Monday, February 2, 2015

A Tongue Twisting Storm That Comes To The Show Tonight: Review of Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon's CASANOVA: ACEDIA #1

Writer: Matt Fraction (“Nine Days Now”), Michael Chabon (“The Metanauts: Kawaii-Five O”)
Artist:  Fábio Moon (“Nine Days Now”), Gabriel Bá (“The Metanauts: Kawaii-Five O”)
Colors: Cris Peter
Letters: Dustin Harbin
Publisher: Image
KEITH SILVA: First came lust (Luxuria), followed by gluttony (Gula) and after, avarice (Avaritia) and now negligence/sloth (Acedia), so much divinity, so much comedy and so much love for sin(s). What precedes each of these funny-sounding Latin-y words — which, for those keeping score at home (nerds), are, truth be told, derived from a medieval regional Italian dialect, Tuscany to be specific — is … more Italian: Casanova. As both title and titular figure, each swings. Casanova Quinn is James Bond by another name; a character one might describe as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like between her sheets” if such a phrase didn’t sound so outdated or reek of fifties sexism, but I digress.
Before Matt Fraction became a one man cottage industry for creator-owned passion projects (Sex Criminals,Satellite Sam and Ody-C) there was (there is) Casanova. Published by Image Comics in 2006, Casanova: Luxuria is where Fraction first slipped the shackles of his Marvel masters and their assembly-line of corporate cape comics to plant his own flag; to his credit, he brought along three inimitable artists — cartoonist Gabriel Bá, colorist Cris Peter and letterer Dustin Harbin — to give his espionage, sci-fi, adventure mash-up a cool factor of a cagillion and a sexiness that makes the most (and least) chaste, wet. Luxuria remains a masterpiece of wit, imagination and storytelling so tight as to appear painted on. Few comics are as fun, pure and uncut as Casanova: Luxuria.
The second and third chapters, Gula and Avaritia, respectively, never quite catch the first-time giddiness of theirpaterfamilias predecessor. How could they? Avaritia comes closest to the joy (the Fraction-y-ness) of its antecedent, a contact high, at best. As for Gula, well, frankly, it’s a mess of over-thinking, over-indulgence and smacks of trying-too-hard, a crystalline example of a sophomore slump. And … so … Acedia? … well, magic-eight-ball-wise, let’s say, ‘signs point to sexiness.’
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Sitting in with Fraction et al. for Acedia is literary colossus and inveterate comic book fanboy, Michael Chabon who gets to punch below his weight class with Moon’s twin brother and the co-creator of Casanova, Gabriel Bá. Chabon and Bá (along with Peter and Harbin) contribute a back-up story about flashes of full frontal nudity, the rare bird known as the ‘rock critic’ and the power of rock-and-roll. Chabon, who until this point, gave good blurb on Casanovais the perfect foil for Fraction’s hyper-focused frippery. Chabon gets to pen the story of a member of the fierce female foursome, T.A.M.I. She brags about her on-stage turnout as no more than “three strands of black wire, two LED flashers and a titanium kotex,” so, yeah, Chabon gets it. As for Fraction …

Acedia picks up where Avaritia leaves off: a recently crash-landed Cass — late of having operated a stylized ’55 Jaguar that doubled as an inter-dimensional time machine — has become an amnesiac who now goes by Cassiday (paging John) and here works as a Mr. Fix-it (assassinations, killings, some driving) for an old fossil, a richy-rich bon vivant, Amiel Boutique. All of this takes place in ‘a’ Los Angeles not necessarily ‘the’ Los Angeles, you know, the one we know as … Los Angeles. See, since this is a Casanova comic, interrogative words like ‘who,’ ‘when,’ and ‘where’ are … kinda’ fucked up. Time-travel and, of course, its intrinsic problematic trappings are the means by which Fraction examines the question every shoe gazer and belly button-starer since the dawn of time wants to know: who am I … really?
Plot-wise Acedia is about a quest to solve what Boutique calls a “mystery of me.” As Cassiday investigates his boss, Boutique will, in turn, use all his power and influence, his N.E.T.W.O.R.K (nod, nod, wink, wink) to learn who Mr. Cassiday is or was since both are, as Boutique says, “two men without pasts.” It’s a fine start and there are even some sinister looking symbols and dudes with guns and complicated hats to flesh it all out. Reductively there’s a Da Vinci Code meets The Bourne Identity or The Long Kiss Goodnight vibe Fraction is playing with in this first issue. Casanova is always about identity so stay tuned to see if Casanova solves himself.
