“…it was a dangerous period for me. I was at the end of my tether physically and emotionally and had serious doubts about my sanity.” – David Bowie
Daniel Elkin: I’m kicking my sandwich habit and moving to Berlin with my EMS suitcase AKS synthesizer and my friend Jimmy to work on a soundtrack to this review of Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon’s Casanova: Acedia 2. I’m plugging in to something groundbreaking here. I can feel it undulating under the floorboards. Just don’t look at the carpet. I drew something awful on it.
“There was weird cult shit, sir. That end-of-the-world stuff.”
Issue 2 of Acedia takes up where issue 1 left off with Casanova Quinn searching for self as he searches for identity. After all, who better to uncover the back-story of a man named Boutique than a man who can’t recall his own past? Right? It makes sense because that is this world in all the spatiotemporal existences in every plane.
Now new clues arise in that quest in the form a photograph. Access to a flashback. A group of men. Killers. With a tossed aside in a now forgotten moment of anticipation, one of the group mouths Bainbridge’s words to Oppenheimer after the Trinity test – “Now we are all sons of bitches” – the reader steps back awed by potential. Who are these men? The destroyer of worlds? Or are they a means of entry into the larger tale.
Casanova has always been a story about the self and what it comprises. If we’re the sum of our experiences, what happens when all of our experiences have happened to someone else? What are you gonna be to the real me, to the real me?
While the pace of the series seems to slow down a bit with this issue, Faction doesn’t dam up his pop culture references. From the birth of the nuclear age to the writings of Frank Herbert to vague allusions to bad Orson Welles movies, Casanova is always crashing in that same car, drifting into my solitude, over my head.
Don’t you wonder sometimes?
And then there are moments when Fraction (or is it Moon) gets all self-referential, putting a Brimp shirt on Detective Kaito Best, adding a meta-textual layer to a narrative so swung around that if you open up your mind to every strata you lose sight of temporal cognition. Which may be the point? We’re playing with time as much as we are space in a Casanova book after all. But that’s the magic behind the madness.
Aaahhhh … magic.
There’s that moment in this second issue when Thelonious Godchild says, “You shitheels get that magic isn’t actually magic, right?” As nobody answers in this book (because maybe nobody believes it), I want to add another layer to the question: If magic isn’t actually magic, what is it then?
Unfortunately, this one question leads to others.
What climbs out of the mouth of the prisoner in the cage? When a murder of crows erupts from your heart, what else do you call that but magic?
Sometimes you get so lonely. Sometimes you get nowhere.
Once again, Casanova Quinn has me in an interrogative mood. In a way, it’s got me low. Sorry Walchuk.
Julia Walchuk: Wow, Daniel and I had very different emotional reactions to Casanova: Acedia #2. Not saying that either of these reactions are good or bad, but they are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Whereas Daniel seems to have been put in a very philosophical mood, I kind of want to run around the block and jump off things. Casanova: Acedia is humming with energy on every page and in every color and line. The color scheme hops off the page and makes me want to sink into the world Fraction and Moon have created. Soaked in mystery, Casanova: Acedia is everything a good detective story should be. It has a wise cracking protagonist, fun, interesting supporting characters, and an old guy. Oh and demons, of course.
I think the fact that Daniel and I had such different reactions really shows what a diverse medium comics are. They provide different things for different people even within the same title. This also comments on how well done Casanova: Acedia is. It managed to provoke very dissimilar, but equally strong emotions from two people reading the same book on the same night. The depth of our reactions is the key point here. It is impossible to incite that kind of feeling if the story is not well written and the art is not engaging. No matter how it did it, Casanova: Acedia had an impact on us and wow am I happy it did.
Some comics I read kind of slip under the radar. I read them, appreciate them, and move on. Casanova: Acedia is one of the few that has really stuck with me. Things like this panel:
And this little tidbit at the end:
They just make me want to take this comic and shove it in people’s faces and say, “Look, look! Here’s why I love comics! Look what can be done with this medium! Look at the subtle humor mixed in with the drama. Look how pretttyyy!” I think one thing about comics that resonates with me so much more than other forms of media, especially movies and television, is how open to interpretation a comic story can be. One person could look at a panel and see their whole history reflected, while another could look at that same panel and experience something entirely new.
