Year: 2010 ~ Writer: Matt Fraction ~ Artist: Gabriel Ba ~ Colours: Cris Peter ~ Publisher: Icon
What’s it about?: Casanova Quinn – liar, bad seed and international scoundrel. He’s leading a life of crime, enjoying the hell out of disobeying his father Cornelius Quinn and the forces of E.M.P.I.R.E… but then, he’s abducted out of his own timeline and taken to another. Here, he’s enlisted by his sister Zephr and bandaged villain Newman Xeno to become his own evil twin and destroy E.M.P.I.R.E. from within…
The Story: “How can a bunch of stupid comic books compete with drugs and girls that let you take off their clothes?” It’s a damn good question (asked during the second story in this collection, ‘Pretty Little Policeman’), but if there’s one comic that stands a pretty good chance of competing, it’s the mad, brain-expanding and sinfully sexy Casanova. The brainchild of comics writer Matt Fraction, a man who’s carving out a selection of highly acclaimed stories in the mainstream Marvel universe (including an acclaimed run on The Invincible Iron Man), Casanova is the kind of full-tilt, love-it-or-hate-it, packed-to-the-brim-with-invention story that thumbs its nose at normality, convention and good taste. Instead, what we get is a gorgeously hyper-lurid blend of sci-fi, pop art spy thriller and twisted family saga, as if someone had taken cult sixties adventure Danger Diabolik and mashed it together with Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels and a heavy dollop of Grant Morrison-style insanity.
Originally published back in 2006, Casanova was first issued in smaller-formatted 15 page instalments (and in a simply coloured green/black/white style), and Fraction made every page count by cramming a jaw-dropping level of invention into each one. In the first instalment alone, we get horny fembots, psychic combat, drugged-out sex and a helicopter-driven supercasino – and that’s only in the first twelve pages, shortly before our hero gets torn out of reality and things get really strange. It’s a demanding read, one that hurls concepts at the reader as fast as they can take it, and while the broad ‘Bond on Acid’ style is fun, energetic and wonderfully sexy, the world of Casanova is also a weird, disturbing and downright brutal one. If it isn’t the torture, it’s the nude male wrestling deathmatch. If it isn’t the robot orgies, it’s the worryingly flirtatious nature of the relationship between Casanova and his alternate, not-technicially-in-a-quantum-way-related twin sister Zephr.
Fraction knows how to mess with our preconceptions, and spins a series of tales that up-end traditional pulp fiction assumptions (especially in ‘Coldheart’, where Casanova investigates a savage island of tribal warriors), twisting the narrative into interesting and mindbending shapes. It’s not just a romp, though – at the heart of Casanova, there’s a dark and troubling story of a tangled family, and what happens when reality collides with comic-book insanity. The sheer level of invention is boggling, and this isn’t a collection that’s easy to take in one sitting, but in today’s world of decompressed comics where whole fight sequences can stretch over multiple issues, a comic as packed full of goodness as Casanova is something to be applauded. Combine that with Fraction’s crackling dialogue and truly demented sense of humour, and you’ve got a turbo-charged dose of craziness that repays multiple re-reads.
This Icon collection reprints the original series from 2006, but it’s been spruced up with new colouring (creatively done by Cris Peter, and still referencing the green look of the comic’s first outing) and new lettering, along with a selection of fresh extras at the back of the book, including the new 10-page story ‘I Think I Almost Loved Him’, which fills in some of the gaps in the story around the character of the Night Nurse. Also, Icon is currently reprinting in issue format the also-recoloured and never-before-collected second Casanova run Gula, with an all-new Casanova story coming later in the year. Don’t hesitate – get onboard now with one of the most entertaining, challenging and genuinely offbeat comics out there.
The Art: Brazilian artist Gabriel Ba is better known for his work on offbeat fantasy comic The Umbrella Academy, but Casanova was the first work to get him serious mainstream attention, and it’s no surprise – this is stylish, distinctive and wonderfully sexy stuff. Dynamic and graphically interesting throughout, he’s brilliant at laying out pages and grabbing the reader’s attention. He also draws women like nobody else on Earth, managing a style that’s simultaneously over-the-top ludicrous, characterful, and utterly drenched in sultry sexiness (especially when it comes to Zephr Quinn in the ‘Pretty Little Policeman’ carnival sequence). There’s barely a crazed idea Fraction can come up with that Ba can’t pull off, and it all adds up to the kind of characterful and utterly unique comic art that’s easy to get lost in.
The Verdict: Like a particularly demented night out on the town, you may not remember everything that happens by the end of Casanova, but pretty soon you’ll be hungry to go through it all over again. It’s certainly not for everybody, but lovers of the cult, the strange and the sexy should buckle up for this ride as soon as they possibly can.