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To this central conceit, the time-travel-now-quest-mystery-thingy, Fraction layers on genres and sub-genres, jokes and pop cultural-references and not least of all — best-of-all (?) — so much meta-textual goofiness as to make Mel Brooks blush (if that reference is too dated, think Pinkie Pie in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic). Herein, therein and/or wherein, for that matter, lies the potential for problems for Casanova. If I were English I would use the phrase, ‘over-egg the pudding’ and be done with it. But since I am much more coarse (and American), I’ll say too often and without trying very hard Casanova sometimes reads like ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag. With only one issue under its three strands of black wire, the shit seems … manageable, for now.
What keeps Casanova’s plot gymnastics from crashing to the ground is Fabio Moon and Cris Peter. When Fraction’s script feels either schizophrenic or too creative by half, the art is always clear and confident. Peter works the Casanova palette, a forty-five color range within a dominant thematic color, like the true master she is. In Acedia it’s pallid blue interiors and sallow yellow skies, in-between colors perfect for men of mystery. When Cas is attacked and nearly drowned, it’s Peter whose switch from the cool cobalt blues of what’s going on topside add to the drama when replaced by the violent purples and deep peaches of what’s below the surface of the water. Casanovais a moody comic and that’s all Cris Peter.
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Fabio Moon makes everything better. Full stop. The kinky angularity, the thigh gaps, tits and square shoulders of his character designs always feel supple for all their sharp edges. Watch how he leads the ‘peek-a-boo’ girl through the crowd in the party scene. See how she appears on the periphery of each frame as she spirals her way across the page. Moon has her slink around the corners of the main action, like a snake. Her path a ‘golden ratio’ of composition, so subtle and so damn artistic it’s easy to overlook the forces, the talent at work. Casanova is a story you read twice, once for the words and once for the pictures (in which order is up to you) because it’s, you know, a comic and that’s how it’s supposed to be done.
For a series with neglect in its name Casanova: Acedia is anything but apathetic.
JASON SACKS: The Hollywood Hills bespeak decadence, beautiful women, tough men, secrets piled relentlessly upon secrets, a touch of flash, a lot of drugs, and a faded elegance built on false dreams and an unreal world. It’s a world of fake people wearing makeup masks. The Hollywood Hills is a strange place of created people with made-up names and PR-driven pasts who speak words written by others delivered with the illusion of life so that people can imagine themselves in that false skin.
Hollywood is a place where agendas are hidden, where personal politics is the nature of the game, where a stab in the back is the price of doing business and a relationship can be as transitory as the next fuck or the next party.
It’s the perfect place for a lost and decadent Casanova Quinn reincarnated as Quentin Cassiday; there’s no better place for a person who believes “I couldn’t remember anything… so I couldn’t think of anything I’d lose.”
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But this being L.A., the past will always come back to haunt you. It will stab you in the back like a beautiful bare-breasted woman in expensive heels who has deep seeded secrets and the lust to fuck you up in a major way. Because the past always haunts the present in L.A., even more so if you’re a man who has secrets that he doesn’t remember, who is carrying around the baggage of a past that won’t leave him behind and makes him feel rootless, free, but encumbered by himself despite that freedom.
L.A. is also the birthplace of noir, of the exploration of secrets and mysterious pasts, the curse of one’s life come to haunt you, where your crazy messed-up history causes death to be a constant shadow.
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Our man Fábio Moon draws this comic with his usual panache, with an approach that seems to express the throbbing unreality of the world that he’s depicting. Images seem slightly off-kilter, unfocused, somehow unreal at times — the abstract unreal images of the partygoers as lolling decadents both reinforcing the idea of L.A.-as-center-of-unreality and Casanova’s dislocation from his objective reality. The art reinforces the falseness of the L.A. lifestyle, which reinforces Casanova’s dislocation, which reinforces the falseness of his lifestyle, the lovely art showing fashionable clothing which reinforces the shallowness of life and around and around we go in a wonderful artistic virtual loop that helps this book to transcend its setting and provide the reader with a haunting depth.
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For a comic that’s colored so beautifully and brightly, Acedia is a dark, dark comic. There are smiling faces but there are secrets behind those smiling eyes, conspiracies and alternate realities and false truths and some sort of strange ineffable who knows what that lies out there. It seems symbolic and real at the same time that Cass is attacked at a library — a source of knowledge — by abstract-seeming Grey Men who seem to reflect a fungible view of reality that is abstracted from normal humanity and connected to its own inexplicable truths. Objective truth constantly is glimpsed out of the corner of your eye and yet is oh so very elusive.
In the unreality of the Hollywood hills, a secret agent disconnected from reality struggles to find objective reality.Casanova has always been the most philosophical of action epics, and here Fraction and Moon escalate this chapter of their astonishing story to a transcendent level. Ain’t no torpor here.
