Fraction’s Life as Spy Opera

Casanova vol. 2
By Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon
Image – Casanova #8-14 @ $1.99

IN THE WORLD OF SEQUELS, Casanova vol. 2 is in the tradition of Back to the Future Part 2, a second chapter that plunges back into the first, turning it upside down while simultaneously enriching it. The first thing you notice when opening it up is that it looks very different from vol. 1; the original’s placid green coloring has been replaced by a nearly neon blue and the artist this time around is Fábio Moon, twin brother of vol. 1’s Gabriel Bá. The bulk of the action takes place two years after the first, but writer Matt Fraction anchors the story in the events of the original. Casanova jumps happily through time and between universes, so it’s no surprise when we’re reliving scenes from the first volume or when the finale takes the cast right back to the beginning of Casanova #1.

Casanova centers on Casanova Quinn, black sheep of his father Cornelius’ spy organization, E.M.P.I.R.E., until he’s plucked from his timeline and transplanted to another, one in which he’s the pride of E.M.P.I.R.E. and his sister, Zephyr, sides with a villainous rival organization. Vol. 1 saw Cass work as a double agent in this new timeline before eventually joining up with E.M.P.I.R.E. for real. The new storyline is more straightforward, but nonetheless establishes its offbeat tone though its central question, “When is Casanova Quinn?” Cass has gone missing and his disappearance begins to disrupt time and space, while Zephyr and her new allies, father and son science terrorists, compete with E.M.P.I.R.E. for control of the mysterious H Element.

A key structuring theme this time around, and another element that reminds me of Back to the Future Part 2, is characters’ repeated opportunities to take back actions and start again fresh. Fraction’s feelings on the matter are evident in the decision to start Casanova vol. 2 with issue #8, rather than a new #1: he clearly prefers to own his history.

In a world of time travel and dimension-hopping, this attitude might be even more crucial, and the ultimate test comes in the story’s climax, a situation in which everything from Casanova #1 onward would be undone, possibly resulting in happier circumstances for everyone. In an earlier issue, a robot character is killed under the assumption that she can simply be revived from a backup memory. Her lover recoils at the idea, since if one can take anything back, then nothing means anything. He’d prefer to feel her loss than live with her simulacrum. It’s sort of the anti-One More Day. Fraction also plays with themes of magic and misdirection, the ultimate example of which is that Cass is in plain sight all along.

The main problem with the story is in a few of the middle chapters, which feel superfluous. They don’t bring much to the story beyond more variations on the themes of the book and feel repetitive, as Zephyr and her partners go on a series of similar and straightforward missions with little genuine plot advancement. These chapters could have been more successful condensed into one.

On top of Casanova’s surprising depth and narrative density is a veneer of references to popular and trash culture, textured with a frequent use of spy and sci-fi archetypes. It’s a bit of a shortcut to characterization, but Fraction is clever in his use of these references and archetypes, never letting a joke or situation hinge on audience recognition, while adding something for the reader who is familiar with the material. Those readers who can’t match Fraction’s knowledge of spy tropes and trash culture figures are also clued in by each issue’s “back matter.” Casanova, like Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith’s Fell, is released in Image’s Slimline format, meaning it contains 16 pages of story and 8 pages of backup material.

The interplay between Casanova’s story and its outside influences is fascinating and actually becomes part of the experience. The backup material’s other great contribution is the way it reminds us what it means to “write what you know.” If writers were to take this adage completely literally, they would only write about writers, like Aaron Sorkin (though few would do so as compellingly as Sorkin). Fraction doesn’t write overtly about himself, but he puts the process of turning his experiences, thoughts and interests into over-the-top spy action out in the open with every issue.

I’m sure that many writers include elements of their own lives and issues in work that isn’t obviously autobiographical, and Fraction has provided a window into how that process works. It’s strange to think that future readers who experience Casanova in collected form will relate to it entirely differently, as the collections do not feature this material. The story holds up without them, but they add another layer and are an exciting primer in the notion that most storytelling is autobiographical to some degree.

Fabio Moon’s art grows substantially throughout the series, both in draftsmanship and storytelling. While not as clean or fluid as Bá’s, it’s appropriately glamourous and wild. Moon doesn’t have as much opportunity to draw Cass himself as Bá did, but he makes Zephyr his own and his new characters fit into the world while looking distinct from Bá’s. He shows great design sense with the use of the single spot color, and the overall look is very attractive.

Casanova vol. 2 is another very successful outing. Though it sags in the middle and the art isn’t quite on par with vol. 1, there are several great ideas and formal tricks per chapter, and the cast is incredibly fun, even with the lack of Casanova himself through most of the story. I have no doubt the collection will be as beautiful as the first and I’ll likely pick it up, but I also recommend tracking down the individual issues and enjoying the complete package with the backup material.


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One Response to “Fraction’s Life as Spy Opera”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » June 11, 2008: The Fotygraft Album Says:

    […] Brendan Wright on Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon’s Casanova Vol. […]

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