Category Archives: General

Review: Casanova #2

casanova2-500.jpgCasanova #2
By Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba
$1.99, 16+ pages, Two Colours

Reviewed by Christopher Butcher

PREVIOUSLY IN CASANOVA
   We met Casanova Quinn in the act of stealing the Seychelle Ruby, which turned out to be Ruby Seychelle—a beautiful robot concubine to criminal data mogul Sabine Seychelle. From there, Cass’ night goes very badly.
   Something’s happened to E.M.P.I.R.E.’s star agent and Casanova’s twin sister Zephyr—namely, she died. Cass and his father fight at her funeral. Afterwards Cass has a cracked jaw and a mysterious doohickey in his pocket. The mysterious doohickey… OF DESTINY!
   We won’t blow it for you, but by the time the smoke cleared, Cass had been abducted into another timeline by Newman Xeno, his father’s arch-rival and the ruler of W.A.S.T.E., an ambiguously-named Pynchon reference that exists to make Cornelius Quinn’s life miserable. Here in Timeline 919, it was Casanova that was E.M.P.I.R.E.’s star agent, and Zephyr that was into all the sketchy shit—and nothing is sketchier or shittier than Newman Xeno, who is totally her boyfriend.
   And now, with both the Quinn kids in his pocket, Newman Xeno has sent Casanova to integrate himself back into the awaiting arms of E.M.P.I.R.E.… 
   From the inside front cover of Casanova #2, by Matt Fraction.

Casanova #2 is a second first-issue of sorts… With #2 the series adopts its standard format of 16 pages, its fully 5 pages of notes and back-up material, and introduces the character’s new status quo: totally fucked. That’s the problem with being a triple-agent, there are rarely easy assignments.

The theme for this issue? Loosely “fathers and sons,” but more accurately “creators and creations.” Speaking of the wall of sound technique that author Matt Fraction described last issue, this issue positively resonates with the familial interactions, layered on top of and often bumping into one another. E.M.P.I.R.E. (which is a pain in the ass to type, by the way) inserted double-agent Winston Heath into a hot zone, created a whole new personality and life for him. E.M.P.I.R.E.’s director is sending his son in to retrieve the agent. The bad guys want him killed. And the double agent? Why, he’s been writing a comic book version of his life and just wrote his own death scene at the hands of… well, you can figure it out. This issue really digs into its themes by setting Cass as a sort of ultimate teenager; rebellious, horny, buzzing with energy and testing his boundaries. Casanova either attempts or succeeds to rebel against literally every father/creator-figure in this book, this issue, to various (and shocking!) effects. The end of the issue features three great “Fuck you, Dad!” moments that really hammer the point home. He better watch out or he’s gonna get grounded…

Cassanova Doesn't Like Comic BooksSpeaking of hot zones, the area is very hot indeed; the setting for the issue is a tropical city that’s powered by massive amounts of sex energy flowing through the air. A non-stop orgy fueled by Mother Earth’s own orgone, and facilitated by an army of buxom sex robots. Sex in comics is always… interesting. If it’s fun and enjoyable sex, it’s labeled porn. If it’s dirty, ugly, awkward sex, then it’s probably a Dan Clowes comic (no offence to Mr. Clowes of course; his sweaty, uncomfortable sex scenes are always wonderful to read). There’s very little sexy middle ground in comics, characters polarized firmly to virgin or whore. I can appreciate the way that superhero writers like Gail Simone get behind and defend the characters they write as sexy without being… well, slutty I guess, but when the dude actually drawing your book is simultaneously showing your character’s tits AND ass, that kind of flies right out the window. And Lost Girls by Moore and Gebbie as a work exists to celebrate sexual diversity, but it all feels strangely clinical and un-scintillating to me. Luckily, Matt Fraction addresses that issue head on. Sure, all of the female characters in the first two issues have been either sex objects (sometimes literally, as in the case of the many sex robots…), or his creepy sister, but this issue? Two naked dudes fight for four pages while the sex robots are liberated and rebel against their depraved master! Hott! Seriously, cocks-a-flappin’, muscles tensed, men flying through the air all the while debating the central theme of the issue—creator versus creation—and the whole thing ends in a great big violent metaphorical cum-shot! It’s a first in my comics reading.

