This year I wrote a book, published by Sequart, called The Future of Comics, The Future of Men: Matt Fraction’s Casanova. That book argues that Fraction’s science-fiction spy series offers both a critique of capitalism, as it drives the comic book industry, and the toxic masculinity found in most superhero comic books. My book discusses the first three volumes of Casanova: Luxuria, Gula and Avaritia. Since it came out Fraction has begun putting out a fourth volume, Acedia. These are my notes on that volume, and they are organized in such a way that you can see how they would fit into the chapters and headings established in my book, and I make connections to things I wrote there.
Things I Failed to Include in the Book About Luxuria, Gula and Avaritia
I should have thanked Lucas Haule for making me read Casanova in the first place.
When I was a kid in 1986 the Nintendo game Metroid was a huge hit. Your armored dude jumped around shooting these bug things and collecting missiles and different kind of arm guns and turning into a ball for some reason, and it took forever and at the end you destroyed a giant brain. The big ending of the game was after you win your dude takes his helmet off revealing flowing green hair, and while 1986 graphics did not make it super clear, I understood I had been playing a woman the whole time. That is the power of the reveal in Gula 7.
David Faust points out that the towers that hold the cannon up in Gula 3 are taken from the towers at the end of Felini’s 8 ½, who is referenced, in “Asa Nisi Masa” elsewhere in issue.
“(the pain of the past in its pastness converts to the future tense of joy)” which appears in Avaritia 11, is a reference to a poem by Robert Penn Warren, which also mentions big snowflakes, which dominate the issue.
Apparently Michael Moorcock does not spell his name Morecock, because he is not a porn star. Sorry Michael Moorcock!
Summary of Acedia
Casanova has no memory of who he is, and works as a driver and enforcer for wealthy and powerful Amil Boutique in L.A. He is attacked at a party by a mysterious assassin and is saved by Boutique, who admits that he does not know his own history himself and proposes that each investigate the hidden history of the other. Casanova goes to a library where he is attacked by mysterious occult men who set his car on fire.
Street magician Thelonious Godchild is grabbed by cops Kaito and McShane, who want his take on occult happenings around L.A. Casanova wants the same thing. At the police station Cass interrogates the woman who attacked him and she reveals herself as a demon that he takes down with a flock of crows, leaving behind no trace of the supernatural.
The Future of Comics
Casanova’s new name, Quentin Cassiday, is a corruption of his true name, Casanova Quinn. The past follows him, and shows through in his new life. You see this on the towel he gets, which echoes the abstract designs on the cover of Luxuria 1. One of the first phrases of Aceida is the narrator describing Casanova as a “blank slate.” “Blank slate” is the traditional English translation of the philosophical idea, from John Locke, of the newborn mind as a blank slate. But the Latin Locke uses, tabula raza, would be more accurately translated as “scraped slate.” You can scrape words off of slate, but traces remain, haunting in the background. The things Casanova knows, like how long a person can breathe underwater, haunt him.
Other echoes of the older volumes, supposedly forgotten, make their way to the surface. In Acedia 1, Casanova’s ringtone is Kubark’s “Pa-Zow.” As this is a soft-reboot he is back to his old ways as a stylish killer on the prowl for sex and ready for violence. The central question in Acedia is “Who is Casanova Quinn?” which nicely revises the “Where is Casanova Quinn?” from Avaritia 7 and “When is Casanova Quinn?” from Gula 1.
A more complex example: at the start of Acedia 2, Izzy Benday “quotes” Kaito’s quotation, in Avaritia 10, of Kenneth Bainbridge’s response to Robert Oppenheimer’s quotation of the Bhagavad Gita. Fraction had one of the epigraphs to Avaritia be a Jim Jarmusch quotation of Goddard, but he has really outdone himself with this one.
There is a joke here about reboots generally. DC and Marvel do big reboots of their material, resetting continuity, so that the Fantastic Four again meet Doctor Doom for the first time or whatever, supposedly creating good jumping on points for new readers. But every writer wants to get their favorite bits from the old continuity in again, and very quickly the accessibility breaks down, as nods to and twists on the supposedly wiped out continuity accumulate, so that for example in the X-Men books in the rebooted Ultimate line, Cable turns out to be Wolverine. Casanova, like all comic books, can’t really get away from its own continuity any more than Casanova can be free from his past. Fraction, who knows this, has smartly made this a plot point.
