By Matt Fraction (writer), Gabriel Ba (artist), Cris Peter (colorist)
The Story: Casanova Quinn, a womanizing scoundrel and world-class thief, recently supplanted into an alternate universe where he is a superspy and all around Good Guy, is called upon by his father’s spy agency to infiltrate a hedonistic island retreat to recover or retire one of their star agents who’s gone native on sex energy and Mai Tais. Yup.
The Good: I’d say EVERYGODDAMNTHING and be content to leave it at that, but I suspect you probably want to know just a little more than that, so I guess I’ll be an obliging critic and fill you in (sorry; third Jim Beam as I write this and I’m gettin’ a little ornery. Shut up.) You’ll find me saying this often when it comes to this book, and I will no doubt sound like I’m either stuttering or evangelizing, but Casanova is easily one of the finest American comics to have been produced, well, ever. Yes, it’s deliciously complex, but my god, once you break on through to the other side and see what Fraction’s achieving here, blending a lifetime love obsession with pop culture into a story that lovingly pays homage to his influences while bending them into something Unique, you will relish tearing into these pages and digesting everything he and Ba put into every panel of every page.
That said, while last month’s issue might have been a necessarily mind-blowing experience, this issue is a much more straightforward, but no less entertaining story. You’ve seen this plot before in ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’, and Fraction knows you have, but he also knows you haven’t seen it quite like this, and that is where he succeeds. Fraction has the mad skills of a thoroughly intoxicated alchemist, drawing from his many influences and combining them into new configurations that you kind of recognize, but are still thrilled to see. In many ways, this issue is about how sons deal with the guilt they feel from disappointing their fathers. Sent to the island of Agua Pesada by Cornelius Quinn and Newman Xeno to achieve conflicting objectives, Casanova doesn’t quite succeed in accomplishing either, and is punished by both men for his failures. Understandably despondent, Casanova does what any child who has lost the favor of his father would do and goes to seek the solace of his mother, even if she is from a foreign timeline.
But this issue is about so much more than that. Along the way, it’s about sex, violence, and the pretentious wankery of being a Beatles fan. It’s about robot whores, and drugs, betrayals from within and without, and the quiet joys of a good piece of pie. Do you for one second think you’re going to get this level of imagination and influence packed into an issue of Bendis’s Avengers?! Yeah, me neither.
The Not So Good: I’m not a huge fan of Peter’s colors, but I don’t think they interfere in the appreciation of this issue. What will frustrate the casual comic reader though is the way this comic refuses to slow down and explain itself to you. The nods and references and homages are there, but Casanova will not stop to explain them to you in order to make you feel good and continue reading. Readers weaned on a steady diet of superhero comics might be turned off or unaccustomed to this style of storytelling that expects to reader to do a little legwork to understand the nuances of what the hell’s happening. Personally, I like scanning Wikipedia to brush up on the references Fraction drops that I don’t understand, and walking away from his stories with new knowledge only adds to my appreciation of each issue.
Conclusion: If last month’s issue polished the blade and held it up to the world in defiance, this month’s issue sharpened that blade to a razor’s edge. The story is easier to understand and quicker to enjoy, and this comic is lethal, innovative, and a rare delight to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is quality entertainment and not to be missed.