Comics Review: The Week in Comics (7/9/2011): Casanova – Avaritia 1, Morning Glories 12

Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)

Casanova Avaritia 1 cover art Matt Fraction Gabriel BaCASANOVA – AVARITIA issue 1
Writer: Matt Fraction ~ Artist: Gabriel Ba ~ Publisher: Icon

[xrr rating=4/5]

It’s been a long time coming. Fast becoming known as the ‘Velvet Underground’ of indie comics, Casanova is a sprawling, wild and deeply bizarre mix of sci-fi and demented spy thriller that built up a major following when it was first published in a stripped-down, adventurously cheap ‘two-colour’ format back in the mid 2000s. Now, following a full-colour reprint of the first two series, we’ve now got the first brand new Casanova material in years… and it’s unsurprisingly tricky. Matt Fraction’s since risen to fame as one of the biggest new writers at Marvel (especially for his work on The Invincible Iron Man), but Casanova is something different, and weirdly personal in spite of its seemingly too-cool-for-school mix of spies, sex and alternate universes. Everyone involved in Casanova has moved on in one way or another during the ‘hiatus’, so it’s no surprise that this feels different – for a start, we have an uninterrupted 32 page chapter (which also means the price has gone up to $4.99 an issue), and also the storytelling is a little bigger, and not quite as fiercely compressed as before. That isn’t to say Fraction and his team aren’t still experimenting like crazy – there’s a dizzying whirl of techniques here, including seventies-style freeze frame captions, genuinely effective thought balloons, and sixteen different alternate universes on a single page. But with the story much darker, as Casanova finds himself stuck annihilating realities under orders from his ‘father’ (only to then discover something much more significant), this isn’t quite the full-on, no-holds-barred explosion of pure comics that Casanova has managed before. New arc, new theme, new style – I may have been ever-so-slightly disappointed with the first instalment of Avaritia, but I’m willing to give Fraction the benefit of the doubt and settle in for what’s sure to be a wild and unpredictable journey.

Morning Glories 12 cover art Nick Spencer Joe Eisma Rodin EsquejoMORNING GLORIES issue 12
Writer: Nick Spencer ~ Artist: Joe Eisma ~ Publisher: Image

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

Oh, Morning Glories. You had me. You really did. I was buckled in for the ride – the first six issues hooked me with their mix of Lost, The Prisoner, and the early (best) years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You even had Nick Spencer, one of the most promising writers out there, and the man reponsible for the Jimmy Olsen special that was, frankly, close to being the comic of the year. So why exactly did I end reading issue 12 of Morning Glories by deciding that 12 issues, frankly, was quite enough? Honestly, it’s because the second six-issue helping (I hesitate to call it an ‘arc’) started really well, but has ended up leeching all the momentum out of the story. The concept of doing character-centric issues is a good one – it’s very Lost, and it should have given us time to get to know our characters. And it did, in a manner of speaking – but Spencer’s decision to pile mystery on top of mystery has ended up with lots and lots of intrigue, but a glacial storytelling pace that feels like it’s going nowhere.

Added to which, most of the mysteries haven’t been followed up on in the slightest, meaning it’s been rather like reading six issue ones in a row, and I’ve gotten fed up of waiting for the story to start. Lost-style longform storytelling is risky in a monthly comic book format, because you’ve got to give the audience enough meat to feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth, and with Morning Glories it’s as if I’ve been buying 22 pages of tease for the past few months. Even issue 12 (which features some strong moments, seriously intriguing reveals and a couple of big revelations) still manages to introduce another new character and a whole selection of other things we don’t have answers for, and the results are more frustrating than entertaining. Added to this, there’s Spencer’s occasional moments of dialogue clunk, particularly when someone decides to say something significant in bold and italics for extra emphasis in case we hadn’t gotten the message that this was important… and then there’s the art. I’ve given artist Joe Eisma twelve issues to convince me, and his line-heavy, slightly bare style simply hasn’t won me over, while it’d be nice if he could draw more than one female character (Scarlet) who doesn’t have the same face as everybody else. It’s a real shame – Morning Glories has tons of potential, and properly entertained me for its first six issues, but right now I’m leaving this high school thriller to it. I’ll check in once the third arc is out in trade, but for now, Morning Glories is on its own.


