Tomorrow Never Knows

Casanova #2

Apparently there was some sort of distribution foul-up, and certain stores didn’t get their copies of this second issue of the Matt Fraction/Gabriel Bá series, the first one in its official Fell-inspired 16 pages for $1.99 format. Consider this a pre-release review if you haven’t got the chance to buy it yet, but definitely buy it when you can, because this series no less fine the second time around.

Last issue’s extended length led to success in several flavors, the most immediately pertinent of which suggested that the density of the story could handily loan the abridged length of subsequent issues a feeling of fullness, of a good long read going down regardless of actual page count. Such potential is fulfilled here; I strongly doubt anyone will notice that the story they're reading is actually six pages shorter than average, so stuffed full of matter are the pages they do get. Sometimes Fraction almost sweats to include more info, certain panels relegated to providing only a character head spewing out lines and lines of text - luckily, the technique is doled out at enough of a natural pace that it seems more an integral part of the book's total style than it might in less sensitive hands.

And surely Fraction seems to be sensitive to most aspects of the book's presentation: among the backmatter extras are a full set of annotations for the issue you've just read (albeit without any page numbers directly cited). A lot of references are revealed, influences explained, themes set forth, tales of conception told, deleted sequencs described - it's quite a treat for those interested in delving deeper. But Casanova still manages to leave room for reader consideration, blanks to be filled in - one gets the feeling that Fraction understands that creations such as this are prone to affirmng alternate views of what's happening, since that's the way characters take on a life apart from their creators, a theme of this very issue.

The plot concerns Casanova's infiltration of a remote love robot production facility, powered by raw sex energy in th very air, to remove a deep-cover E.M.P.I.R.E. operative that's actually in charge of the place. The spy, an Agent Heath, has been in the shit for 15 years, and has also found the time to self-publish a 333-issue comic book series regarding the adventures of a fictionalized version of himself and espousing his personal philosophies, the lead character killed in the final issue - the creator has possibly gone mad somewhere along the way, obsessed with the interface between creator and creation, and reacts very badly indeed to being asked to leave his personal world and face the opinions of a wider society that feels it still has authority over him. And laid out that way, it all seems obvious - "Ah, Fraction's doing a Dave Sim riff."

Except, I can't really say he is. There's certainly aspects of Agent Heath that are reminiscent of Sim, little bits and pieces of information that strike me as very pertinent. And yet, Fraction seems unconcerned with providing any sort of spoof so much as blending different ingredients into what can primariy work as a cohesive story with an original character, one that participates in forwarding themes that resonate in the strata of the book's own universe. Concerns beyond that universe are kept minor, little Easter Eggs to pick up on. "Fusing all these little things together to see what the new shapes look like on the other side." So says the writer in thos annotations, Sim not mentioned at all, though Fraction does note that some of the book's references "...don't lead to anywhere, the same way that using, like, a Lee 'Scratch' Perry sample in a beat doesn't mean anything other then - hey, cool sound." If Fraction even was thinking of Dave Sim, the final book quite determinedly wants nothing to do with such real-world material other than blending it into a wider view of Big themes.

So it goes with just about everything, including another bit of bonus material, excerpts from Agent Heath's comics accompanied by a critique from some unknown reader. At one point there's a Seijun Suzuki homage, which is duly explained to be a Seijun Suzuki homage, and used for mainly the purpose of peering into Agent Heath, the character's head. Explaining him a bit. It is thus doubly amusing that the theme of the issue concerns how a creator can't really know his or her own creations, whether they be parents relating to their children, developers leading around their robots, or comics artists itching to destroy or be destroyed by their own characters. Agent Heath can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality (or maybe he can, and the fantasy world he's designed has merely abrogated the need for a straight world's agenda), but he knows that creations have a way of getting away from the people who'd you'd think would know them best. The death of the author made brutally literal.

And in the back of the comic, Fraction's annotations fittingly strive to explain, as much as any author really can.

There's a lot of fun stuff going on that doesn't relate to the main theme, of course, like the occasional bit of industry snark (Casanova, dismissing an art form: "The last comic I read, there was a lot of rape and crying. Kinda harshed by boner for fun, you know?"), or the naked fight scenes (about 1/5 of the book passes without anyone wearing anything, which I generally consider a plus), and the great sense of play artist Bá brings to everything. I could swear that the design on that floating Ruby thing is meant to be viewed successfully either upside-down or rightside-up, in the manner of something out of a Gustave Verbeek strip. The action is particularly sleek, though the whole approach is bouncy enough that it effectively takes some edge off of the book's content compression, as if to silently declare that no book this stylized could be too heavy for anyone. It works.

But more than that is working in this series. As a patchwork, it's only getting more fascinating in its drive to meld countless bits of creative periods into action stories about Time and Creation. Nothing specific, no real critique of individual works. Just the endless cascade of experience with entertainment that many of us feel throughout our lives, sewn into a Big Picture. How many pieces of prior action make up a present culture? How might swarms of different stimuli produce new buzzings in a people? Casanova opts only to look toward that grand finale of summarized recontextualization, every particular welcome to contribute. How should Paco Rabanne or the Beatles or Wilhelm Reich know what their stuff would be doing in comics? Nobody ever knows, and this book's ok with that. What is old and new, simply is.