Casanova’s memory loss is about influence. His lack of a past is a mirror for Fraction staring anew, free from the forces that over-determined his work in the past, including getting out from under the shadow of his influences when his writing was in its early stages, and his work for Marvel, who published Casanova before Fraction brought it back to Image, where it belongs. “No memory of the past means no fear of the future,” says Casanova in Acedia 1. “I couldn’t remember anything so I couldn’t think of anything I’d lose.” “Amnesia” also promises freedom from influence, from the past that influences current work. But of course as every reader of a ghost story knows, Casanova, like Fraction, will find the past coming to haunt him even as he rejects it, just as buried continuity, like that pesky Spider-Clone, will always resurface. Acedia is about the value of the past but also the danger of it – of history, of influence.
The photograph that Amil Boutique has in Acedia 2 is a clear reference to the photo of the heroes in Watchmen, so part of what has been forgotten, but that is just under the surface, is the influence of superhero comics.
The Future of Comics
The “I hate my job” motif, such a big part of Luxuria, Gula and Avaritia, continues with Acedia 1’s “I like my job.” The shift suggests that this middle volume is temporary.
Fraction is free from both his early work in advertising, which haunted Luxuria, and his work at Marvel, which haunted Gula and especially Avaritia, which was first published by Marvel, and thus Disney. But he is free from his old life in the same way Casanova is free from his old life. It is still out there as a threat, and the threat in this the fourth volume is the weird occult happenings unique to Acedia. This world of independent work Fraction has built for himself could come to and end, and this shows up literally in the claim by the cultists that the world will come to an end in nine days, when the series opens. We see two aspects of this Satanic group: the graffiti symbols scrawled all over L.A., and the “Picasso Faced Murder People,” whose heads recall cubist paintings. Both graffiti street art and cubism have their origins in independent art, and graffiti is of course anti-corporate. But both have been coopted by the corporate machine, as corporations love to hang abstract art on their walls, as it cannot offend anyone, and graffiti has become the stuff of Urban Outfitters T-shirts. Fraction, who just signed a deal with Universal TV, owned by NBC, to adapt his work, is wary of losing his indie cool and indie control.
The woman who attacks Casanova at the pool looks, in profile, a lot like a modernist art painting, something by Picasso. She quotes a poem at Casanova. The poem is by Christoper Logue and was put by him on poster with the words “Apollinaire said” in front as a kind of first line or title, and after that it got misattributed to Apollinaire. You make something and someone else takes it from you, in this case backwards, as someone long dead gets credit for a poem you wrote.
The Logue poem continues Casanova’s investigation of art. Fraction adapts it a bit, perhaps because the assassin’s memory is not perfect, which fits in with the goings on of Acedia:
Come to the edge, he said
We are afraid, they said
Come to the edge he said
They came to the edge
He pushed them
And they flew
Tom Stoppard told a group of drama students that the poem expressed the real relationship between and artist and his audience. The fifth season of The Walking Dead features a homosexual relationship, and a huge number of audience members, fine with a show that featured cannibalism and child rape, reacted with depressing homophobia. Fraction took his superhero fan audience to the edge in Gula and if they pressed through they learned how to fly in Avaritia.
In the Seven Deadly Sins acedia is the sin of Sloth. It is often translated as apathy, boredom, listlessness, torpor, ennui, and discouragement. It has origins in the Greek word for negligence, and literally translates as “without care.” It is thought that its ultimate expression is suicide. The Holy Virtue of diligence is its opposite, a word that evolved from love through attentiveness to carefulness to steady effort. Famously, Orson Welles blew a deadline and lost creative control over Mr. Arkadin, which he called the biggest disaster of his life. The film was released end edited by others, and on the Criterion collection you can see the multiple versions, none definitively that of Orson Welles. This is the horror of the Satanic group that haunts Fraction: losing control and being unable to complete the work, the work of art, the long and hard work that opposes the sin of acedia.
Future of Men
Casanova’s memory loss, his lack of history, should sever him from this past. But ironically it connects him to a host of figures with similar “afflictions,” and Fraction, as usual, enjoys drawing on the high art end of the entertainment spectrum for influence. The plot of Acedia derives from the Orson Welles movie Mr. Arkadin A.K.A. The Confidential Report, in which the rich and powerful title-character hires a smuggler to find out his history, which he does not remember. Mr. Arkadin’s real name turns out to be Akim Athabadze, which is the real name Fraction gives to Amil Boutique, solidly anchoring his ur-text in his current story. And while Arkadin is the most prominent influence on Acedia, he is neither the first nor the last of his type. Arkadin’s predecessor is Jay Gatsby, the hero of Fitzgerald’s great American novel, and his descendant is Mad Men’s Don Draper. Gatsby, Arkadin, Draper and Amil Boutique are all powerful be-suited white men without a past who remain aloof and alone at the lavish parties they throw.
