Monday, January 22, 2007

Casanova 7 -- preview review (spoiler free)

Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba were putting out Casanova at a pretty good clip -- of the books I look forward to most, it was certainly the most on time. But the book hit a snag before the final issue of the first volume -- called LUXURIA by the way -- and so Casanova 7 wont be out until the middle of February. Matt Fraction, feeling badly about this, and wanting to generate some positive buzz, sent some electronic copies to the book's big supporters. My joyous apoplectic freakout on Guttergeek a while back put me on the mailing list.

So today I thought I would collect two random observations about Casanova 1 through 6, and say a few spoiler-free words about the upcoming 7.

1. Matt Fraction has Grant Morrison's skill at jamming a series of dense and silly words together so that they hit you in one insane burst. Morrison's tend to be sci-fi: "silver, morphing hyper-dimensional gel" and telepathy that works across the "infra-somber bands of the mood spectrum" (both examples cited in my book). Fraction most often goes pulpy: "sexed up shut in" and "grand mal doll kink nutjob" are two of my favorites.

2. Fraction's device for transcending influence in Casanova is to just slam one influence against another. Watch the way he avoids feeling like Grant Morrison or the Ellis's Authority by shifting from one to the other in a split second:
"He's a big mutant brain. Three, even. I heard he's three monks that practiced some form of occult Zen for so long they fused together in a wad. Whatever -- he's an arrogant special effect and I'm going to fuck him up for money."
He is such a master at this that you don't feel Morrison is being ripped off even when he is: digital HIV from Casanova 2 is taken directly from New X-Men, and the pop escape artist who is also in touch with the gods, from Casanova 4, IS Morrison's Mr. Miracle. By making them details in an ocean of stuff -- I didn't even notice the significance of the digital HIV line till the third time I read issue 2 -- Casanova owns them. (The device by which this is achieved is called Transumptive Allusion, and I will talk more about it in the future). As a very young Bob Dylan answered when asked how he felt about stealing so much from other songwriters: "they're mine now." When Fraction quotes South Park in issue 6 -- Zeyphr says the backward "you go to hell, you go to hell and you die" -- you simply don't hear it. The surface of Casanova is too dense to pick apart at a single reading, and you are forced to go for the ride.

In much the same way, the cover to Casanova 7 is an allusion to that Star Wars poster where Leah is hanging sexually on Luke's leg (if you can find an image, please link in the comments) -- in Star Wars, the incest is kept to a minimum, but Fraction has been playing up the incest between his two main characters for so long, why not expose what Star Wars should have been about?

Casanova 7 is every bit as good as every issue before it, which means Fraction and Ba have created, not only some perfect comic books, but a perfect seven issue collection. A new, very fun, character is introduced and the volume ends with quite a coup -- in seven issues this dense the thing manages to end with an open, forward looking final page that transforms a perfect book into the perfect PROLOGUE: with the threads of volume 1 wrapped up, readers can freshly jump on for volume 2 (GULA, the Latin word for Lust), which looks like it will be the next logical step; if volume 1 was about insane characters, volume 2 looks like it will be about an insane TEAM.

Deeply surprising in a completely different vein is the back-matter of issue 7. Talking about the cosmic nature of inspiration and art is an all-but-impossible task; on a subject that demands failure, Fraction makes a strong go of it, one of the better I have seen, and it is a fun read. He also makes some heartbreaking auto-biographical confessions which I will not repeat here (you will understand why when you read them). Casanova is a lot of things -- the epitome of superficial pop-comic tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really genius -- but it is not an emotional or sympathetic book. All of the emotion and sympathy (which are, it turns out, the personal origins of this book) spring, like the Freudian repressed, in the pages after the story's conclusion. On the one hand it is a bit like the E. M. Forster quote about standing a man a drink so he cannot criticize your opinions; but it is also genuinely moving, and surprising, and provides, in an odd apocryphal way, the only thing the book lacks. After seven issues of being surprised on every page, I thought I had this book all figured out.

I have used this Newsradio joke before, but I am going to use it again here: Jimmy James is telling Dave Nelson that when it looks like he is going to zig he zags, and when it looks like he is going to zag -- and Dave cuts him off, anticipating him, and says "that's when you zig." Jimmy replies seriously -- "no. That's when I ZOG." Casanova zigs and zags for seven issues. Then Fraction, in his concluding essay, ZOGS. It's nice to be perpetually surprised by a comic book.


Ben said...

Very much looking forward to holding a copy in my hands.

'Star Wars' poster you referenced:

mitch said...

I read issue 3 of this. I like it a lot. So much that I'm waiting for the trade. Unfortunately, the original supplemental features will not be in the trade. It will have new stuff. So, I'm torn now.


