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One You Want 007: Casanova: Avaritia #1, Icon

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Each week a lot of comics hit the stores.
Some you’ve heard of. Some you haven’t.
Some have superheroes. Some don’t.
They might be comic books, they might be graphic novels.
This is the One You Want.

THIS WEEK:  CASANOVA: AVARITIA #1, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Gabriel, Icon, 40 Pages, $4.99

Every time I write one of these I try to give some context as to why a work’s important in the larger world of comics. Maybe where the creator fits as a representative of the new creator generation. Maybe why their work is so reflective of great World Comics, World Building or World Whatever.

This time around I’m having difficulty articulating why I feel CASANOVA: AVARITIA is important beyond my brain repeatedly yelling:

HOLY SHIT! COMIC BOOKS!

I’m excited for this Wednesday in the same way I am when Little Thunder releases a new volume of Kylooe, Naoki Urasawa puts out a new volume of anything or when Humanoids reissues a reprint of Moebius’ anything else. These are all examples of the Maximum Excitement Level when it comes to me and comics. It’s when I put aside all business and other such examination of the industry or art form and am just thrilled to read something that gives me the electric charge of 100% pure fandom.

A new issue of Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon’s CASANOVA jam-packed with nothing but all-new material exceeds even the Maximum Excitement Level in a way a very select few comics do. I’ve been a major fan of this series for awhile, going as far as happily buying the same story material in five different forms (Image singles, Image collection, Icon singles, Icon collection, Icon digital) because I’m so rabid for it. There’s maybe two or three other series I would even begin to consider doing that with and even then right now in the moment I’m failing to name them.

CASANOVA began its life as an extension of the Slimline format first introduced by Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith for their crime series, FELL. The idea was to give readers more bang for their buck by selling 16-pages of story in 24-page comic books featuring more compressed than usual storytelling. This is how you read CASANOVA for fourteen issues, over two storylines, each featuring two-colors and computer lettering by Sean Konot. It was fantastic.

These issues in this format, with these colors and two storylines introduced you to Casanova Quinn, a real bastard thief of multidimensional proportions who took everything you love about Jerry Cornelius, Diabolik and other sources then turned it into something completely new and different from any of them. He got plucked from his reality by an even bigger real bastard with the goal of replacing another self in another reality who wasn’t a bastard in an effort to take down the Big Goodguy Team he worked for, E.M.P.I.R.E. This was all told within the confines of the series’ first issue, leaving no time for bullshit and making each subsequent issue set up so it could explore something new and different every. single. time.

Then things changed, time passed, issues of Iron Man were written, Eisners were won, issues of Umbrella Academy were illustrated, other Eisners were won, issues Daytripper were written & drawn, even more Eisners were taken home and eventually CASANOVA made its way from Image Comics to Marvel’s own creator-owned effort, Icon. It was there the series got a facelift, new interviews in the back matter, a new color palette from Cris Peter and hand-drawn letters by Dustin Harbin.

I immensely loved the Image Comics issues, but I feel the Icon run is where CASANOVA reached its top physical form. Reading the same issues again in their reprints was a different experience, one I did multiple times despite having read the originals multiple times already.

Now that the reprints of LUXURIA and GULA are finished and collected, making way for the long-awaited new series, AVARITIA.

And, man. Yeah. That wait was way worth it.

I’ll admit I was kind of worried. I tend to hype myself up on stuff I love and have to anticipate awhile for to the point where I may put too much on the work itself. I was certainly doing that here, but unlike usual when I read the first issue my already high expectations were completely shattered. This was better than my overhype could have hoped for. Fraction, Ba, Peter and Harbin were all in top form, creating a comic book unlike anything I’ve read in my three decades of reading comic books including the two previous storyarcs.

It’s not just story content. How the story is told, how lettering is implemented, how coloring can make an impact, how panel layout can bend time and space (seriously!) were all done in ways I have never experienced.

CASANOVA: AVARITIA #1 was the most satisfying single-issue experience I’ve had in recent memory. I can’t recall the last time I enjoyed the opening salvo of an extended storyline any more than this. The CASANOVA team perfectly crafted something to be read in this single-issue format, which I think is an extremely difficult feat.

