Emma Peel Sessions 56 – White and dressed to kill.

Casanova: Gula #4 (backup story)
Matt Fraction/Gabriel Ba/Cris Peter
– – –
Before we get down to specifics, it has to be said that this is the best comic Matt Fraction has written since Casanova was last published, allaying any and all doubts that I had that Casanova was going to come back and be anything less than stellar.These 8 pages are a resounding success, being thematically complex and narratively simple, the way the best issues of Casanova had previously been. The high points of the previous “album” of Casanova (Gula) were a triptych of mission-based stories. Each of the issues did what Casanova as a series did best – approached character in a way equally referential, action-based, and metafictional. The three issues seemed to follow the logic of killing all of the aspects of creating that are unnecessary, kill the people that do it for the wrong reasons (“SEVENTEEN”) , kill your idols (“NAOMI, I MOAN”), and kill your attachments (“FUCK SHIT UP”). The idea of creation vs. creator established way back in Casanova #2, tying in with the consistent themes of fathers and sons, with “fakebook of the cosmos”, and creating uiverses from fragments of old ones, and “I love my job”. Dozens of small moments that could easily be interpreted as being about writing, or at least creating. The final issue of Gula is rife with direct addresses to the audience,  starting with Zephyr Quin looking out at the reader and apologizing to us all, maybe speaking for Fraction, maybe not. Who knows?

One of the core ideas at the heart of Casanova – and a lot of reference-based fiction that came out around the same time, from Scott Pilgrim to the Venture Brothers to entire second half of Quentin Tarantino’s career – is the hope that the things you spend all your time obsessed with could mean something. That references had the possibility to be more than simple signposts to those in the know, that instead there was a need to inventory and reconcile all the things that helped develop their creator’s need to make things in the first place. With a lot of these things, Casanova especially, there is a point in the narrative where simply connecting dots – even if they are solidly thematic dots, from medium, genre, whatever – isn’t enough. The need to move through the thing that inspired you initially into making this, to contain it or destroy it inside the narrative if need be.  “NAOMI, I MOAN” was the perfect example of that, Fraction and Moon tackling Modesty Blaise as a representative of the last thing that the character still respects, still steals from, still craves. Here it’s Modesty Blaise, or “Suki Boutique”, and in order for the story (the creative process) to move forward, she needs to be removed from the board. The story that follows, “FUCK SHIT UP”, takes all the metafictional stuff to a more personal level, dropping the casual references for character interaction. All of the resentment and enmity felt, all the “Fuck you, Dad” impulse that drives Zephyr, gets made into actions. Kill your enemies, kill your idols, kill your past. It is only because of these actions, which are of course given in-story reasoning and logic that has nothing to do with that, that the story, the characters, and the creators are able to move forward.

“DIT DIT DIT DAH DAH DAH DIT DIT” is a story that at first glance is simply an interesting riff, dashed off in order to fill some space with something entertaining. At first, it seems like Modesty Blaise meets David Bowie on the set of Dead Calm, drawn with enough sheer jawdropping skill by Gabriel Ba that it doesn’t really matter what is going on. It also bears some similarity to Frank Miller’s untitled Elektra story from Bizarre Adventures #28 (see above), in which Miller spent 9 pages showing just how great he was at drawing action sequences, with a bitter kiss-off ending just because (while maybe not too similar, the stories are paced in the same way, using the page-as-unit to introduce elements and then double back on previous ideas, using shorthand in exactly the right places). But… well it is all those things, it is David Bowie meets Modesty Blaise in the Casanova narrative context, it is a short story here to fill a gap and show off how great Gabriel Ba is at what he is… and all of that is what is there on the surface. The plot – Suki Boutique, obviously before she ever the Quinns, lands on a ship stacked full of N.E.T.W.O.R.K. agent corpses with only one living occupant – a badly sunburned naked man with a guitar and two different colored eyes named Luther Desmond Diamond. He keeps singing a song that is stuck in his head, the singing of which is the title of the story. The song is “We Are the Dead“, from Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, a song that Fraction has mentioned a few times as being “kind of a Rosetta stone” for the upcoming third arc of Casanova. So this short is a harbinger of sorts for the story that is coming, as well as playing on the dramatic irony that Suki Boutique’s fate is already certain by the time we’re reading this.