When it comes to Casanova: Acedia #2, I don’t know if it’s Casanova’s smooth charm or the cultural references, or the phone conversation in which the speaker just says, “Phone, phone, phone, phone,” and is replied to with, “Phone?”, but something about this comic sticks with me and will stay with me for a long time. Take a look at these eyes and tell me you don’t feel something:
It’s impossible. There is so much depth in Moon’s art alone, I can’t even begin to explain to you how great it is when paired with Fraction’s writing.
Jason Sacks: Comics are a collaboration; between writer and artist, between creators and consumer, between words and pictures. They’re a gestalt, a frisson, like Eno producing Bowie or Moon working with Fraction. Or Walchuk joining Sacks and Elkin, our own special trio playing power chords and thinking about heroes (or in Elkin’s case, “Heroes”):
“And the shame was on the other side/ Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever / Then we could be Heroes / Just for one day”
Tempting as it is to dwell on heroes, though, the pertinent phrase from Bowie here is “the other side.” In Acedia #2, everything important is on the other side, just within reach, separated from the characters by a membrane: the membrane of memory; the membrane of artifice; the membrane of a clear plastic cage. Their memories are nearby, taunting our characters with their proximity and warmth but always just out of reach. The shame is on the other side – but so is the joy, the happiness, the truth of what makes into who we are, the Casanova Quinn that taunts Quentin Cassaday.
And the darkness: the fear, the half-recalled pain and the physical embodiment of an otherdimensional counterpart, that magical woman who is possessed by what the fuck and how did she and what does that mean and holy mother of god this comic is amazing. There’s that moment when the comic crosses the membrane of distance, jumps off the paper or the iPad screen and Cass is attacked by the raven woman and all he can think to wonder is “who is Casanova Quinn?”
She’s from the other side. She feels familiar but she’s completely alien, completely strange. People can never be birds, or demons, or whatever the fuck she is, and she’s wrong, she’s vicious, she’s bloody and terrifying and, I don’t know what happens behind that metallic membrane of a door. Cass defeats her (for ever and ever?), or so it seems, but he’s been so weak, so it’s a mystery what happens. To bring Bowie back in here, “vicious, you hit me with a flower”?
Like Lou Reed in 1972 (produced by David Bowie), Casanova: Acedia is deep and allusive and powerful, but dressed up in glam and decadence. It’s bright and bold, clever and beautiful, and rocks and rolls, and every line is just right. The rhythm section is incredible.
There’s a specter haunting our hero, and maybe he can be a hero – just for one day.
Walchuk: I really like Jason’s ideas about the other side. It’s true, all of the character’s in Casanova: Acedia #2 seem to be searching for something just out of reach, something almost tangible, but slippery, deceptive, and vaporous. It reminds me of Harry Potter standing at the veil of death in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He knows there is something behind the veil, he can sense a presence on the other side of the archway, but walking around it, there’s nothing there. The only way for him to discover what’s on the other side would be to pull back the veil and enter the archway, but therein lies the hesitation. What will be beyond that veil? Will it be good or evil? Will he be able to come back?
The characters in Casanova: Acedia are faced with a similar dilemma. They know they have a past out there, they know there is information to be found, but they’re not quite sure if their history is really something they’re ready for. Once they discover who they really are, how drastically will their lives change? Will they be able to keep on moving forward or will they be dragged into a mess of backstory and confusion. Old enemies and old mistakes are sure to emerge, but will they be accompanied by old friends and loved ones? Casanova is heading into the unknown and must garner the courage to keep moving forward.
As I was pondering Jason’s response, I had a bit of an epiphany. At the point in life where I am right now, everything about my future is hidden behind a membrane. Some days it’s more opaque than transparent, but it’s always there. As a college senior, my life is going to change in ways I could not even imagine and maybe that’s why the emotion I get from Casanova: Acedia #2 is pure, unadulterated excitement. I connect to Casanova’s hunt for identity and answers and a future. I understand the underlying confusion of sorting through information to figure the world and your place in it.
For me all of this searching is paired with the excitement of discovery. I can’t wait to see where my life will lead me. I have so many roads and options open to me and any one of them offers the promise of new experiences and new ways to love the world I live in. So for me, the tone of Casanova’s mission to discover his past parallels with my feeling about moving forward in my own life. Things will change, yes. Things may never be the same, but that’s the excitement of the unknown.
