Monday, July 16, 2012

Dearly Departed: Casanova: Avaritia

Dearly Departed is a semi-regular column where I look back on recently completed or canceled series.   

Hot and heavy. That's how I would describe Casanova: Avaritia. Not in the sexual sense, although there's plenty of passionate, psychedelic lovemaking going on. But when I say hot and heavy, I'm referring more to the emotional impact of the series. There is a heat to the pace and, even more so, the art of this book. Blazing guns, explosions, rocket ships, and oh so much blood, all done in a palette founded in stark, warm reds. It's as if there was a burner underneath the story, being slowly but steadily cranked up, forcing the characters to charge ever faster toward their individual destinations. As for the heaviness, it comes from the content and, more specifically, the attitude of our titular hero, Casanova Quinn. The ne'er-do-well charm and smugness which were such definitive aspects of Cass's personality in the previous two series are largely absent here. He's no longer playing a game in which he finds any joy, instead feeling trapped in a life of ceaseless violence and pain. Though no less likable a lead, his is definitely less fun and funny here than in the past, and it adds a significant weight to the events of Avaritia. It's hot and it's heavy, and while I'm not yet convinced that it's my favorite of the Casanova titles, it made for the most intense and challenging read.
     The choice of red as a base color this time out is an excellent one. Cris Peter uses a variety of crimson shades to underscore the high-octane action and deep sadness of the narrative equally. When violence erupts, so do the colors, as harsh and striking as any of the images they display. But the reds can also be dulled and/or darkened as needed for those times when Casanova is grappling with his depression. In his quieter, more brooding scenes, there tend to be either calmer reds or, more often, simply fewer of them. Peter makes careful use of soft greens and white space to add depth to these more contemplative moments. Cass's hope is fading, and so the world around him becomes muted, especially in contrast to the brash hues of the fight sequences.
     While the coloring is a powerful component, as it has always been in the world of Casanova, without Gabriel Bá's insane and insanely gorgeous artwork it would be far less visually stunning. The colors may highlight the book's intense moods, but it is Bá who captures and displays those mood in the first place. Casanova's despair, Luther's innocence and fear, Sasa Lisi's confidence, Seychelle's wickedness...Bá has his entire cast down to a T. Yet even as he delivers nuanced performances from the characters, his style remains generally broad and chaotic, which adds tremendously to the ultimate feel of the series. At its heart, this is still a madcap sci-fi adventure, so the story's severity doesn't mean Bá's art is any more subdued. Quite the opposite, in fact. Early on there is mind-blowing splash page where Casanova is pulled out of a dying universe and back into his own, and from there things only get more artistically astounding. There are pages covered by grids displaying the same events over multiple realities, each rendered just as convincingly and beautifully as the next. Countless new locations, scenes of chaotic action, tender moments of intimate romance, and everything in between are all handled deftly. And, my god, there is an amazing sequence in the final issue that feels like the entire nightclub experience, designer drugs and thumping music and flashing lights all, translated into comicbook form. It's a singular feat of graphic storytelling.
     There's no denying the impressive work done by all parties involved in expressing the larger feelings and ideas of this narrative, and Matt Fraction's script is just as essential a facet as the images which accompany it. Casanova is forced by his father Cornelius to eviscerate entire realities in an attempt to erase his arch-enemy, Newman Xeno, from existence. These universe-wide genocides begin to take their toll on Cass, and even when he learns Newman's real name, Luther Desmond Diamond, all that changes is that rather than wipe out whole worlds, Casanova becomes a reality-hopping assassin, incessantly murdering new versions of the same guy. It's a gripping set-up, and it ultimately leads to Cass and his girlfriend Sasa Lisi fighting against Cornelius' goals and rescuing one of the innumerable Luthers to bring into their hearts and their bed. An ultra-violent, sometimes meta-fictional, spacetime travel action love story. No wonder it never has the time (or space) to catch its breath.
     One slightly negative result of this pedal-to-the-metal approach is there are a few plot details which end up being rushed passed or glossed over. I've read Avaritia several times, and, I admit, there are a handful of things which still confuse me. The workings of the Lacuna, for instance. Is it where they send Luther in the end, or is it what Cass uses to escape? It appears to be the latter, but then what, exactly, do they do with Luther, and why don't Cass and Sasa merely do the same with themselves? And either way, why did Sasa build a spacetime machine that only one person could use to get away? What was the purpose of suddenly introducing Suki Boutqiue to the story only to just as immediately remove her from the board? And did Kaito murder Cornelius, or is it his cancer that finally does him in as promised in the first issue? Based on what we have here, feels like it could go either way.
     Here's the thing, though: I don't really care to find answers to these questions. I'm sure some of them are contained within the book's pages, and as I reread this and the other Casanova titles, those which came before and the ones to follow, I suspect I'll notice more and more until my confusion disappears. But even if that's not the case, I enjoyed the ever-living daylights out of Avaritia, possibly in spite of its breakneck pace but also in part, I think, because of it. Right around the time most of my questions arise, Sasa Lisi describes this whole mess as a "Race to get fucked to infinity," and that's precisely what it feels like. These characters, at least initially, are unable to avoid the violence and death which surround and engulf them, and so they each find their own twisted ways to embrace it instead. They throw themselves headfirst into the muck and, once they meet each other down there, try to kill one another. That is, they do until Cass and Sasa, fueled by their own love, decide to push back against this impulse and, instead, protect a life or two. They spare Suki (may that's why she's in here!), rescue Luther, and in the end Sasa helps Casanova himself escape. The specifics of the methods they use to accomplish all of this saving and fleeing my be unclear, but they're also unnecessary. What matters is that it happens, that in the midst of a seemingly unbreakable cycle of violence these two characters actually manage to protect some lives. Ideally it'd all be understandable, but I'll take emotional/conceptual relevance over total story clarity any day.
      The very, very end of Casanova: Avaritia, by which I mean literally the final two or three pages, is also a tad confounding. Presumably meant as a sort of lead-in to the next series, Acedia, it's not so much a resolution as a massive shift in status quo that is not, as of yet, explored. But again, this is not a complaint. While Cass may have managed to escape the situation he was in when this tale began, he clearly has not outrun all of his enemies or problems, and that's a logical place for him to end up. His circumstances were so dire at the start of this narrative, any amount of improvement feels like a major victory, so we get the payoff of seeing our hero succeed even if we know his satisfaction and safety are not going to last for long. The good guys may not win outright, but they accomplish their more immediate goals and also stop the villains from doing the same, so we get to be happy for them, even if only tentatively so. More importantly, though, is the wild ride which brings us to this endpoint. Having already pulled out all the stops in the preceding Casanova titles, Fraction, Bá, and Peter are free here to tell their most hard-hitting narrative to date. It may be more dismal and sometimes depressing than what came before, but it's all the more compelling and ultimately satisfying for it. Nobody is safe from the enormity of what goes on in this book. Not the characters, not the creators, and certainly not the readers. As Sasa Lisi says, "Everybody gets fucked to infinity."

Casanova: Avaritia #1-4 were published by Marvel Worldwide Inc. and are dated November 2011-August 2012.

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