“We Are the Dead” is is an interesting choice for a series which spent Gula having characters repeat “No One Ever Really Dies” as if it were a mantra. Of all the Bowie songs of the 70s, it has the most opaque lyrics. It is centered on telling the story of the two lovers in 1984, but when taken out of that context, those lyrics could mean anything, swirling around ideas of control and conspiracy and sex and regret and doomed romance. Perfect of course, for Casanova. This short removes the entirety of the lyrics and leaves only the uncertain motif of “DIT DIT DIT DAH DAH DAH DIT DIT”, hanging in the air over the entire piece. If there is a sense of what’s coming in the next story, it is that bad shit is coming. Something has changed in Casanova, and it’s hard to nail down exactly what – but look at the opening lines again: “– I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for me. / I don’t care about your expectations, so go fuck yourself, Doug./ Fuck everybody. Fuck you.”.

That’s Fraction talking. To us, to everyone who reads this book and ever had anything to say about it (and of course, Casanova was always being sold directly to the kind of people who would either be blogging about or making comics. It was clearly always tailor-made for them by someone who did both). It is defiantly reclaiming the comic for it’s author after years of the book’s fans kind of taking it as their own. Which, yeah, I’m one of those guys who grumbled about recoloring and Fraction telling us that “snark and derision have consumed discourse”, but Casanova, the entire thing, is always going to be a comic that I could always point to and say that’s what comics are for. That is what comics should be doing. Fraction kind of needed to do something like this in-story, having a character say “I’m not doing this for you”, because no matter what he said in the backmatter, no matter what he did for Marvel (and there were bright spots even though so much of his work had hideous and at time unreadable artwork), he needed to drop a Casanova moment to say that this was all he cared about. Because, maybe just for a couple people, but Casanova means something.

It goes further than that, though. The entirety of “DIT DIT DIT DAH DAH DAH DIT DIT” can be read as another entry into the creative process of making this book. Suki Boutique and Luther Desmond Diamond are representing the analytical and the intuitive sides of the creator. Of course, they spend the story alternating between intimacy and trying to kill one another. Suki Boutique, Modesty Blaise analog, represents directive-oriented, plot-based thinking. She’s the side that makes references, she’s the side that goes “how did this happen”. Luther Desmond Diamond, David Bowie analog, represents the side that is groping through the dark, that let’s things just happen. He has a song, just stuck in his head that he can’t quite nail down. He can cook. He’s a romantic. He just does things on impulse. He sees life as a series of events, “Experiential achievements”. They are fundamentally at odds. She even quotes “Whatever gets you through the night.” , John Lennon’s “fuck you” to McCartney after they make love. Because for all the Bowie references, the Beatles are essential to every single Casanova story. The story closes out with Diamond making a force majeur move that ends everything. He doesn’t even know why, he just burns the boat down, stuttering that sometimes a man comes into his mind and tells him what to do. It makes no sense, but it makes as much sense as it is ever going to. Boutique’s response is perfect – “I don’t care”. Because she doesn’t, and the part of the artist’s brain that has to get things done, to talk about this stuff, it really doesn’t. It’s done. It doesn’t matter how. Magical thinking, honest pragmatism, in the end the job is done and they separate from one another, Diamond playing the ominous melody as the thing burns, unfazed about trying to guess what happens next.

Sean Witzke, April 2011

(Special thanks to Morgan Jeske for scanning this thing. You the man, dude)

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7 Responses to Emma Peel Sessions 56 – White and dressed to kill.

  1. morgan jeske says:

    Oh that’s good good writing.

    I’m so happy this book is back, and back with its mind on fire.

  2. I think you just convinced me to check out Gula. I’d reread Luxuria and wasn’t as high on it as I was before (it turns out that I’ve done a lot of growing/changing since 2007, maybe not all of it for the best), so I sorta decided to keep Gula on its mental shelf. “I loved this then, it’s great. What? No, I haven’t revisited it yet.”

    But this here is a seriously compelling read.

  3. Pingback: 4thletter! » Blog Archive » It Ain’t No More To It: Casanova & Growth

  4. Great read. I was a new reader of Casanova going into Gula and this has given me a lot to think about.

  5. Pingback: Random Thoughts! (April 19, 2011) | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources

  6. Pingback: Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Aggregator aggravator

  7. bobsy says:

    Isn’t there a missing DIT at the start though? Four DITs, Three DAHs, Two DITs?

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