Thursday, May 15, 2008
Casanova 14 (spoilers)
The big twist here is that this is nothing like Fraction's Iron Fist partner Ed Brubaker's Captain America, as people said -- this is not a book missing the title character. It turns out Zeph was Cass the whole time. (The clues were everywhere: she is introduced wearing a shirt that says "undercover," she says "I want to kill this guy so bad it is making my dick hard," she tells Toppo Grosso he is confusing his boy gods and his girl gods). Cass, physically altered to be a woman, had a physical relationship with Kubark, our cool killer. In the epilogue to 14 Cass returns to the prison in a heartbreaking scene and tries to quietly tell him that there were real feelings there, that is was not all an act designed to trick him. Kubark can only respond with "I'm not a faggot" -- and Cass, choked up, walks away trying to keep his feelings to himself.
Tim Callahan says this about the gender reverse in the book:
The genius of such a shocking gender reversal is twofold: (1) it undermines and mocks the typical super-spy convention of aggressive male sexuality. When Casanova, returned (through science!) to his original male appearance, confronts his former lover Kubark Benday, there's a real sense of loss and longing there. Their (as it turned out) homosexual experience was not without meaning, and Casanova's halting apology isn't enough to fill the uneasy space between the two characters. (2) the "bad" Casanova from Timeline 909 (a.k.a. our hero) replaces the "bad" Zephyr from Timeline 919 to do what's right. He not only redeems himself, but he redeems his sister by adopting her physical form. Or, if it's not complete redemption, at least it's an acceptance of responsibility.
To that I want to add this. I have argued that Grant Morrison insists that the world we live in every day is full of crazy time travel drug visions and whatnot so that his comics become more realistic than, say, Moore's Watchmen. The world of Casanova is nothing if not outlandish, but again, there is something more realistic here than in most fiction: a genuinely complex male bi-sexual relationship. Kubark's failure is that he can only see it in terms of paltry notions of sexuality that have been handed down to him: there are straight guys and there are "faggots." Fraction's point here is Sorkin's in Sports Night (in the words of Bill Macy): "Life's not really like that. Life's a more interesting place that THAT." (Because this is Matt Fraction, I fully expect Kubark to evolve in some future arc; mostly his reaction is just freshly hurt feelings here.) Fraction's "realism" is the emotional realism of Whedon, but he goes farther than Whedon does (or maybe can): though it does push some people's buttons, lots of folks -- girls and boys -- can get behind girl on girl sex between cute monster hunters. A male protagonist who becomes a female and has a relationship with another man, with emotionally messy results - that is something else, particularly with the often sexually immature demographic that reads comic books.
Did I mention Casanova 14 is the best thing Matt Fraction has done?
Neil Shyminski could probably be subtler than I on these white male gender issue points -- and I would love to hear what you have to say on this, Neil -- but that is my take on it.