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Casanova #1
posted March 30, 2006
 

Creators: Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba
Publishing Information: Image Comics, 28 pages, $1.99
Ordering Numbers:

imageThere is a scene very early on in Casanova #1 where writer Matt Fraction and artist Gabriel Ba take the characters out of the boxes (literally) of the narrative throughline and allow them commentary on the scene itself. It doesn't quite work. We're just not deep enough into the story to follow the characters into this kind of self-absorbed reverie, and it's such a strong effect it overwhelms everything else that's going on. When a time travel plotline several pages later returns the lead to this exact same point in time, those extraneous moments are dropped, and the story whips through the scene in direct, brutal and satisfying fashion. Had Fraction and Ba planned far enough ahead to pull this kind of formalist stunt? Had they just dropped the extraneous material to make the scene move more quickly or was this a sign that they knew which scene would ring more true with readers? That's a hell of a question, a potential 3.2 on the 4.0 formal difficulty scale. The fact I'm even asking it reading a $1.99 book from a young writer and artist says a lot about their first shot out of the gate.

Casanova is the second of the $1.99 books that various artists are attempting though Image, following Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's Fell. Fell and Casanova offer up dissimilar approaches, although I think one there may be similar obstacles each must overcome in mining extravagant source material without becoming a slave to it. Ellis has pared his Fell stories down until the feel like set-ups for a single, protracted scene or two. The best issues so far feel less like television crime drama than something like Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter. Many of backgrounds are suggested as much as they're detailed and described. In contrast, Fraction has packed Casanova with multiple reference points torn from the pages of a form of literature that if you stop and think about it, is mostly a lost genre now -- the "a bad world needs a bad man" form that connects a significant subset of all things pulp.

Casanova is a dense comic book, perhaps more so than any comic from a mainstream company since Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy were employing Steranko's multiple panel within panel effects and shifting perspectives in Master of Kung Fu. It's sturdy to the point of lunacy; you could already grow a hundred stories out of its trunk. Fraction's single-issue narratives don't have to do the work that Ellis' might in reaching out and connecting to an audience every time out of the gate, but they have to achieve similar force to register against the massed army of visual signifiers he and Ba employ for background and mood. If Fraction doesn't stay extremely sharp, if he doesn't find melodies that are flattered instead of overwhelmed by an approach he himself compares to the Wall of Sound, he'll end up less Phil Spector and more noodly prog-rock band. Super-thief Casanova can return to the beginning of the story to see things unfold in a way that better suits him; Fraction and Ba don't have that luxury.