Gabriel Ba is ideally suited to this book, by the way. His work has a sort of organic angularity that lets characters go from fashion-illustration lovely to comically (or terrifyingly) grotesque in a panel’s time, and still look consistent and “on model” throughout. He knows when to use shadows, when to reduce or add detail, and how to design pretty-much anything, apparently. It’s kind of amazing, actually, how thoroughly realised the world of Casanova is (and he does it all on a book that averages 7 panels a page!). I bring this up because in the back-matter of this issue, we see little snippets, panels and illustrations, from the comic that double-agent Heath had been creating. After 16 pages of Ba’s carefully chosen lines and details, the feathery pencil realism of the super-spy-comic-within-a-super-spy-comic is jarring as hell. It’s a bit like Phil Jimenez taking over for Mike Mignola half way through an issue of Hellboy. While the other art isn’t “bad” and might even be more palettable to a wider spectrum of the comic book buying audience (“superhero fans”), instead we get a style that gives the book a unique visual description, a look unlike anything on the stands. While I may reference author Matt Fraction more frequently in these reviews, I want to state for the record that Ba’s art is absolutely essential to the success of this book, and I can’t actually think of another artist who could tackle this.

Speaking of the back-matter of the book; this issue sees Matt Fraction provide five full pages of notes and background on the issue. Part of the appeal of the format, part of it’s manifesto if you will, is to create a solid read. Something that feels like it was a good chunk of story with a beginning, middle, and end, and worth much more than the $2 you paid for it. It’s a bit like, say, an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. One of the good ones from the middle there. It’s only 40 minutes long, yeah, but instead of the 20 minutes of commercials you’re normally stuck with, at the end Joss Whedon comes on screen and talks to you about the episode and, you know, how things are going. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

This issue’s back-matter also seriously digs into the process of writing a comic book, specifically Fraction’s and specifically this issue. Honestly, if you’re an aspiring comics creator you’ll probably get more out of this than looking at someone’s scripts or reading a hundred Newsarama interviews. THIS ISSUE: FRACTION ACTUALLY TELLS YOU WHERE HE GETS HIS IDEAS FROM. The unanswerable question answered in 5 pages. It’s kind of shocking.

Er, I guess we’re at the end now. I enjoyed this issue quite a bit, but then I’ve enjoyed them all so as a series of “reviews” this probably doesn’t work at all, actually. I’ve just given it away: It’s all good, go buy it! Sorry. Still, 4.5 Days of Casanova continues soon.

– Christopher

4.5 Days of Casanova – An Aside

Cassanova Doesn't Like Comic BooksIf you don’t want the issues spoiled for you, you probably shouldn’t read the bolded parts at the beginning of the reviews. You’re safe on the first one, but… yeah. I had kept the reviews more-or-less spoiler free but I forgot that I was including the recap bits as a reminder/stylistic device. And I just realised that ‘recaps’ are spoilers for the previous issue. Whoops! I’ll try and mention it in each review also.

On that note, second review in a little while.

– Chris

Review: Casanova #1

cass01.jpgCASANOVA #1
By Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba
$1.99, 28 pages, Two-Colours

Reviewed by Christopher Butcher

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF CASANOVA
His father Cornelius is the Director Supreme of E.M.P.I.R.E., an international task-force established in the name of maintaining peace, law, and order across the face of the Earth. His twin sister Zephyr is E.M.P.I.R.E.’s star agent, currently tasked to investigate a disturbance in the very fabric of the space-time continuum. The entire planet is under the Quinn family’s jurisdiction. So what does Casanova Quinn choose to do for a living? Read on…

So begins Casanova #1, and not in the text of the piece, but in a small bit of preamble tucked into the credits page on the inside front cover; your first clue that the material that surrounds the story will end up being just as important as the story itself.