Geoff Klock said...

Ban: thanks: But I remember one where she was clutching his leg with both arms. Maybe this was a dream I had...

Mitch: yeah, that's unfortunate. I will be getting the trade as well, even though I have the issues, so perhaps I will blog about the differences.

Troy Wilson said...

Spoiler Alert! (just for issue one, because that’s all I’ve read so far)

Okay, I just finished Casanova #1. I loved the art, the compression, the snappy dialogue, the mad ideas. But (he says sheepishly) I got confused by the section right after Cass (who I will refer to, from here on out, as Homegrown Cass to distinguish him from his goody-two-shoes counterpart in the other timeline) activates the device in mid-air over Paris.

So here’s what I’ve figured out so far. Homegrown Cass activates the device above Paris, and bounces over to Bizarro Timeline (BT) very briefly. This is not lost on BT’s EMPIRE, who – it seems, anyway – are going to send BT’s Good Cass to investigate. Since Good Cass is, presumably, still alive at this point, that means Homegrown Cass’s brief and accidental breach into BT takes place BEFORE Evil Zephyr’s breach out of BT (which Good Cass investigates and gets killed).

Homegrown Cass’s breach of BT causes a seemingly instantaneous outbreak of cloned McShanes in BT, which doesn’t quite sit well with me. I suppose Homegrown Cass’s breach of and presence in BT has caused a ripple effect spreading backwards in BT’s time, altering previous events. So the cloning didn’t necessarily come about in the same way the same way in BT as it did in HT (obviously Good Cass didn't give anyone a stolen tooth), but, nonetheless it happened somehow. And, as a result of the past events changed by the ripple, it appears that the cloned McShanes just – “pop” – appeared in the BT EMPIRE headquarters right after Homegrown Cass’s breach. With, perhaps, a little nudging from Xeno for good measure.

Homegrown Cass then bounces back to HT in the nurse's room six days after he left. With Good Cass dead, Xeno slips/transports Homegrown Cass into BT while he’s a) in an altered state of conscious, b) sleeping, or c) both.

Beyond that, it’s smooth sailing for me. I get the rest. It’s just the middle bit that was rocky for me.

You'd think, though, that Evil Zephyr's departure from HT and return to BT (breaches at both ends) would’ve gotten noticed, though, in the same way that her previous breaches were noticed. Or is that covered in some way that I'm missing?

So how am I doing? Any thoughts or corrections would be most welcome. Thanks!

Here again is a link to the first issue at Newsarama for those playing at home who don't have their copy on-hand:

Troy Wilson said...

Troy Wilson said...

Okay, the end of the link keeps getting cut off. Can't get it to wrap around. So, er, here's the rest of it:


(I think Geoff's already linked to it somewhere on here, anyway...)

Björninn said...

Here's a higher resolution image of the Star Wars poster.

I also seem to remember more contact between Luke and Leia, but it could just be memory pollution stemming from the many copies and parodies, such as Army of Darkness or National Lampoon's Vacation.

Geoff Klock said...

Troy: I think the key is in the fifth to last page of issue one, where Cass repeats the break-in to steal Ruby. He says

"Look familiar? One of the many same but different parts of life in a new timeline. A new universe, even. Newer, anyway. This hasn't happened yet. I don't know how. Everything's still malleable. None of it makes sense -- there are contradictions, omissions. Xeno's still physically monkeying around with it, Adjusting how it all finally sets."

When a character dismisses contradictions like this it is to tell the reader not to worry about it. There is a similar scene in Terminator where Sarah Conner is writing in a diary or something about how she can't figure out how all the time travel works and she basically says "Oh, I just give up." It lets the audience know they should not to focus on other things. Actually almost every time travel movie has a scene like this; Primer is about how it is impossible to figure stuff like this out.

For the record this is NOT like the contradictions and omissions in the Xorn plot in New X-Men. For the twist to work we need to understand how it was pulled off. It is a character moment, rather than a "how does this cosmos work" moment; the cosmos may sometimes be confusing, but, if you want an emotional impact, character should not be.

Jason Powell said...

More than anything, this post makes me want to see a Geoff Klock review/analysis/appreciation of NewsRadio.

Troy Wilson said...

Geoff: I agree that one can't poke too hard at the scaffolding of time travel yarns and that many of them do contain a disclaimer to that effect. It's not so much a matter of "don't sweat the details" as it is a matter of determining which details are sweatable and which ones aren't.

I had no problem going with the flow when Cass gave the disclaimer you quoted, but when I was caught in the brambles of issue one's middle section I was wondering if I was missing something (or several somethings). But, given the fact that you - and others - haven't jump in to say, "No, you've got it wrong. You missed [fill in the blank]", I guess I'm not far off the mark in my interpretations of that section.

