Past, Present, Future

*Current Reading Dept:

- Charles Burns’ El Borbah (if ever there was a triumph of style over substance it was this - but oh the style!) and Black Hole (finally, finally getting around to it, about 60% through)

- David Boller’s Kaos Moon (stiffly written yet fascinating mid-‘90s series from Caliber, its visionary mystic content, unconsciousness-powered goddess heroine, and adorned art style anticipating Promethea from several years back - it’ll get its own post soon)

- Tony Millionaire’s Billy Hazelnuts (there’s just not enough days in the week, nor time in said days - I loved this adoring evocation of early 20th century newspaper comedy-adventure strips, I believe Millionaire’s first original graphic novel in full comics form, and I need to write more about it)

- The Marvel Fumetti Book (at least as much as this odd, comedic behind-the-scenes 1984 one-shot can be ‘read’ - dim b&w photography + blurry reproduction quality + yellowed pages = a tough road to hoe)

- Michael Moorcock’s Starship Stormtroopers (seminal, scattered, bilious, highly entertaining 1977 essay on ‘crypto-fascist’ content in sci-fi/fantasy, with shots duly taken at Heinlein, Asimov, Tolkien, Star Wars, and other favorites - packed with eminent quotables like “If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein or Richard Adams.”)

- Yukinobu Hoshino’s The Two Faces of Tomorrow (manga adaptation of the James P. Hogan prose novel from the creator of 2001 Nights, presented by Dark Horse from 1997-98 as a 13-issue miniseries and never collected - I bought the whole thing out of a shop’s bargain bin for under $5)

And more.

*But now, let’s do a little of that pre-release review thing.

Casanova #1

This is written by Matt Fraction, with art by Gabriel Ba. It should be out next month, from Image. It’s in the ‘Fell’ format, in that each issue is 16 pages, with a cover price of $1.99. Amusingly, this debut installment is actually a special king-sized 32 pages, though the price remains fixed at two bucks. You can read the first seven pages of it here.

It’s interesting, then, that this issue leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that writer Fraction is prepared to pack in as much material into those future 16-page bites as possible - this is one dense, loaded issue, almost bursting at the seams with concept and twists and narrative loop-de-loops. Remember that lovely preview image plastered on the back cover of Fell, the one with the titular antihero launching himself backwards out of a flying saucer, guns blazing at unseen assailants still inside? That sequence is in this issue, though the image appears nowhere - there’s plenty more ways to see it, after all, which kind of fits into the book’s theme.

In an essay in the back of the book, Fraction notes that “…I want to write like a DJ and collage little bits of everything, repurposing it all to suit CASANOVA.” He lists Diabolik, Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories, and the works of Steranko among his influences, and all of those things are detectible in here. A bit earlier he makes reference to Bryan Talbot, and I must say I picked up hints of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright in the mix. But as with the better of the current comics devoted to recalibrating bits of the past, Casanova emerges as a unique if somewhat dizzying experience - its format will eventually mimic that of Fell, but it’s far more akin in conceptual approach to a different Image book, Gødland, another entertaining work of explicit genre repositioning, albeit one that wears its homage-happy heart on its sleeve to a greater extent.

And yes, Casanova is greatly entertaining. The plot concerns Casanova Quinn, bad seed of a family devoted to protecting justice across the globe through the E.M.P.I.R.E. organization, directed by Casanova’s father with Our Hero's twin sister as its star agent. But Casanova is a rebellious one, preferring to pull off tough missions of questionable legality and morality for shady parties. As you can tell from the above-linked preview, tragedy soon hits close to home, leading to a whole lot of things, like a high-powered deathmatch staring contest with a floating mutant brain, rampant cloning, a nasty rift in space-time, stretches of untranslated French dialogue, the entrance of criminal mastermind Newman Xeno of W.A.S.T.E., and a chance on Casanova's part to enjoy a more successful future by knowing the past - and what could be a more fitting theme for a book so steeped in multiple shades of genre flourish?

Through it all, there's the lovely art of Ba, energetically cartooned in black and white and green. There's appealing bits of style, like word balloons left entirely blank as narration occurs, their shape alone transmitting emotion, or sequences replayed, or floating heads set off to the sides of the page to fill us in on additional information. Plenty of information. If there's any instantly discernible problem with this book it's that the story is so thick with info yet fast-moving that it can become convoluted, forcing the reader to pause or backtrack when they'd like to hammer ahead. But this is a small problem, one that some might recast as another strength of the work - if Fell initially set its format out as a forced antidote to 'decompression,' Casanova runs with the thought, even at this initial blast of full length.

There's no denying, of course, that it helps the reader to be interested in sci-fi flavored spy entertainments to begin with. It will take time to determine how this tune will play to those who're not fans of the elements used in its creation - I can say, though, that the work begins as a unique being, demanding no allegiance to any particular past to enjoy its present. Look for it, and see what you think.