I think this realization helps me understand how this comic can affect people on such different levels. For others, the search for something just out of reach might not have the correlation of excitement. The unknown can be scary. It can be uncomfortable. It can be any number of emotions. Casanova resonates with so many people, but invokes incredibly different feelings because we can all relate to the uncertainty of hunting for answers, but that pursuit could be associated with a plethora of unique experiences and memories.
Elkin: Wow. And here I was thinking that the second half of this review was going to be all instrumental, over which I could wail some vaguely Serbo-Croatian sounding lyrics…
I guess it’s time to send Jimmy out on another sandwich run.
While you can’t wait to see where your life will lead you, Walchuk, for elder statesmen like Sacks and myself the process of discovery is an operation of looking back wistfully. Like Casanova Quinn and Mr. Boutique, so much of our identities are wrapped up in the past. While I can’t speak for Sacks, I am who I am because of the life I’ve lived, the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the mistakes I’ve made.
But the past is a funny place, isn’t it? Memory is selective when it’s working at all and that selectivity itself is clouded by wisdom or knowledge or dreams. We color our memories as we color ourselves (which always benefits from Cris Peter’s work, by the way) and that experience that was once so direct to us, so visceral in the moment, has become, in the end, what we want it to be.
It seems to me that I was always looking left and right when I was a younger man, as if I was going round and round the hotel garage. Must have been touching close to 94.
Which gets to the fundamental question of identity, again, which is, again, what Casanova is about. I grok your vibe here. Both of you. And I too, love this comic for what it is. But maybe also for what I want it to be. They say that the art you love is a reflection of yourself and who wouldn’t want to be a dimension hopping super spy thick with the quip and fast with the pea-shooter? It’d be magic, right?
Remember Thelonious Godchild’s words? “You shitheels get that magic isn’t actually magic, right?”
But something deep inside of me, yearning deep inside of me, wants to talk through this gloom. In a way (and I know this sounds contradictory) we are who we are right now regardless of our past, regardless of what we can recall, and (especially?) regardless of whom we might become. Quests for self are almost a narcissistic expression of who we are at that moment. In spite of whatever “weird cult shit” that surrounds us. Casanova and Boutique may just come to realize this in the end, forcing them to draw the pale blinds all day with nothing to do, nothing to say.
But then again, what kind of story would that be?
Still, this hot collaboration between Fraction and Moon and Peter and Harbin is, as you say Sacks, “bright and bold, clever and beautiful” and, like you say Walchuk, it is the kind of comic that I would gladly foist into the face of a friend who is comics-curious. It goes all over the place, it goes everywhere, and it’s one hell of a journey.
To me, this second issue has slowed the pace of the first issue. In a way, it had to. But that makes sense in a comic called Acedia, after all.
Issue three will be out soon enough and we’ll see what happens next. Me and Jimmy? We’ve signed a lease on this blue, blue, electric blue room we’ve rented here in Berlin and we’ve got nothing but time to reminisce as much as we have time to spend. We’re going to sit right down and wait for that beautiful gift of sound and vision from team Casanova.
Sacks: The beauty of a new place, a new history, is that it allows you to become someone else. You’re free from your history, your constraints, the incorrect perceptions and the mistakes made in the past and everything that once held you back. You can live on surface flash, be bold and colorful again, and can see a whole new vista in front of you.
But the pain of a new place is that everyone who once knew you, who was close to you and loved you for who you are, is gone from your life. Your past is prologue, your past can create pain, but your past can create happiness and joy and memories.
And your past can create roots, happiness, peace, calm, joy. It helps you to become who you are. Leaving it creates deep scars that can either be quickly healed or bruise and become more painful.
The strongest among us fall back on our instincts of ourselves when we reinvent ourselves and become a stronger, smarter, braver version of our previous self. The weakest become fearful and allow their hubris and fear and, yes, their acedia overcome them. No matter which way a hero falls, the journey changes them. Odysseus has changed between times he sees Helen. “Who is Casanova Quinn”? All we know at this point is that he will be a very different man than he was before he experienced his acedia.