How hopeless it seems, as the opening of Gula is heartbreakingly distressing. Asunken-eyed Casanova Quinn, seemingly dying in a mostly deserted hospital, rendered in cool but depressing blues and long-haired Fábio Moon variations on Gabriel Bá. There’s a man in the next room, strapped down to a gurney after his wife’s been killed in a car wreck. Crows everywhere. Casanova hitting a guy with an I.V. Remember when Casanova had lots of sex and a robot?
Originally published by Image as Casanova #8 and #9, Casanova: Gula #1 shows a remarkable shift in the ongoing saga of the eponymous sexy-thief-turned-sexy-superspy. Not only is the artist different (though genetically the same), but Fraction writes the book differently from his first volume. The first ten pages of the first story, “In Medias Res,” play like some decadent parody of Luxuria, complete with the all-girl pop band, now pregnant and writhing about in their latest music video, while Cass himself sullenly remarks how he’s “tired of feeling like I’m dying all the time” instead of declaring how much he loves his job. Then there’s another mission briefing and that’s the last we see of him as the big refrain of Gula becomes, “When is Casanova Quinn?”
And, while it sounds like Fraction’s drunk some of that Watchmen Kool-Aid in penning his second volume, let me point out that “In Medias Res” ends with a six-armed, blue-skinned blonde emerging from a spaceship, raygun in hand and Converse sneakers on feet. So worry not, this is still Casanova.
The second story in the issue, “When the Wolf Comes Home,” is more typical of the rest of Gula, alternating between the E.M.P.I.R.E. agents trying to figure out what the hell happened to Casanova and his evil twin sister, Zephyr, works with the bad guys of X.S.M. on various assassination missions, effectively replacing her brother as the operative taking on the mission of the month.
By the way, Fraction does this all while while retaining the psychedlic, post-modern Casanova-ness of the book and its sense of humor. There’s a hilarious faux-movie poster that just interrupts a scene, and the goddamn issue ends with a villain delivering his own dramatic musical sting. Let no one ever say that Casanova isn’t fun.
Taking over from his twin brother, Fábio Moon’s turn at art for this new story is–Christ, it’s always been impossible for me to characterize their art, but it’s sort of a laid back, relaxed variation on Bá’s work. It’s always been amazing how the twins’ art is similar but very, very different, and using Moon to continue a comic that Bá started further underlines the same-but-different feel of this new volume.
Cris Peter’s colors alone make this book delicious eye-porn. Like the olive greens of Luxuria she retains the original blue tones of the original run while adding exciting new elements to make the book colorful without making it a traditionally full-color comic. Magentas! Purples! Pinks! Oranges!
That the original issues were only (intentionally) 16-page stories made for some dense, tightly packed comics. That these reprints collect two 16-page stories make for a regular-sized comic that’s about to burst with ideas and content. This is the best use of paper, the greatest way to spend four bucks.
But the best reason to check out the single issues instead of trade-waiting is the backmatter, which never gets reprinted in the collected editions. The original run had lots of commentary from Fraction and his artists on the story that just finished pages before as well as surprisingly open revelations of what was going on in Fraction’s life at the time, but this time it’s about directing readers to Casanova’s influences as well as bringing in outsiders and having a chat (and, still, some surprisingly open revelations). Gula #1 has the loosest backmatter yet, featuring casual emails between Fraction and Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley. It’s not focused as the talks in previous issues, but it’s fun and a little inspiring to see these creators relate to one another, especially since both guys’ main transmissions to the world (besides comics) are tweets.
Of the two story arcs so far, Gula is my favorite, not only because of the amazing near-cerulean color tones of the original printings, but because of the way Fraction changes what the book is, turning it from a solo book about this protagonist doing counter-missions for the bad guys into a book into an ensemble book about said protagonist’s absence. The amazing bit of Gula is how the story its has its own feel, one distinct from Luxuria, which, on one level, is an amazing exploration of what a story is, how you can take a collection of characters and scenarios and ideas and milieu and remix them into something. Same instruments, different sound, making for the follow-up effort that punches the very concept of “sophomore slump” in its stupid face. This is the best pop album you’ll listen to all year. And it’s a comic book.