Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Matt Fraction's Blue World

Casanova: Gula #1
by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon

The full-color reprints of the second Casanova series start here, and are just as gorgeous as the first. Granted, it’s hard to get around that shocking cobalt blue monotone the original was done in, and this is still a very (VERY!) blue book. But colorist Cris Peter handles the challenge well, complementing the blue with some very nice yellows and pinks. Like the “Luxuria” remasters, the book somehow looks much like it did on original publication, only moreso. Particularly nice is some of the shading Peter gives to Fabio Moon’s artwork. Fabio’s work is less angular and more organic than what his brother (Gabriel Ba) turned in on the first series, and in places the colors really bring that quality out.

But I was most looking forward to re-reading “Gula.” [SPOILER] This storyline has, hands down, the best twist ending I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been dying to re-read it so I could look for any clues Fraction may have planted along the way. This ending is so good, and I so don’t want to ruin it, that I am, as you can see, even spoiler-texting the fact that it HAS a twist ending. So if you haven’t read all of “Gula” before, and you’re still reading this right now, do yourself a favor and stop. [/SPOILER]

Seriously. If you haven’t read all of “Gula” before, and think there’s any chance that you might, do not look at the spoilered text below, whatever you do. And this isn’t some “Monster at the End of This Book” enticement to keep reading. You will ruin the story for yourself if you read the next few paragraphs. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

[SPOILER] Still here? Okay. So as everyone who’s still reading obviously knows, the central question of “Gula” (“When is Casanova Quinn?”) is actually a red herring. The question we really need to be asking is, “WHO is Casanova Quinn?” And the answer to that question, of course, as anyone who’s still reading my words right now most certainly must know because they don’t want to ruin the best twist ending ever for themselves, is “Zephyr.” Cas (via gender-bending super-science) goes undercover as his own twin sister to infiltrate global criminal organization XSM. That revelation is one of the all-time great “holy shit” moments, the full implications of it crashing in and forcing the story into an altogether different, and much freakier, shape as you read. It’s a brilliant idea, and it cemented Matt Fraction’s rep in my head as a writer worth reading.

So does he give us any hints to that? Well, if you consider all but telling us what’s happening a “hint,” then… yes. When Zephyr first appears, we’re given one of the series’ signature asides, where we get a small borderless panel with a reaction shot / portrait of the character in question and a peek at what they’re really thinking in the scene. Zeph’s introductory aside features the line “Zephyr Quinn. Totally NOT Casanova Quinn.”

Well, fuck me blind.

That, combined with the t-shirt reading “Undercover” that she’s wearing throughout most of the issue, pretty much spells out “Gula’s” big secret in giant neon letters. Giant neon letters that you’re probably not gonna notice unless you know to look for them, but giant neon letters nonetheless. And there are other clues that something fishy’s going on. [/SPOILER]

The mysterious time gap between the first issue’s opening scene and the rest of the story, for instance, is awfully strange. And difficult to figure out; Kato’s grown an awful lot for only a year to have passed. Or is it six months? On first read-through, I made note of all that, couldn’t quite make sense of it, and swiftly forgot about it. But oh holy crap is that important later.

Which is a neat trick of Fraction’s Casanova scripts: they’re so much fun that they encourage a quick light reading, and only later do you realize that such a reading means you’ve missed something important. In the first series, that breezy style mimics the way Casanova himself goes through life. He misses some pretty important details along the way, details that are inevitably going to come back to bite him on the ass, and it‘s pretty easy for the reader to miss them (or forget about them), too. Or maybe that’s just me, and I’m more like Cas than I like to think. Hrm.

At any rate, Fraction scripts “Gula” in the same way, and though it’s not quite as thematically appropriate here, the payoff is so good that I don’t care. Granted, it’s not a book I can read tired. I find myself being drawn along by the snappy patter and fast pace, reading the words but only looking at the pictures, and have to force myself to slow down, or put the book aside til I have a clearer head. Because the pictures need to be read here, too. Moon’s figures act, and meaningful glances can turn a scene on its head. It’s not incredibly complex from a literary perspective, but you do have to pay attention.

I mentioned Fabio Moon again, and no review of this book would be complete without heaping praise upon his head, too. I remember when “Gula” came out the first time, Moon’s style was such a change from his brother’s that I wasn’t sure I liked it. But by the end, it was hard for me to imagine going back to Ba. I hesitate to say that Moon made Casanova his own; it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite between the twins. But holy god this is some pretty stuff. In place of Ba’s almost geometric approach to the art, Moon brings a lush ink line that renders the characters and their world flesh. Which is only appropriate, considering that [SPOILER] flesh (Casanova’s) is so important to the story. [/SPOILER]

Lots of good panels here, but I’ll just show you one I particularly like from early in this first issue:

click to embiggen

There’s so much more to talk about here, themes of freedom and duty and redemption, complex character relationships, Sasa Lisi, debts owed (and paid back right on the page) to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!… Tons. But I’m tired, and I’ve bent your ear enough tonight. I’ll try to get around to all that stuff when issue two comes out. For now, I’ll just say that “Gula” is off (once again) to one hell of a start.

And that if you’re not reading Casanova… You’re missing out on one of the seminal funnybooks of the 21st Century. It’s as important as Scott Pilgrim, and people will be imitating its hyper-dense pop comics stylings for years to come.

Grade: A

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