The movies and TV you need to watch, the music you need to hear, the books and comics you need to read, the games you need to play — The Playboy Library is an ongoing series that offers the 21st century man the pop ammunition to carry himself as a gentleman of culture. Never obvious, always essential.
“How can a bunch of stupid comic books compete with drugs and girls that let you take off their clothes?” —Casanova: Luxuria #2
I’m a nerd, and in my case that means more-or-less exactly what you think it means.
I like robots and spaceships and time machines and aliens with ray guns. I like enchanted swords and wizards and badass elf women and Hogwarts. I like Gotham City and Clobberin’ Time and Hellboy and remembering that there’s always a hyphen in Spider-Man.
Like I said, exactly what you think it means.
Being this kind of nerd means, sometimes, that you have to account for why you love these things among friends and colleagues who prefer their stories more “realistic,” and I’m not very good at it. I’m often at a loss for explaining on the fly why and how great sci-fi and fantasy stories can be just as much about the universal themes of life and the human condition as any piece of realistic fiction, only you also get radioactive lizard monsters.
These days, I think my answer could be “Just go read Casanova.”
Before Matt Fraction was Matt Fraction — he of the Eisner Award-winning Invincible Iron Man and the Eisner Award-winning Hawkeye and the Eisner Award-winning Sex Criminals, one of those guys in comics that you may have heard of even if you’re not into comics — he and twin brother-artists Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon began weaving a sci-fi superspy epic at Image Comics that began its fourth volume, Acedia, last week. It begins with the title character, master thief Casanova Quinn, being abducted into another dimension by a supergenius, bandage-faced villain named Newman Xeno, so that he can take the place of another, nicer Casanova Quinn originally from that dimension who Xeno killed. After that, it starts to get really weird.
If you’re into a relentless onslaught of sci-fi cool, Casanova’s got it all: Time travel, dimension-hopping, ancient giant robot superweapons, mysterious supervillains, kung fu, a sexy woman from the future with multiple sets of arms, a three-faced mutant with the consciousness of a sex robot, and more. Everyone is sexy (even, in her way, the three faced mutant with the sex robot brain), everything is impossibly cool, and Bá and Moon draw the hell out of every single panel, from the fast-cut action of Luxuria (the first “album” of issues) to the melancholy cool of Gula (the second album) to the time-hopping frenzy of Avaritia (you guessed it, the third album).
To me, what’s most remarkable about the work as a whole is its ability to be about everything and just one thing all at once. The tone is always Casanova, and yet no album of issues, indeed no single issue, is predictable or confined to a single rigid, overall thematic framework. In Casanova you can see James Bond, David Bowie, Modesty Blaise, Spaghetti Westerns, Comic-Con subcultures, the pop psychedelia of The Beatles and a thousand other cultural touchstones. Despite the presence of all these diverse, often disparate influences worn on the respective sleeves of the story, the art, and the dialogue, Casanova never feels pulled in different directions, because behind its dazzling swagger, impossible sexuality and sci-fi bravado, it’s a very human, very personal story.
We know this because Fraction’s told us — through the backmatter in each issue thus far — the story of Casanova’s ongoing creation as it relates to his own life. He tells us what music was playing when he conceived certain scenes, how he wrote through moments of sickness and blinding grief and the joy of becoming a father for the first time. He tells about the movies and books and ideas that found their way into the pages through magical thinking that even he doesn’t quite understand, but it works.
Through that prism, Casanova becomes even more of a story about betrayal, sex, love, dad issues, addiction, redemption, atonement, exhaustion, the personal way in which each of us grieves, and everything else that comes with living a life while also trying to imagine someone else’s. It’s one of the most creative comic books I’ve ever read, and that’s in part because it’s a comic book about creation. Casanova Quinn is trying to be a better version of himself. Matt Fraction, like all of us, is too, and sometimes he seems to find out how through these pages of interdimensional sex/death/crime adventures.
All art is personal somehow, I suppose, but the alchemy created when these three creators came together on this comic is singular in a way that’s perhaps too impenetrable to explain. You just have to read it and see.
And if all of that doesn’t convince you…hey, I mentioned the sex robots, right?
Matthew Jackson is a freelance pop culture writer/nerd-for-hire and Contributing Editor at Blastr.com. Find him on Twitter at @awalrusdarkly.