The last chapter of Gula gets me every time. Even back when I read it as Image’s Casanova #14, the climax to the second chunk of Matt Fraction’s sci-spy opus was immediately harrowing and heartbreaking. It’s no different in this recolored, repackaged format.
After 13 ultra-dense stories, we’ve spent a lot of time with our characters, especially in Gula. Now, in this final chapter everything collides as E.M.P.I.R.E. agents assault X.S.M island, time is falling apart and undercover agent Zephyr Quinn has a choice: push a button to save the day, or refrain and simply wait for time to right itself and then undo the event that brought Casanova Quinn into the wrong universe and kicked our comic off. This would fix everything, but suck all the meaning out of the previous 13 issues.
The easy-but-meaningless fix is one of the great tropes of Casanova, one informed by the conveniences that only comic books bring -- fare like Marvel’s life model decoys which can effortlessly replace humans. If nobody ever really dies, what does anything mean? And why do people keep choosing the low, difficult road? It’s as if the characters themselves are writing the story, choosing that which will be most dramatically viable.
It helps that I’m a writer, and to be a writer you have to be a murderer. (J.K. Rowling once said that.) No matter how much you love your characters. Or maybe even because you love your characters. Here Fraction spends the entire script addressing the events and characters in his comic through caption boxes disguised as Zephyr Quinn’s narration. The backmatter in the Image comics releases proved how personal an endeavor this is (which is to say that it’s super-ultra-mega personal despite the whimsical trappings), but here, in the comic pages themselves, Fraction straight up apologizes to his characters for putting them in the worst positions of their lives. This issue is painful for everyone, and that’s why it’s great.
Obviously, Casanova: Gula #4 is powerful and engaging on a metatextual level, but that would mean nothing without a ripping good story to support it. Even putting aside metatext, Casanova is great pop comics. Just look at the art as Fábio Moon perfectly sells the chaos and urgency of the final battle -- E.M.P.I.R.E. aircraft soaring through the sky as agents with jetpacks shoot hapless, anonymous cronies; meanwhile Zephyr just won’t push that button. Then, it happens -- Fraction and Moon deliver a shocking twist that, once we reread Gula, we realize was actually set up the whole time. Beautiful.
In lieu of a second issue to package into these double-sized reprints, Fraction and Gabriel Bá create a new story -- a flashback (?) kind of story featuring superspy Suki Boutique and a mysterious naked man with a guitar. Not only is it an effective appetizer for the next volume, September’s all-new Avaritia, but a solid story in its own right that begs multiple readings just to figure out what it’s really about. For one thing, colorist Cris Peter goes for a “cool vs. warm” color scheme, perhaps helping to usher in the impending third volume. Peter’s colors are essential in making Casanova the best-looking comic book out there.
The end of Gula also marks the end of the backmatter -- even the more guest-speaker-focused backmatter that these reprints have been giving us -- which is a shame since I always thought it enhanced the material. But I happen to be interested in people behind stories as much as I am in the stories themselves. Appropriately, Fraction returns to the Image Comics era of Casanova’s backmatter, which is an appropriate way to cap off these reprints. Now that that’s over, he writes about considering maybe a letters column fot the next one. Maybe that’s what future volumes need.
All I know is that the future needs Casanova.
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