Casanova: Avaritia #1 (Marvel/Icon): Even years later into the overall Casanova run, it still feels like Matt Fraction (this time assisted by Gabriel Ba) is pushing the envelope of what comics can be, showing us Comics of the Future. In recent interviews, Fraction has let slip what an ambitious project Casanova might be should it continue to be published. I hate that I just had to type that phrase, “should it continue to be published.” But, he has in mind a 7 part epic, this being the beginning of just the third installment. It’s an initial trilogy, followed by a standalone piece, and then a final trilogy. And already we see some mirroring going on. The first installment of Casanova opened with Cass Quinn saying “I love my job,” and here it opens with him blurting out “I hate my job.” His job is cauterizing several mutant universes that keep popping up as a result of his own time jumping exploits. Fraction’s interactive narrative meta-footnote shorthand just says “sound of spatiotemporal holocaust.” The bleeding edge creativity doesn’t stop there. It’s like Fraction is using some new narrative language, with pseudo-scientific overtones. There’s the visual shorthand of the impressive 16 panel grid on one page, where the line between form and function gets so blurry. There’s the amazing coloring. There’s the visual MacGuffin that is literally a delivery guy from a McGuffin delivery service. [There’s a small goof where the uniform says “McGuffin” but the text says “MacGuffin,” which I believe is the correct spelling, but oh well…]. There are so many Fraction add-ins, and they all play metatextually or meta-medium-ally (see, I have to even invent new language to describe what he’s doing!) that there’s so many layers to what’s going on. And it plays so much more organically and rooted in manic story than something like Alan Moore’s dry and exhaustive LOEG has become. I enjoyed Cass commiserating with Sasa Lisi about essentially becoming the destroyer of worlds, trying to break free from the cyclical deluge his life has become. I enjoyed Cass breaking the fourth wall and referring to “this book.” I enjoyed the backmatter where he discusses how in social networks, “speed and ubiquity have replaced depth.” The backmatter is more humble than self-congratulatory; I think this is what Joe Casey wishes he was actually doing in Butcher Baker. As Fraction seeks to revive a more interactive lettercol, the backmatter also lets slip some little secrets, like the next volume of Casanova being titled “Acedia,” with art by Fabio Moon. We learn Newman Xeno’s secret identity, I think it’s the Fraction stand-in, which leads to the existential crisis the lead character is going through, fueled by the autobiographical concerns that inhabit the Quinn family, from Casanova to his dad. There’s nothing like this book. It should be selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Ba and Moon should be household names. Please transport me to the timeline where that’s true. Grade A.
Justice League International #1 (DC): Hey, it’s the first official New 52 book I’m reading! Sure, I thumbed through copies of Justice League #1 while at Midtown Comics, but this is the first I’m really reading and absorbing. There’s nothing wrong with the book, it’s just very middling. It’s a good adventure, with a diverse cast. It’s a fairly standard “gathering the team” issue. I’m really not a fan of Dan Jurgens, but he’s competent here. The upfront exposition provides the raison d’etre for this incarnation of the UN team. There’s an effort made to expand the cast with a couple of Amanda Waller type characters. There’s a couple nods to other stuff, the Hall of Justice, Queen Industries, I guess Connor Hawke is GA(?), and it’s funny that Booster Gold thinks he’s being asked to join the “real” Justice League. But, it’s all just painfully straightforward. The threat is generic, and it just feels very safe, with no hook. I think a book like this has to have more of a slant to differentiate itself. It’s got to be the funny one, or the irreverent one, or the dark one, or… something. Right now, it’s just the other one. This is the kind of thing that I’d be happy to pick up from a quarter bin, but as is I see no reason to return. It’s not a destination book. And with 13 new titles a week, you’d better wow me to stand out from the crowd and give me some reason to return. Grade B.
