Another look back at previous PiYS columns. This one is about Casanova and its effect on the spy genre.
Just a note to start us off: This article was originally published on the OH after I had begun my self-imposed exile. Here it is as I intended to publish with pictures and everything. It was originally written when Casanova was being released through Image, roughly around the first HC release. Since then, Casanova has moved to Marvel's Icon imprint and is published in color. It still kicks ass! Enjoy!
We all know James Bond. We may not like him or we may love him, but the fact of the matter is I say “James Bond” and you say “super-spy”. On a more comic-related note, I say “super-spy” and you say “Nick Fury”. Not the Nick Fury you see nowadays standing in the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier looking at a screen smoking a cigar and swearing. And I’m not talking about the bald black Samuel L Jackson imposter. I’m talking that 60s Steranko Nick Fury vs. Hydra and AIM and a lot of ass-kicking and shit blowing up.
It seems like that old style espionage thriller is pretty much dead in comics. At least it was until breakout talent writer Matt Fraction came out with Casanova. I won’t get into Casanova’s publishing details, but let’s just say it’s the front-runner in a new line of Image books [editor's note: now published on Marvel's Icon imprint].
I wasn’t interested in Casanova at first, but I did have my reasons. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading comics, and I had no idea what Casanova was about. The name “Casanova” brings up recollections of a man who seduces women. That’s only half the case here. Casanova’s ability to seduce women comes from espionage ability, because Casanova, in simplistic terms is your new James Bond.
Yes. I said it. But like every genre of literature, the espionage thriller must be injected with another genre’s genetics. In Casanova, Matt Fraction takes the espionage of James Bond and throws in the contemporary tropes of modern superhero comics: alternate universes, anti-hero, telekinesis and super-villains.
What makes Casanova special is that it’s not your typical espionage thriller. The art is reminiscent of Steranko’s Nick Fury, and the minimal colouring on the comic really harkens it back to a kind of old-style spy that we all know and love. What really makes the title innovative is the way Fraction writes.
In the first issue, Casanova Quinn is an anti-hero, anti-establishment and looking to break all the rules. To make things interesting Fraction employs the idea of the alternate reality and has the number one bad guy Newman Xeno steal our Casanova and stick him in a timeline where Casanova is the goodie-two-shoes. Bang! This is the first instance of the superhero universe that we know from DC and Marvel bleeding into the espionage.
If we put this against the idea that Casanova is not necessarily on the side of good or evil, or at least not in the traditional espionage thriller context. In old Bond films, it’s always Bond vs. the Russians or Bond vs. the Koreans. Whoever the world’s enemies are, Bond fights them. One of the staples of the espionage thriller is that the agent is out to stop the world’s worst enemies from setting off a bomb that will blow up the world.
Casanova would rather set off that bomb. Okay, maybe not set off the bomb but he’d want to cause as much of a headache to his father as he can. That’s the beauty of the series. It’s not the typical secret agent fighting for the greater good of the people (or democracy). It’s the secret agent fighting for whatever he really wants to, which is what I believe is the main ideal at the core of the super-spy hero.
Casanova fights his father, the director of E.M.P.I.R.E., a top-line SHIELD knock-off. The thing is, Casanova also fights Newman Xeno, Fabula Berserko and just about any super-criminal you can think of. Like Hellboy, Casanova does whatever he wants and he makes sure he does it well.
The important part of Casanova is that it’s about doing something for one’s own self. It’s a story about liberating the self, and doing whatever the hell you want. It doesn’t really sound like espionage, but when you have a double-agent working against both angles, it really buggers up the traditional idea of espionage thriller, and that is what evolving the genres of comics is all about.