isn’t just working for the good guys. She’s the good guys’ star.

And then everything changes. Zephyr dies, and at her funeral Cass finds a strange object in his pocket a few moments before being whisked into a parallel timeline and into the clutches of international pansexual supercriminal Newman Xeno, the head of W.A.S.T.E., sworn enemy of all things E. M. P. I. R. E.

Xeno’s got a plan for Cass. See, in this timeline, just one over from the one he’s from originally, Cass was the E.M.P.I.R.E. superstar, and Zephyr was the big bad criminal with style, so big and bad and so stylish that she’s actually Xeno’s lovah (You’re supposed to say it like that. Not lover, lovah. Dig?). Since Zephyr is the black sheep on this side of spacetime, that leaves Cass to be the white knight of the family, only in this timeline Cass has just died. Xeno’s plan: use the Cass from the alternate timeline – the criminal with style Cass – and send him into E. M. P. I. R. E. as a double agent under the pretense that the Cass in this timeline never died in the first place. With me so far? If you are, congratulations, because sitting and down and reading the thing is just a little trickier.

Luxuria is the first seven issues, the first arc (or “album,” as Fraction says) of the series, which is now finally in the midst of its third album, Avaritia. Among all the parallel universe insanity and evil supercriminals and bad sisters, there are also armies of very real-looking (and feeling, it would seem) sex robots, a fun joint where sex energy literally hangs in the air like a damn Phil Collins song, Beatles references, three-faced aliens and enough family tension to make even the most dysfunctional reader feel better about themselves.

What sucks you in, though, is the art. Gabriel Ba masterfully pencils the first seven issues in one-color format (black and white, only the black isn’t black; it’s green, or blue, or purple), and every page is a kind of monstrous trippy feast of images. It’s among the more engrossingly visual comics you’ll find anywhere. And then you get to the story.

If you’re a Fraction fan (as I obviously am), you know that part of his appeal is the kind of headfirst enthusiasm that he brings to his work. It’s like he still can’t believe that he’s the guy that gets to do this stuff, and with every book he just ducks his head and charges with frenzied passion. Thing is though, his Marvel stuff has to be distilled through the Marvel way of doing things. It has to be a Marvel book that Matt Fraction wrote, not a Matt Fraction book. It’s the price of working for the Big Two.

But this…This is Fraction, the straight download from his crazed head to the page, and the result is a freewheeling, endlessly surprising comic loaded with pop culture, science fiction and almost hallucinatory storytelling glee. It’s an example of just how badass creator-owned comics can be when their creator just throws down all pretense and goes for it. Pick up Casanova and you’ll see comics differently.



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