Thursday, May 15, 2008

Casanova 14 (spoilers)

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2264/1906838870_ea0e54c366.jpg

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.

7 comments:

Jason said...

I'll apologize in advance for zeroing in on a tangent here, but ... "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."

Is the name-checking of Watchmen Morrison's or yours? 'Cause Watchmen DOES contain odd perspectives on time (Manhattan) and drug visions (Ozymandias), etc.

Just sayin'. (I don't know why Morrison so gets on my nerves -- he just does!)

Geoff Klock said...

In Moore the time and drugs are very much part of the earthly realm, and the overall project of realism. Watchmen is a very different book than Promethea. Remember that in Morrison the drugs to not cause anything to happen: they show you the higher realms of reality. People take drugs in Watchmen, but it is not the same thing. But yeah, I could have gone with a better example.

Streebo said...

I can't wait to read the latest Casanova - so I have to refrain from reading this post for now.

I would like to mention that I am going to try to get Matt Fraction on a video interview at the upcoming Heroes Convention. If anyone has any good questions for him - I would love to hear it. I don't know why I'm posting that here - except that I believe Geoff's blog is the only sane place to discuss comics on the Internet.

Voice Of The Eagle said...

"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."

I, for one, had a fairly easy time getting behind it.

Josh Hechinger said...

Issue 9: "Zephyr Quinn. Totally not Casanova Quinn."

Heh.

ben rawluk said...

Issue 9 - whoa! Missed that!

See, I have to reread the whole series now. Because it's awesome, sure, but just to flick through and read it knowing how it ends...changes things.

I had a theory, way back in the first arc, that Cass's parallel wasn't the dead Cass, that it was the very living amoral Zeph. And ditto for the dead siblings.

14 blew me away, because it was a genuine surprise to me (even with all the clues that in hindsight), and the fact that it WENT THERE. I've spent a lot of time thinking about and debating the gender politics stuff in CASANOVA -- sexbots, for example, have been in there since day one and the dialogue about who they are as people is constantly shifting and shuffling before you can get a hold of it -- and 14 did nothing if not prove or remind me that Fraction knows what he's doing with it. I still think there are some flaws there, but it's not perfect, obviously. Ruby Seychelle's role still makes me uncomfortable, even if 13 does succeed in giving some relief to that feeling.

I hope to hear news soon about when and if the next arc is going to start, because this one ended so messily that it needs to happen. Sasa Lisi didn't quite justify her own presence on this one, frankly, and I want to see more from her. We've just gone through a massive status quo juggle, more so than between Luxuria and Gula, so I'm really curious to see where we are when we hit the ground running, next time.

Prof Fury said...

On the subject of gender issues within the genre and within its fandom: To what extent, I wonder, is Kubark's reaction meant to reflect the reaction of, say, a reader from the "sexually immature" demographic that Geoff describes? That is, a reader who has read a few issues of sexy superspy taking off her clothes and having a lot of sex, maybe getting turned on by it -- only to discover that who he's been getting turned on by is the sexy dude protagonist, who he thought was awesome but, you know, totally not in a sexual way or anything! Kubark's feeling of betrayal and anger may be felt by some of the audience as well.

I myself am only turned on by the credits sequences of Italian neo-realist films, so I read pages of Zeph/Cass having sex with but trifling interest, of course.