“They say the world’s gonna end in nine days.” That sounds like the theme of a great Hollywood noir to me. What say you, Daniel?l,
DANIEL ELKIN: In June of 1972, like some sort of IED buried deep in the bowels of the pop culture dynamo, a red-mulleted, Japanese influenced, drug fueled, face painted, horny bisexual alien took to the stage and declared, “My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare; I had to cram so many things to store everything in there…
Yeah, Ziggy may have had five years, but here in the bizarro land of Fraction and Moon and Peter and Harbin’sCasanova: Acedia (where people still do research in libraries for fuck’s sake, “Not on the books! NOT ON THE BOOKS!!”), the Occultists have declared that the world has but Nine Days left to cry in.
And it was cold, and it rained, so I felt like an actor. And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there. Your face, your race, the way that you talk. I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.
Nothing moves a plot along like a time constraint that ends in nothingness. Bowie understood this.
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Sure Casanova Quinn is all mid-70’s Mick Jagger swagger, but at its heart, Casanova: Acedia grooves with the strum und drang of Ziggy Stardust’s impossible mission realized, to become a rock and roll star by just being a rock and roll star. You show up in a stretch limo, gonked to the nines on rails of cocaine — you step out in your fashion with a guitar in your hand and people start taking notice, people start taking pictures. Suddenly you climb up on stage and everybody wants to sing along with your songs, everybody wants to be you, and they feed and they feed on your dream until there is nothing left to do but escape to the Eastern Block wearing Jimmy’s pants, crank up the electronica mood inducers, and start howling into the microphone all that is left of your soul.
So inviting, so enticing to play the part. It’s a wild mutation. Don’t let the milk float rob your mind. All the knives seem to lacerate your brain.
Yeah. You’re not alone.
“Casanova is always about identity,” eh, Silva? Well, as far as all this is concerned, identity is thrift store full of dead people’s clothes — you try something on and, if it fits you right, walk out the door and watch that man.
And that’s the American story, isn’t it (leave it to a Brit like Bowie to remind us of that)? We are the kings of reinvention. And “no memory of the past means no fear of the future.”  Fraction is layin’ down some rock and roll, lotta soul. He’s got the full Moonage Daydream working on this Starman — this “blank slate” that can recognize “the feel of incipient nothingness” — and Moon and Peter are his Weird and Gilly.
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Casanova: Acedia #1 is, for a lack of a better term, the “naz”.
But why stop there? I’ll add to the sandwich that Fraction and the band are making in the Green room;, that thick slabbed bread stuffed full of the “genres and sub-genres, jokes and pop cultural-references” you mentioned before, Silva. Let’s jump the rock and page through the lit. Ain’t all this first issue shit soooooo reminiscent of a young Jay Gatz from a sleepy little town in North Dakota who dreams of becoming a god among men?
Yeah, it’s happening, I’m dropping some Gatsby into this five pound bag as well.
I see this first salvo of Acedia as the Gatsby story unstuck in time and turned upside down/inside out/round and round, in which a man with no past writes a future for himself. While Gatsby sold his soul because he believed, incredulously, that yes, you can repeat the past, for our main characters, here, the past is amorphous, elusive, a mystery. Like you said, Sacks, the Hollywood Hills are the perfect backdrop for this proverbial reboot. Beginnings are easy, after all, in a town where everyone paints themselves up anew every day, and upon a “Blank Slate” what tales can you write?
Maybe I’m just squawking like a pink monkey bird, bustin’ up my brain for the words. Maybe I’m just wrapped up in the language of the Grey Men, incomprehensible, unintelligible — demanding a perfectly crafted, full panel, Dustin Harbin “BANG!”
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Sometimes the letterer gets the last word.
But it’s all there, right? The parties, the power, the riches, the ideas of identity — they’re such beautiful shirts. Here, though, buttons button on the opposite side. Characters create themselves out of nothing because otherwise they are nothing, while Jimmy Gatz escaped the self because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.
Or am I just a boat beating on against the current?
Fraction and Moon and Peter and Harbin hide clues all over the place, from Christopher Logue’s poem “Come to the Edge” to that quick dropped aside, “You know how I love surprise endings,” these fellas are in command of this hyper-drive and they are feeding the anti-matter into the engine with both glee and aplomb.
And don’t get me started on the Chabon/Ba back-up story. I could “genres and sub-genres, jokes and pop cultural-references” – jimcracks and geegaws — all over that until time put a cigarette in my mouth and I put on a finger.
Then another finger.
Then the cigarette.
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Casanova: Acedia is a return to the grok groove of the original intent of the series. It’s a tongue twisting storm that comes to the show tonight, a funky thigh collector, and it moves like a tiger on Vaseline. Sure this thing could get weighed down with too many songs of darkness and disgrace. But this first issue, it’s all right — the band is all together.
It’s a wild and wonderful ride.
Hey man, you can afford the ticket.

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