I don’t write this column to offer critical analysis. My point’s to write about comics I’m passionate about in hopes you read them for yourself. That said, I’m even having a hard time coming up with any critical analysis. My cons list is thus far non-existent. Maybe it’ll come with time, but at this moment I can outright tell you I am completely satisfied with every panel on every page of this book and can’t recommend it any higher. It’s basically like reading comics from the future, today, which is a hard offer to pass up.

I’ve heard some rumblings about the price point (and even initially had some myself), but lets break it down here. Every issue of CASANOVA: AVARITIA is going to run you $4.99.

Pricey? Not really.

Check this out. I’m looking at JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, which is the biggest release comics has had in some time. Jim Lee. Geoff Johns. A bunch of famous superheroes. $3.99. It contains twenty-four pages of comics, interrupted pretty regularly by ads for other comics, Batman shoes and Green Lantern milk. There’s a four page sketchbook section in the back containing material I’ve largely seen before. All this is backed by a major corporation, featuring a multi-who-knows-illion dollar market budget featuring ads everywhere, including television. While a quality book, it took me about three minutes to read. This isn’t to disparage the work, it’s great for pop superhero punch books (which I think is great), but still.

So, CASANOVA: AVARITIA. For a mere dollar more you get EIGHT more pages of comics with absolutely no ads for CASANOVA shoes, milk or whatever. The only ad is on the back cover, which advertises the next issue with a giant panda leaping to most likely tear the shit into somebody. I’m fine with ads like this. I would buy milk from that panda.

Furthermore, the story itself is really meaty. I’ve had this issue for less than seventeen hours (which includes six hours of me sleeping) and yet I’ve already read it three times, with each session taking longer and longer as I dove into the story, craft, subtext and aw-yeah-this-is-wicked-awesome-text. I plan on rereading it again more than a few times, most likely in a variety of formats.

All this is backed up by eight pages of a letters column, featuring discussion about CASANOVA, its creators and comics in general I found incredibly insightful, much in the vein of the original series’ columns and reprint’s interviews. It’s a good evolution of the back material, by reaching into the past to create something better for the future, much like the series itself regularly does.

And yes, technically Marvel publishes CASANOVA, but keep in mind it’s part of the Icon line. This means it’s creator-owned, with the same risks (and, lets be fair, rewards) as something coming from Image Comics. Fraction and Ba put everything on the line with extremely little, if anything, upfront. They do have a sweet spot when it comes to solicitations, but otherwise the marketing, promotion and public relations is all up to them. They don’t have the Disney machine pumping out CASANOVA ads after iCarly or whatever, despite how brilliant that would be to see.

To sum up, for a dollar more I get a bunch more content that’s a lot more denser-in-a-good-way, a huge, insightful letters column, absolutely no ads and the good feeling of supporting an original work by some of the best creators this industry has to offer? Yeah, that’s about as good of a deal as you can get.

So, get it.

If you’re new to CASANOVA, I do implore you to read the first to volumes, LUXURIA and GULA, before jumping into AVARITIA. I do believe it’s possible to enjoy AVARITIA on its own, but I think you would be denying yourself of a lot of great comics as well as enjoyment of certain moments in AVARITIA which are built on the past two series. The last sequence and specifically last page gutted me because of what has gone on before.

Get the books. Get gutted.

Read the future now.

CASANOVA: AVARITIA #1, a 40-page full-color single issue for $4.99, is available in-stores on September 7th, 2011. Look for your local comic shop by going to http://comicshoplocator.com. Special thanks go to Portland, OR’s own Floating World Comics (400 SW Couch St/503-241-0227). Stop in there any time during September to see a bunch of CASANOVA original art then buy a whole bunch of comics.

###

Joe Keatinge is the Eisner and Harvey award-winning co-editor of POPGUN and writer of the upcoming Image Comics series, BRUTAL, with illustrator Frank Cho. He lives in Portland, OR and works out of the comics studio, Tranquility Base. Follow him on Twitter @joekeatinge.

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