Casanova #1 is an object, an objet d’art if you will. It’s growing increasingly rare that the monthly comic pamphlet is meant to be read or purchased for any other reason than fanboy necessity: the need to know what happens to your beloved character next. That raises the question of why a non-superhero-oriented title, hell, a non-Marvel or DC title would bother being launched on a monthly basis at all? To side-step that issue entirely, I’ll say that when the book’s objectness, its ‘single-issueness’ is as considered and successful as this the “whys” are less important. In an industry where the importance of the non-superhero pamphlet had to be forcefully, aggressively reclaimed by oversized, dust-jacketed, thick-papered waves of comics (see: Ignatz), the idea of launching a new ongoing series of pamphlets needs an ideology: a manifesto. Casanova as a series is designed to be read an issue at a time, enjoyed an issue at a time, and then perhaps considered as a whole after the fact. Comprised of 16 pages of story with a limited colour palette (one sickly shade of green and black and white), 5 pages of back-up material, and some lovely art and a straight-ahead story recap, the format itself is modeled after the perfect pop single: Short, sharp, and impossible to get out of your head. The success and authorial intent of the format of this book are why this is a review of the first issue rather than the first trade paperback; the format works. On his message board author Matt Fraction stated that “…any of the single issues of CASANOVA so far could theoretically function as whole-arc endeavors scattered across three, four, five, six 22-page chapters (at least that *I’d* read, which really is the only barometer I have). And I’d be okay doing that, were that the format we were in.” But it isn’t, and isn’t that a nice change of pace?

(As an aside, between the “Fell format” that Ellis & Templesmith’s Fell and Fraction and Ba’s Casanova publish in, the Ignatz books, Grant Morrison’s fantastic and flawed Seven Soldiers ‘modular storytelling’, and even DC’s 52, 2006 was a very good year for the reinvention of the floppy comic.)

In my reading of the series it’s the format—the presentation of the material—that defined it. While the first issue side-steps the 16-page imposition with a 28 page introductory story, the ideology remains intact: a great story, done-in-one, that gives you a helluva lotta bang for your buck. The first issue is the exact opposite of “all set-up,” the de-facto description of pretty much any new series launch. It also eschews the stylized in-media-res that substitutes for innovation in… pretty much any other new series launch (aside: I guess it’s technically in-media-res, but really it just feels like it begins at the beginning…). Instead? The comic treats you like you’re a grown-up. Admittedly, it treats you like the kind of grown-up who grew up on all the things that author Matt Fraction likes (super-spies, comic books, pop music, middle-brow sci-fi) but still, it’s refreshing for a comic to assume that when an obvious spy character is on a mission and things are going wrong that we don’t need detailed captions explaining the whys and wherefores. It asks the reader to have a little faith that everything will be explained in time, and by the end of the first issue it is: bravo. In fact, Fraction and artist Gabriel Ba go so far as to undertake a meta-narrative manoeuver on page two, having the characters pulled outside of the narrative to directly address the reader with information that is both inessential and colourful. It’s exactly the kind of information that might normally be clumsily inserted to dialogue or captions, that adds to the mood and tone of the piece. The meta-narrative effect is successful precisely because the book deals with things like parallel dimensions and alternate-earth versions of characters and events; Fraction is clearly banging the crap out of reader expectations on a giant anvil, and it’s disorienting as hell for both the characters and the reader, but it (again) assumes you’ll read all the way to the end of the book before making up your mind. A rare feat. Today I read an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man that was so unconfident in its emotional climax that it spelled it out on the cover, just in case you missed it.

…I don’t need to slam other comics to praise this one, but like I said this series has a strong “manifesto” vibe to it and I tend to fall in for those hook, line, and sinker. This is a dense comic book, the ideas flying fast and furious and even seemingly discarded. I commented recently that it took me three attempts to really feel like I “got” the first issue of this book because I didn’t commit enough of my attention to reading it. A lot of that is because there are just so many ideas being communicated to the reader. Offhand comments like “…designed by X.S.M.” or “the legendary Fakebook of the cosmos!” are tossed out at a rapid pace, with nary an appearance again in the issue. As I’ve said though, it does pay off down the line. We will find out who X.S.M. is in an issue or two, and that discovery and the story that accompanies it add layers of depth and understanding to the events of this first issue. It’s… rewarding.