Batgirl #1 (DC): Gail Simone. Ardian Syaf. Barbara Gordon. We join the action en media res, where a new(?) villain named The Mirror is killing a list of people, and Babs’ name appears on that list. The only real hook here is that Barbara acknowledges her disabled period, which lasted only 3 years (shit, out here in the real world, I think I was in 8th grade or something when I read The Killing Joke the day it came out!), and is still courtesy of the Joker in the seminal The Killing Joke. Other than that, no effort is made to explain her recovery other than it being termed a “miracle,” and a subtle clue with her “eidetic memory.” There’s some questionable physics, with a batarang being faster than a bullet, but other than that, some decent fast-paced action. On the art side of the equation, I see inconsistency. Syaf runs the gamut from some very awkwardly staged poses and very wonky use of perspective, all the way to a very lean and dynamic look that is almost like a thicker, less busy Jim Lee in spots. Really beautiful stuff when it’s on, and really very ugly and off-putting when it’s not. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but again it all feels just very pedestrian. It’s a competent superhero book, with some emotional growth for the character. It’s not bad, but there’s no wow factor to make me say to myself, "I gotta’ keep reading this title!" I think I could see myself coming back to this faster than I would JLI, but awarding the “+” feels like too much, it’s still in the range of Grade B.
Stormwatch #1 (DC): Paul Cornell. Miguel Sepulveda. Let’s see, so WildStorm’s “The Bleed” has become DC’s “Hyperspace.” WildStorm’s “The Carrier” has become DC’s “The Eye of the Storm,” which was an old sub-imprint of WildStorm, around the time Automatic Kafka launched. Sheesh, self-referential much? Stormwatch has been around for thousands of years, here they are attempting to recruit Apollo as a “Superman level” entity. But, if Superman is new, how do they know that? Hrmm. They also know Martian Manhunter is from the Justice League, but so far he hasn’t appeared in those titles, so uhh, it sure feels like intra-company continuity is already a little fucked, no? The art is all over the place, ranging from sleek and, dare I say, futuristic, to all weirdly squeezed and stretched out in spots, like something is really wrong with my TV. Anyway, there’s a nice reveal of MM, recycled ideas about Jenny Quantum as one of many Century Babies, and I still generally like the premise. They’re a covert team! They’re fighting… the moon! It certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Warren Ellis, positioning itself as a sort of Planetary/Authority-lite. But, right now it feels VERY watered down. I think this feels like it has a little more potential than the other New 52 books I read this week. It has the inherent capacity to be slightly more subversive. I’m not seeing it now, but I’m just interested enough to come back and see it if can deliver on the promise. This probably is the closest to getting the “+” with the story potential and the odd conglomeration of components, but with the inconsistency of the art, it’s still a lackluster Grade B.
The Big Lie #1 (Image): This is an odd book. Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine deliver sort of this fictional time travel story that exposes some of the conspiracy angles to 9/11. It’s a bit of a response to the rushed officlal 9/11 Commission Report, and the wake of inconsistencies that followed. It’s a string of culled facts, expositionally linked together, as some woman who works on the Hadron Collider finds a way to time travel (just like that!) back to 9/11 and attempt to warn her husband who works in the WTC as some sort of Risk Management Movie Consultant for a thinly veiled “Stephen” [Spielberg]. It’s weird. It’s actually pretty easy to debunk most of these conspiracy theories, but I still find the subject matter interesting. It’s a pretty standard assault on building collapse, controlled demolition characteristics, metallurgy, etc. What the book gets right is a rather compelling case for the under-reported collapse of WTC 7 and Cheney and Rumsfeld’s involvement in The Project for a New American Century. It also touches on how surprising the chain of events were to the intelligence community and how passive surveillance could have missed the pilot training, the taking of the planes, the lack of oversight, air defense being told to stand down, and from May to July of that year, intelligence agencies from around the world insisting that an Al-Qaeda attack on US soil was imminent. As the book itself says, evaluating this comic was like examining the “signal to noise ratio” of the content. That said, I’ve seen most of these lines of logic before. I was kinda’ hanging in there with the high exposition, retread arguments, sloppy pencils, and melodramatic acting. Until that last page crosses a line into absurdly insulting. It crosses from presenting selective facts to support a position, into downright fictional presentation of explosives used to bring down Towers 1 and 2. It’s seems reprehensibly irresponsible. It stopped editorializing and just started making shit up. In that moment, I think this book went from a Grade C to a Grade F.