“number five said it ain’t worth being alive” [casanova: avaritia]

September 21st, 2011 by | Tags: , , ,

Y’all read Casanova: Avaritia 1 yet? Two bucks online, get on that. Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá, Cris Peter, Dustin Harbin.

People (meaning people I follow on Twitter, really) thought that this page was real clever and mind-blowing:

(i forget who said that actually, but it was several people and I love all of you)

And it’s cool–the art is fantastic, obviously–but it’s pretty Jim Starlin-y and a little too “Ha ha here’s a cowboy monkey ninja ape kicksplode whoaaaa” for me. It works in context, but it didn’t knock my socks off. You know what did?

We’ll get there. First:

Remember when Bendis said this?

“So, on top of having a cool team and some cool stories to tell, I thought, ‘If I’m going to be the writer of both books, they both should feel very different.’ They shouldn’t just be the bi-weekly Avengers titles. It should be two unique writing styles and the one I’m using for ‘Mighty Avengers’ has new usage of thought balloons and narrative. It has first person and omniscient first person narrative, which I never do. I want to make sure that each character has a unique voice and point of view that gets across to the reader as well as their actions in the story. I’m not using these techniques to be retro or cheeky. I want to try new stuff with more modern [storytelling] techniques.”

CBR, 2006

The result was this (no context, sorry, but drawn by Mark Bagley):

They weren’t thoughts so much as interjections, insults, brief comments, half-thoughts, and things like that. They’re nowhere near as purple as Claremont’s balloons during his heyday, which is my main benchmark for balloons, but they don’t work for me at all. They aren’t thoughts. They’re internal monologues, caption boxes transferred to fuzzy balloons. No one thinks like that. I get what Bendis was trying to do, which was approach real life a little closer, but he got a bit too close and his wings melted. Or something. The point of that metaphor is that it didn’t work, and also Bendis is Kid Icarus.

Okay, this isn’t the part in Casanova that knocked my socks off, but I liked it a lot:

The balloons coming out of their mouths are great, and super creepy, as if the words (which we can’t see because Cass isn’t paying attention) are parasites. It looks evil, yeah? Like something you cough up. But that’s not it, either. It’s panel four, where Cass is looking at Sasa Lisi’s domino mask. In the scene before this one, Sasa tells him that his father is dying of cancer. He rejects her verbal reassurances (I think she was going to say “Cass, it’s going to be okay” and he stops her, saying, “Don’t. …just don’t.”) and they hug.

But here, though, he’s zoned out, he’s gone, and he’s looking down at her mask and the mask is thinking what she represents. “you’re not alone” is heavy, and I like that an inanimate object is what’s thinking it. It feels like when you look at something with a lot of personal history and you sort of flash over what it has been over the years. “I got this from Sarah, the day after she told me she loved me for the first time, and she’s gone now, but I held onto this thing.” Does that make sense? The domino mask isn’t thinking at Cass. He’s thinking about it, and we’re seeing the result.

“you’re not alone”

It’s not enough though. It never is.

It’s stupid to talk about Casanova as if it were “Matt Fraction’s Casanova.” That’s woefully incomplete. It’s Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá and/or Fabio Moon, Cris Peter, and Dustin Harbin’s Casanova. The whole team goes in. They’re animals, man. Collaborative savages. Look at these pages. Harbin’s letters are especially great in an industry that often seems to under-sell the importance of lettering, but Peter’s colors are dead on, and blah blah blah it looks great. Best looking Marvel comic? Probably.

I’m getting to what knocked my socks off.

Fraction found a way to do thought balloons, though these are technically captions, that actually feels like real life thoughts. They’re raw, unfiltered, and the sort of thing that actually fits in between speech. They’re the voice of the lizard brain, mean and ugly. I love how Harbin (or Peter?) colors the angry thought caption to red. It comes across like a blast of hate, the sort of thought that makes your eyes narrow and your lip curl before you can make it stop. And then the next caption–petulance.

Colored captions: lizard brain. Regular captions: forebrain.

(or, as a commenter points out, it’s actually Cornelius’s caption and I’m slightly wrong.)

This page is so sad. Cass comes off kind of pathetic and lost. Small.

Here it is:

Lotta build-up for a little nothing, yeah? It’s not even a full page. It’s just one panel from early in the book, and it’s been almost entirely stripped of context by me pulling it out from its page and scene. On the page before, a janitor asks, “Was it the cancer? Lotsa folks dyin’ of cancer these days.” Cass’s response: “It’d take something worse than that. I’m afraid.”

Page two of the comic.

This is one of those things that comics can do that movies or books or whatever can’t. That space between the two balloons speaks volumes. Say Cass’s line aloud and you hear “It’d take something worse than that, I’m afraid.” Somber, yes, but the sort of thing you say with a sad smile. A deflection, kind of.