Gabriel Ba’s visuals afford the same ingenuity: flying motorcycles, bug-shaped psyches, even the pattern on the bedsheets are all visual signifiers of a deeper and more considered world than usual. Ba brings a level of visual sophistication, class, and detail to the series that demands you pay attention to every carefully chosen little object or fashion tic. The reduced colour-palette and noir stylings of the art just seem to draw a deeper focus than the wash of most computer-coloured mainstream books… ah, but there I go making those nasty comparisons again. Suffice it to say, Ba’s work echoes Eduardo Risso and Mike Mignola in a loose and cartoony way that fans of either artist will appreciate, and that serves the story beautifully.

I’d be lying if I said that at the end of the first issue I wasn’t still a bit confused or unsure of where the series was going. It’s a bit like the first time you try sushi: your mouth likes it but your stomach needs a little while to make up its mind. I enjoyed great big parts of the series (if for nothing else on the first read, then for it’s audacity) but on later reads, particularly when the series is read on the whole, a larger picture is unveiled. A meta-plot for your meta-narrative. The seemingly slapdash nature of the concepts and throw-away lines in this issue are anything but; it’s all in there for a reason—even the stuff that doesn’t make sense and the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. Apparently you just can’t fuck with the space-time continuum and expect everything to come up roses, and this issue is akin to a snowball set rolling down a very large hill—it’s picking up new stuff all the way down, but the structure is still solidly constructed from everything that’s come before.

For those of you without the benefit of $13.93 to buy the whole series, those who might only be able to afford a risky single-issue purchase and are now concerned about the integrity of this single-issue, fear not: there’s an afterword! It deals mainly with the idea behind the series, about the format and the germs of ideas in Phil Spector singles and “Danger: Diabolik” and whatnot, but reading the afterword (or ‘backmatter’ as the ‘Fell Format’ creator Warren Ellis describes it), one gets the sense that this is not simply shit being thrown against the wall to see what sticks; there’s a plan and there’s six more issues coming and we hope you had a good time but tune in next month so I can blow your socks off again. The backmatter rounds out the offering, makes it a whole.

I have no doubt in my mind that this is all just too much for some people, but believe you me I was well and truly pacified when I closed Casanova #1. I was thoroughly on board, and if having a blog and valuing my opinion highly has taught me anything, it’s that you’ll be on board too.

– Christopher Butcher

The Week of Blogging Commences Now.

Dark Tower By Peter DavidHello everybody.

I’m sorry I had to take last week off, it wasn’t any better for me than you. Not getting the shit in my head out onto the internet is one of my #1 reasons for grumpiness, and so this has been a ‘grumpy’ week. To make up for it, I’ll be blogging straight through the New York Comic Con from this point. Reviews! Comments on how stupid comic books are! Passionately imploring you to buy good comics! It’s all coming down the pipe. Plus? Conmageddon ][ in 3 weeks. Sure, Tom said it’s just a con, but it’s sort of like “When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar.” New York, baby.

Meanwhile, the Peter David/Stephen King to-do came out this week. As Jog mentioned, as a comic it was a wonderfully successful outting. A little too wordy, a little too computer-coloury, but easily the nicest-looking “event” comic in 5 years. I’m not one to get up and cheer for Marvel, but on every front they seem to have done this one correctly. I’m even going to buy a copy for my Dad, a big King/Dark Tower fan, as I think he’ll appreciate it… his comic reading has slowly atrophied since I left home, and as an admitted comics crusader it’s my duty to force these things into the hands of anyone who might read them. I just wish there was a Danielle Steele-esque manga for my mom… Or maybe the #1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Speaking of which, even though I wasn’t necessarily ‘blogging’ I was reading, and David Welsh hit on a universal truth this week. Courtesy of David Welsh, it’s every manga author’s note in one paragraph:

    “They’re working really hard, and they’re sorry they’re behind on their fan mail. This volume isn’t as good as they’d have liked, but they’re trying, and reader support keeps them going. They wish they had a kitty. That sort of thing.”