But I'd still like to hear your thoughts on details like how the McShane clone outbreak jumped timelines. Do you see it as Cass spreading them like he'd spread a virus, with his breach being the sneeze? Or did his breach cause ripples back through time, changing past events (and therefore instantaneously changing the present too)? Or was the carry-over of the clone phenomenon totally Xeno's doing (with him only needing Cass's tooth giveaway and subsequent breach to seal the deal)? Or some combination of all the above? Or something I haven't even mentioned? I know I should just let it go, but I'm curious. I'm basically happy with any of those possibilities, and another sentence from Fraction could've easily kept me from getting hung up in the first place. In any case, brilliant comic. Deserving of its acclaim.

And I couldn't agree more with your final paragraph. Xorneto's a whole different kettle of fish. Apples and oranges.

Geoff Klock said...

Troy: you are right to press me on this since I didn't really answer your question. My thoughts on the McShane Clones is that the various time-lines are very similar. In at least one instance what is different is balanced out: in the case of Zephyr and Cass in one time-line he is good and she is bad, and in another it is the other way around (we don't hear about a time line where both of them are bad or both good). Given that, it makes sense to me that the other world has McShane clones -- something is keeping the universes mostly balanced, mostly similar. If one has McShane Clones then the other should too -- it's just that maybe Zephyr, instead of Cass did it in the other time line (since she is the evil sibling in the new timeline). Something along those lines would be my guess, but maybe I need to read it again.

Troy Wilson said...

I like that, Geoff. "What is different is balanced out." Nice and simple. Definitely fits with Casa-U's cosmology.

I saw a possible link between Cass's brief breach and the appearance of the clones in 919 because the flunkie noticed the presence of clones right after Cass's breach. But that could have just as easily have been Fraction using that one-page scene for many different purposes(show breach, show 919, show clones, etc).

Mind you, Evil Zephyr does say this line to Cass on page 22 :

"Between the 'cloning McShane' thing he [Xeno] brought over with you and the breach itself -- Xeno has you nailed for global treason."

So maybe Xeno nudged or pushed or encouraged those "balancing universal forces" to speed up or corrupt the McShane clones or something.

In any case, I agree wholeheartedly that Evil Zephyr probably started the clone ball rolling in 919's reordered reality.

Another question, why wouldn't Xeno have programmed that little device to simply plop Cass into WASTE headquarters when he pressed the button? Having Cass bounce briefly into 919 (apparently for no purpose), bounce back to the nurse in 909, and eventually somehow slip back into 919 afterwards seems terribly inefficient. I suppose Cass could've simply been bouncing around because he didn't know how to control the thing - and I suppose that might, in turn, amuse Xeno - but why not just make the thing idiot-proof?

Again, I don't need to know this to get the broad strokes, but I'm curious. And it is a little - just a little - more distracting than it needs to be. Sometimes one well-turned sentence or phrase can keep my nitpickery at bay, but I'm not seeing one there.

Troy Wilson said...

Hm, I take back the word "nitpickery" in the last sentence above because it indicates I'm negatively picking apart pieces of Casanova #1. In fact, I'm examining it with loving - and sometimes a touch baffled - curiousity. But I realize your mileage may vary. One reader's bucking bronco is another's flogged, dead horse.

Geoff Klock said...

Troy: no, I understand the need for questions like this -- they are not necessarily an attack on the book. Especially when you consider it is hardly like Fraction is aiming at perfect clarity and failing -- he clearly enjoys the book being a bit of a mess and so do I. I think the answer is that the switch from universe to universe is just not that accurate. Xeno tells Cass he has all these other Cass's that did not work out, so the whole process is hit and miss. That's my idea anyway.

Troy Wilson said...

I agree that Fraction isn't aiming for squeaky-clean clarity, which is a particulary apt approach for a time-travel, dimension-hopping book. If I can get a little more comfy about the mess (and I hope I can), I'll enjoy future issues of Casanova even more. We'll see how I do.

I like your hit-and-miss solution a great deal. Simple, elegant, fits the cosmology. Even so, I couldn't help coming up with one more possible explanation for Cass's brief bounce to 919, his bounce back to the nurse, and his subsequent - and less flashy return to 919. The purpose of that brief initial breach could have been to frame Cass with a very quick, very visible in-and-out breach of 919 (because, after all, Cass himself did push the button). Then, after the breach frame-job, Xeno quietly slipped Cass back into 919 under the radar.

Anyway, thanks for playing along, Geoff. You've demonstrated the patience of a saint, and I really appreciate it.