Comic Review – Morning Glories : Volume One

Writer: Nick Spencer ~ Artist: Joe Eisma ~ Colours: Alex Sollazzo ~ Publisher: Image Comics ~ Year: 2010

[xrr rating=4/5]

Morning Glories Volume 1 For A Better Future coverThe Low-Down: A sharp and witty cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Prisoner (with a running mystery that equals Lost for sheer pulp unfathomability), this high school saga is overcoming a few art-related issues and shaping up to be a compulsively entertaining read.

What’s it About?: Six accomplished teenage students are offered the chance of a lifetime – a scholarship at the prestigious Morning Glory Academy. It’s an institution that’s searching for excellence, but its location is a secret, escape is impossible, and its methods include torture, mind-games and murder. Secrets are waiting to be discovered in the depths of the Academy, as the six newcomers find themselves locked in a lethal game of cat-and-mouse with their teachers. But what does the phrase “The hour of our release draws near” have to do with all this?

The Story: It’s always easy to be suspicious of hype, especially in the world of comics. When a title becomes a sell-out smash hit, it often has more to do with marketing and how ‘important’ or how much of an ‘event’ the relevant comic is than whether or not it’s any good. So, when new series Morning Glories sold out two separate printings of its first issue, it’d be easy to be cynical –if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s also a well-crafted, entertaining and intriguing story that’s heading in some extremely promising directions.

Morning Glories Page Art Joe EismaWe’re unashamedly in Teen Drama territory here, with a group of disparate characters being brought together to face an as-yet-unspecified threat (and also overcome various issues in their past). While there are plenty of echoes of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes here (especially with the ‘High School that hides dark secrets’ setup) what’s more interesting is the way that up-and-coming writer Nick Spencer has structured this as a battle of wills between our teenage heroes and the teachers who are trying to manipulate, interrogate and control them. In short, it’s Buffy meets Sixties cult classic TV series The Prisoner, with an accompanying dose of the characterisation, structure and mad pulp stylings of Lost.

The overarching mystery is certainly going in directions that could be described as ‘unexpected’ (especially when it becomes clear that fifteenth century Spain is somehow connected), and Spencer delivers a number of effective shocks that build up the sense of intrigue, while also pulling off some very nicely played and engaging character moments. In the first chapter, there’s one of the best examples of the ‘meet-cute’ scene, between lead characters Casey and Hunter, that I’ve seen in a long time, and Spencer keeps the pace up while giving the characters depth and believability. He also isn’t afraid to throw violence into the equation – the stakes are high, and certain sequences feature major levels of blood, but the story binds all the mysteries together, pacing the whole saga as a compulsive teen thriller.

Morning Glories Art Joe EismaThere’s a long game at work here – seeds are being laid for a long-running mystery, especially in the sixth chapter collected here, which plays as a Lost-style ‘inbetweener’ episode that shows us a very different perspective on events and throws in some major surprises. Aside from a couple of creaky lines, Spencer’s dialogue is top-notch, the characters are engaging, and the mystery is absorbing. In short, it’s the kind of comic project that has “Soon to be optioned as a Movie or TV Series” written all over it, and given its already impressive success, Morning Glories looks likely to continue being an intriguing and engaging comic book read.

Morning Glories Page Art Joe Eisma 2The Art: Unfortunately, if there’s one area where Morning Glories hasn’t completely won me over, it’s the art. Joe Eisma’s work is sometimes very impressive, but his very line-heavy, sometimes angular approach to character’s faces means that certain panels work better than others, and doesn’t always seem to blend well with Alex Sollazo’s colour work. At times, Eisma’s able to make the dialogue scenes incredibly expressive, but he also has occasional difficulties making his female characters look different from each other, while his habit of drawing people with slightly toothy grins and staring eyes gets a little off-putting at times. It’s a shame, because he’s also extremely good at creating atmosphere, pulling off some effective compositions and grisly moments of violence (especially the sequences featuring the mysterious ‘cylinder’ in the basement of the school). It’s one of those frustrating comics where the cover art (from Rodin Esquejo) is sometimes more eyecatching than the interior work, but it’s very likely that Eisma’s style and approach will evolve as the story goes on, so hopefully these are just initial teething troubles that’ll sort themselves out soon.

The Verdict: There are a few moments where the series is still finding its feet, but the central mysteries of Morning Glories will pull you in, and the strong characterisation makes this a ride that’s well worth taking.

[amtap book:isbn=1607063611]