After 14 volumes of Fushigi Yugi, I found that uproariously funny. Maybe you had to be there…

So tonight? Well, after I post next week’s shipping list anyway, is my long-delayed review of CASANOVA #1. Author Matt Fraction sent me a preview copy months before the issue came out, and I really wanted to review it, and then I guess I just fell apart. But I think I communicated that I liked it? Heh. Anyway. The finally issue of Casanova ships on Wednesday, and so between now and then get ready for reviews of every issue. They’re even pretty non-spoilery, as these things go. It’s not Casanova Week so much as Casanova 4.5 days! Doesn’t have the same ring to it, but that’s reviewing for you. For what it’s worth, I’m in whole-hearted support of Johanna’s take on the subject from earlier this week.

So, yeah, I’m pretty excited about the next little while, there’s a lot going on and a lot to talk about. Maybe I’ll get to preview a few pages out of the stuff I’m working on…

Thanks for continuing to read.

– Christopher!

Comics Festival 2007: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Cover

Comics Festival 2007 - Mal Cover
In Diamond’s Previews catalogue now is COMICS FESTIVAL 2007, featuring new stories by Darwyn Cooke, Hope Larson, Chip Zdarsky, and a new Scott Pilgrim story by Bryan Lee O’Malley. This is Bryan’s cover for the book (Darwyn Cooke is also contributing a cover: coming soon), and it’s pretty awesome so I wanted to share.

Not every book is available at every retailer for Free Comic Book Day. If you want to see this book at your local comic book retailer, espescially to give away to new readers, then make sure to let your retailer know about it a.s.a.p. I’d appreciate it.

– Christopher

Grar…

Day 1 of 3 very-long-days is over, and I’m about 20 minutes late for day two. Such is life.

The worst part is, my site seems to be randomly switching from the pretty new design to the default wordpress design. ENTIRELY ON IT’S OWN. This is both not good and completely baffling. If anyone’s got an idea why, feel free to let me know. It’s done it twice now…

Actual posting resumes this evening.

– Christopher

Commenting…

Hey there,

I have comment moderation turned on until I’m comfortable with my Spam-catching plugins. Unfortunately, I’ll be away from the computer for the next little while and won’t be around to approve comments. I’m sorry if this causes you a hassle in any way, shape, or form… Just one of the speedbumps on moving to a new system.

Best,

– Christopher

My Wednesday

cass01.jpgI only buy the comics I like which, if I’m to understand many of my customers, my friends, and people on the internet, is something of a rarity. I can’t think of a comic I’ve bought in recent memory to either ‘continue a run’ or just to bitch about. Granted, I have the luxury of working at a comic store and the inherent try-before-you-by aspect of the job is one I take advantage of, but I honestly couldn’t imagine buying most comics… floppies I guess.

When I do buy something, it’s because it’s a challenging, exemplary, or compelling work. I buy All-Star Superman and Casanova, because those books are not only wonderful, but designed to be read an issue at a time. I pick up The Walking Dead and Ex Machina in collected form, because I have the luxury of doing so. It’s more-or-less the perfect way to buy comics, and it’s only very rarely that I get burned on a purchase; sometimes the books just don’t live up to my anticipation of them.

But what about the comics that I don’t buy? There are lots of them, and I find that I probably read 5-10 times as many comics as I actually take home. Part of it is because, as I mentioned, I work at a comic book store, and as a comic book store employee I have to be able to talk intelligently about comics; knowing what’s going on usually helps that a great deal in the selling of the comics. You’d be amazed how many times in a day you get asked of something is ‘good’… Part of it though, is because at 7:30 on a Wednesday night the doors are finally locked and I’m physically and mentally exhausted, and being completely beaten like that is pretty-much the perfect way to enjoy the majority of comics being released on a monthly basis. That sort of euphoric, slightly-hungry, slightly light-headed frame of mind is absolutely essential in getting the most out of DC52, or Birds of Prey, or literally any Civil War tie-in. Hell, I even start to like some of them at that point.

