Mirror Phase: “Casanova: Luxuria”

“My dear Casanova. You don’t think you’re my only man on the inside, do you?” Holy shit is right, Cass. Spy, thief, dimensional traveler, and international sex toy, Casanova Quinn doesn’t have the time to understand the twists and turns his life continually takes.

For those unfamiliar, Casanova is a comic by writer Matt Fraction (Invincible Iron Man, Immortal Iron Fist) and artist Gabriel Bá (Daytripper, The Umbrella Academy). It’s a postmodern take on action adventure with a heavy dose of self-aware humor. In Book One: Luxuria, Casanova Quinn finds himself transported between dimensions, landing in one where he, not his super-spy sister Zephyr, is killed. In alternate timelines, what was once good for Cass is now evil. Morality becomes relative to the different courses his “lives” have taken.

Yet while the dimension-bending plot line is exciting, the real draw is the palimpsest of genres and styles that Fraction and Bá create. Casanova is as much Godard’s Alphaville as it is Austin Powers–a unique mash-up of swingin’ 60s hipness with retro-futuristic sci-fi themes and tongue-in-cheek irony.

In this panel Casanova learns from Newman Xeno (awesome name, right?), the genius leader of the evil W.A.S.T.E. organization, that his contacts for his next assignment are actually hired hit-men. This panel is incredibly perfect for a few reasons.

First, Fraction plays with the fear and confusion that result from Xeno shifting from enemy to ally as a result of the dimensional shift. Most superhero comic books rely on fairly simple iconography: the immediate identification and interpretation of heroes and villains as such. Fraction and Bá turn this reaction on its head, and in this panel, both Casanova and the reader experience state of confusion and moral ambiguity.

Secondly, the timing is perfect. Fraction and Bá use flashbacks and jumps in time to fill in gaps and details, creating a distance between cause and effect, and a distance between the character’s and the reader’s knowledge of an event. This panel is prefaced by a parallel scene from an earlier time featuring a different “side” of Cass. The juxtaposition of this panel with the page before heightens the tension because, as readers, we partially anticipate Casanova’s realization.

Thirdly, the visual narrative and its implications are brilliant. Here is a partially bandaged Casanova, his image reflecting Xeno’s fully bandaged face. Is Casanova fearful because of the situation at hand? Or does his appearance frighten him? Casanova’s identity is more a question than a statement now, and this panel does an excellent job showing how Cass is mirroring what was conceived as simply “the villain” of the comic.

The mirror is also a nice touch. It allows us to see the two sides of Casanova both literally and symbolically. Moreover, the topic of conversation, Xeno’s “inside men,” benefits from the line’s delivery within the mirror. We see Xeno’s reflection, not Xeno, and this creates an additional layering where both Cass and the reader “see” things indirectly. Much of the comic plays with the nature of reality and the difficulty of trusting what appears to be real, and Fraction and Bá have applied that theme to the visual narrative perfectly.

Finally, Bá’s two-tone illustration is phenomenal. His bold black lines and the pea-soup shade of green transcend situations. In Xeno’s opium den depicted in an earlier panel, the green gives off a lazy haze of inhibition and promiscuity. Here, the green is a nauseating hue, its emotional emissions changed by the terror in Casanova’s eyes.

For its complexity, humor and style, this panel is definitely perfect. And for fans of the book or those interested, I’m happy to say that Casanova is slated to return to shelves with a jump from Image Comics to Marvel’s creator-owned Icon line. It is rumored to debut this year around the time of Comic Con International: San Diego!