The space changes the tone of the sentences, though. “I’m afraid” is a complete thought. Taken in context, he’s saying that it would take more than cancer to kill him, and he is literally afraid of that fact.

There were a few phrases that echoed through Gula: “What thing can kill me?” and “No one ever dies.” Those are paraphrased, maybe. Cass said “What thing can kill me?” early in the first issue, and it was a bit of mid-fight sass, something to show off and strike a bit of fear into Dokkktor Klockhammer. Panache.

Now that we’re in Avaritia, “What thing can kill me?” has become “What thing can kill me? Because I would like to die.” He’s suicidal, maybe overtly, maybe latently, and he wants out. And he’s afraid of what he has done, what he has to do, and what he’s become. He’s the greatest killer mankind has ever created, and it… chafes, to put it lightly. He’s beyond burned out. He just wants everything to be different, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen.

“What thing can kill me?” has become a plea. All of his swagger has paled in the face of the murder of billions. It’s tough to spit wisecracks when you’ve got the taste of coppery blood in your mouth.

And the… the ease with which Fraction and Harbin slip this in there, and Bá and Peter give us this sad, dejected, and slumped super-sexy super-spy with Xs for eyes (what do dead men have in comics?) knocked me off my feet. Or my socks off. Whatever. It’s panel two of the entire comic, of the entire series, and I instantly got it.

Imagine “What thing can kill me?” echoing off the walls of eternity, warping and shifting until it becomes “Fuck your future. Nothing is sacred. Harm everyone. Save yourself.”

Casanova Quinn went from super cool to broken, and you can see it in that little strip between (“It’d take something worse than that.”) the balloons (“I’m afraid.”).

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9 comments to ““number five said it ain’t worth being alive” [casanova: avaritia]”

  1. I haven’t read this, but at a glance it looks like the one caption is red to differentiate it as Cornelius’s. It’s his only one on the page, right? And “you’re not really him” because “our” Cass is from another timeline.

  2. I really dug this issue too. It’s great to see a book that’s doing something a little bit different.

  3. @James W: Looking at it, you’re right, but the red captions on this page and the next could actually go either way. They don’t not sound like Cass, really, and they’re weighted over on Casanova’s side of the panel, hence my mistake. Thanks for pointing it out, though.

  4. @david brothers: No problem, and like you say, it still works reading it as Cass.

    The cyan for Cass makes me think of the original Gula colouring (which I still miss), so I wonder if red for Cornelius is significant? These pages kind of look like “red” (broadly) might the colour for this volume…

  5. The thing that blew my mind (on the second, third, whatever readthrough) was Luther Desmond Diamond’s song. Keeping things vague for spoilers, realizing what the first letters of every word spell out, over and over, was genuinely creepy.

    (And the fact that it’s an “unfinished” song, it’s missing bits, fits with what we know about LDD compared to who he’s going to be, or is elsewhere? Elsewhen? Who knows, it’s early days yet.)

    (Also, from that scene: Cass just clearly digging that song, being genuinely moved by it. It either says a lot and nothing good about where his head’s at or it says that sometimes you can enjoy something or get something out of art if you don’t look too closely at where it comes from. Like enjoying a Roman Polanski film.)

  6. Hm. Gonna sit down with that excellent issue again right now. Excellent commentary, as always.

    On the thought thing: Yeah, I’ve always suffered through the convention of thought balloons being in complete sentences. I don’t think anyone thinks that way, most of the time. I think we think in emotions and images, but you can’t really render that in prose or comics. In that Bendis/Bagley shot, the woman might be feeling mixing flashes of “regret,” “nostalgia,” “longing,” “anger” (that he wasn’t better to her when they were together) or whatever, but the convention is to articulate it as complete thoughts.

    Old Spider-Man comics had Pete swinging between buildings thinking out checklists of exposition about his problems. No one thinks this way. For me, the best writer at rendering thoughts on the page is Miller, and Elektra: Assassin was the book. Interlacing words, thoughts tumbling over each other, impressionistic and incomplete … it was meant to convey disorientation, and sometimes a character wrestling with mind control, but to me it was much closer to the way my jumbled, nonlinear thought process works, at least …

  7. […] After I wrote about the placement of thought balloons creating a flow of time here, Brothers then went and wrote about a similar thingy in relation to Casanova: Avaritia. […]

  8. […] with a real sense of “is that all there is?” David Brothers has written convincingly on how Fraction and Bá have folded the emotional into the technical in Avarita, but it was still impossible for me to read Avarita #2 without asking whether the expectations of […]

  9. […] work on Avaritia, the third arc in the series, has impacted me in a unexpected way. Again, David Brothers has an excellent analysis on just what in the first issue works so well, but here’s a quick outline of the first two […]