Some fans of Casanova go by the term Casanovanauts. It is a book with a small, but devout, fanbase, some of which are rabid. The book invites obsession: there are layers of pop culture references, to films, music, TV shows, and other comics; enough to send you through days and days of Googling. The backmatter — before this volume — was also full of everything from Matt Fraction’s personal essays about some of those references, to interviews with people who influenced or worked on the book.
So, we arrive at Casanova: Acedia Volume 1. It’s sold as a jumping-on point: Casanova Quinn remembers nothing of the previous three volumes (available in handsome, comprehensive hardcovers from Image), he remembers nothing of who he is, and he’s doing mysterious work for a mysterious man. Foreboding cult things are happening. People start coming after him. What’s a man to do? What are you to do as a reader? Why is life like this?
Right off the bat, a massive flaw in Casanova: Acedia Volume 1 needs to be addressed: the third issue collected ends in a cliffhanger (a massive one, if you’ve read the previous three volumes). It is immediately followed by a stand-alone issue about the mysterious man that Casanova Quinn works for. The standalone story is great, but it feels shoe-horned in, and borderline unnecessary. It advances the plot in no way, shape, or form — at least in the scope of what’s collected here. Once Casanova: Acedia Volume 2 finishes, we’ll probably have a beautiful picture. No one in comics can stick a landing like Fraction, so our faith is with him. That said, this trade comes with a massive asterisk: you’re going to be scratching your head at the decision he made with the ending.
The positives are many. Fabio Moon is back on art duties (for three of the four collected issues), and his work is jaw-dropping. It’s always jaw-dropping — this is a given — but if you decide to use this as your jumping-on point for Casanova, you’re in for a serious treat. His work on the second volume is tremendous, but he’s had since 2007 and 2008 to grow as an artist. It shows. The kinetic scenes jump off the page and shake you by the shoulders; the quiet scenes make it feel like you could hear your blood move; the foreboding — a theme of the volume — is pulled off with style and grace. There’s the impulse to talk about influence — and Moon has many influences — but this is, maybe for the first time, pure, inimitable Fabio Moon art. It makes Casanova: Acedia a true sight to behold.
One of the best reasons to read a Matt Fraction comic — and one of the most divisive, depending on how you look at it — is that you never know what you’re going to get. Casanova: Acedia is designed as a jumping-on point to a book that already has three dense volumes of material, so Fraction changed the game a little bit. There are some brilliant, unexpected callbacks for the Casanovanauts to swoon over — deep cuts, if you will — and it’s both far enough away from the old material and close enough to it that you get an adequate feel for the Casanova experience. The variety you get from Fraction’s catalog of work is not praised nearly enough, and this is a shining example: he’s gone ahead and reinvented himself in the middle of a story he was already telling.
Cris Peter returns for coloring duties, and her work is, as usual, just great to look at. This book has always set itself apart with its visual style; originally, it was printed in green tones, then blue. When the book migrated to Marvel’s Icon imprint, they brought Cris Peter along to do color work, and she gave the book yet another lease on life. Here on Casanova: Acedia, she turns in, perhaps, her best work yet. Casanova has never looked like anything else out there, but in this volume, it looks like something an alien species would’ve come up with if they read all the right comics. A lot of this credit goes to Cris Peter choosing tones we don’t see in comics enough. Normally, you’d think of neons as things we don’t see (unless it’s on spandex), but in this case, it’s not even that: she uses earthen, everyday colors, usually in flat or only slightly developed ways, to absolutely incredible effect. There is a very good reason for this stylistic flourish, and it’s even more effective when the book gets Really Weird.
Casanova: Acedia has one of the weirdest add-ons in the book’s long and convoluted history: backups by Michael Chabon and Gabriel Ba. Ba also draws the stand-alone issue that wraps up the volume. These are largely hit-or-miss; they’re interesting, and they’re always fun, but whether or not they’re adding anything to the story-at-large is anybody’s guess, especially since we’re left on a kind of hanging note. There’s really not a lot to say about them: for a guy who has written very few comics, Chabon is definitely skilled, but that’s not a surprise — he won a Pulitzer, for the love of god. Ba’s art is, as always, wonderful. There’s a little more definition than usual; he traded his Mike Mignola tendencies for a kind of Eurocomics, detail-oriented approach, and it looks great.
All of this begs the question: should you buy Casanova: Acedia Volume 1? If you’re jumping on, absolutely — just don’t let that fourth issue dissuade you from keeping at it. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Casanovanaut, you’re probably buying it already. If you’re on the fence, wait for the hardcover. There’s a hell of a story in here, but it’s unfinished, and it leaves with a whisper rather than a scream. Whether or not that’s a problem is up to you.