I find I enjoy mainstream comics the most when I’m exhausted. After a long day at a convention I sat and read the first Superman/Batman trade paperback, ‘Public Enemies’, and what a thrill-ride that was! Characters changing costumes, revenge teams, Luthor in the SUPER POWERS suit, awesome! If I get really ambitious (or rather to tired to even sit on the floor at work reading comics) I’ll borrow 3 or 4 home for bed-time reading. Drifting off to dreamland is the perfect time to subject yourself to Zombies vs. Robots, because who cares if it doesn’t make sense, that the robots catch the zombie plague? It’s nap-time anyway and maybe it was all just a dream!

I guess what I’m saying here, with as much love and respect as I can muster, is that the Top 100 makes a lot more sense once your critical faculties have been significantly dulled by every day life. It’s coming around at the “I only want my comics to be entertainment!” argument from the other end: “I’m at the point where all I can read is things that don’t make me think too hard!” and by God, there are 40 of those fuckers every week. It’s kind of great, letting the Id and Ego of the (mostly) men who write brightly-coloured fiction wash over you in a blaze of 4-minute reads (seriously, the average mainstream comic takes me 4 minutes to read). Of course, that also makes you susceptable to things like eye-being-gouged-out-with-spoons or RAPECOMICS or darkness or whatever, and that can really harsh your mellow. Worse still, in that state really good comics make you cranky; they’re very difficult to read and make you feel dumb. No Ignatzes without a full night’s sleep first… It took me three tries before I figured out Casanova #1, and the third time I sat down in the middle of a brightly lit room at a table at noon and really read it. Casanova is not the kind of comic you can read sammich’d between Daredevil and Y The Last Man, that’s for sure.

So that’s what my Wednesday’s are usually like. They all sort of end up in a blissful wash of fantasy, which is a good way to end a long day at work, you know? Besides that, it helps me develop empathy for people who really love terrible comics, because on some level I can appreciate what they’re reading as well, or at least why they’re reading them. Well, most of them anyway. You poor bastards who love like Ms. Marvel or Hunter Killer or, God help you, comics adaptations of 80s toys? You’re on your own.

– Christopher
P.S.: Street Fighter is okay though. Totally 90s.

Bryan Lee O’Malley at The Toronto Public Library

Kind of a Big Deal…

keeptorontoreading.jpg

Scott Pilgrim Volume 1 CoverScott Pilgrim @ the Library
Presented in partnership with Toronto Public Library
Part of Keep Toronto Reading 2007
http://www.keeptorontoreading.ca

Sit down with critically acclaimed graphic novel creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, the man behind the witty and hilarious Scott Pilgrim series, selected as the Independent Comic of the Year by Entertainment Weekly (2006). Bryan chats with The Beguiling’s Peter Birkemoe and you never know, he might just give away a few exciting teasers about the highly anticipated new volume of Scott Pilgrim.

North York Central Library (Concourse)
Tues. Feb. 20, 6 – 7:30 p.m.
http://keeptorontoreading.com/anime.php#scott_pilgrim

Also: Live chat with Bryan Lee O’Malley!

Can’t wait until the 20th? Chat online with Bryan a day before the event on Book Buzz: Toronto Public Library’s Online Book Club. It’s the perfect appetizer to what will be a highly memorable event.

Mon. Feb. 19, 4-5 p.m. FREE.

I have to say it’s pretty cool seeing the store logo up there with the LCBO and STARBUCKS, sort of the perfect triumverate of vice… At any rate, Keep Toronto Reading is a pretty big deal in the city, a publically-funded month-long literacy initiative by the Toronto Public Library, and the mayor even gets involved and declares it “Keep Toronto Reading Month”. Having a graphic novel event as part of the proceedings is very chic, and says good things about the library’s commitment to “graphic fiction”. All in all? The Beguiling couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of the event, and I think it’ll be a lot of fun.

– Christopher