Strangely, there is another amnesiac that Acedia draws on for inspiration: Laura Harring’s character from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Like her, Casanova gets into a car crash on Mulholland Drive, the road in L.A. under the Hollywood Sign, and like her he wanders down to L.A. with no memory of who he is. Fraction may associate Casanova with a host of powerful male figures but would never forget Casanova’s feminine and lesbian side, his amnesiac anima as it were.
Like Gatsby, Arkadin, Don Draper, and Laura Harring’s character from Mulholland Drive, Casanova and his employer have a void at the heart of them, as Boutique puts it in Acedia 1. It is a void that Casanova sees mirrored in the Grey Men that attack him at the library. “The Gray Man made no-sound, an absence of noise cutting through the space around him. Casanova, with a similar lack inside of him, recognized the feel of incipient nothingness,” the narrator of Acedia 1 tells us. This lack is central to Acedia. Hegel wrote that the secrets of the Egyptians were secrets for the Egyptians as well. Casanova’s mysteriousness is part of his masculine allure. You want to know his secrets. But he does not know them himself.
This chimes with the epigraph to Mr. Arkadin: a king tells a poet the poet can have whatever he wants and the poet says that the king can give up everything but his secret. The King, as Hamlet points out, is “a thing of nothing.” Just as Borges said an actor is a man who pretends to be another man for an audience of people who pretend to take him for that person, Shakespeare’s age was beginning to see, through books like Thomas Hobbs’ Leviathan, that a king was not king because God ordained him king. There is no king-o-meter that you can use to detect someone’s king-ness. A king is a man who says he is king, and whom the people also say king. As Žižek points out, should everyone one day wake up and say he is not king he would no longer be the king, but a merely a man in a madhouse claiming to be king. The king is not the only one who pretends. The people, like the audience, must pretend as well. This is why executions of people who deny the king is the king must be carried out in public, so that the idea will not spread like a virus, one that exposes the illusion king-ness is based upon. We should recognize that this lack at the center is the lack at the center of masculinity, which is performed in just the same way, and it is this lack that Acedia investigates.
In Acedia 2 Casanova says he is not a fan of coincidence, and Boutique, drink in hand, raises a glass “to coincidence.” Later in the issue Thelonious says “there are no coincidences in life. Everything connects if you look long and hard enough.”
Casanova Contra Kaito
Kaito, who by the end of Acedia, had become the most thorough embodiment of the toxic masculinity promoted by too much of comic book culture, is seen in Acedia 2 reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. Frank Herbert famously said that in Dune “I am showing you the superhero syndrome and your own participation in it,” which could serve as an epigraph to Casanova. Elsewhere Herbert said “The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better [to] rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes.” Kaito is just starting to think about this, as he is on like page 4 of Dune. But his rehabilitation begins here.
Fraction is also having fun with stereotypes here: Kaito, in Acedia, is not a Kung-Fu kid in a giant robot but just one of the many Asian people that live and work in L.A. Meanwhile his partner, McShane, who at one point makes fun of a street magician with “Abraca-fookin-dabbra, Boyo,” swings hilariously and wonderfully into the Irish cop stereotype.
Kaito is a cop in Acedia 2, and the effect is a strange one. When we watch movies we are often curious what new role our favorite actor will take on. Will it be a basically interchangeable part, one more time where Liam Neeson plays a loner action hero in something like A Walk Among the Tombstones? Or are we going to get something different, more challenging, say, Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. American Horror Story entertainingly taps into this level of our enjoyment of film by recasting many of its own actors in different roles each season, and this is what Fraction does in the new universe of Acedia. The doubling of fiction, Kaito in more than one role, has a paradoxical effect. He seems more real because, like an actor, we have a sense of him transcending the roles he is given, being his own person.
Fraction says in the new notes to Luxuria that the savages in Luxuria 5 “pass straight into the magic Negro category. The embarrassment of growing up and learning in public pales before the pain of ignorance.” Thelonious is a major new black character, and an interesting one.
References to Music
“Never ever sick at sea” is from Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, which like E.M.P.I.R.E. has the initialed name (Acedia 1).
References to Other Media
Casanova is referred to as Amil’s Ward, like Batman’s Robin. (Acedia 1)
There is a good joke in Acedia 2 where Casanova asks Boutique if he has “shut down any sorcerer supremes.” This is a reference to Marvel’s Doctor Strange, called The Sorcerer Supreme, and also allows Fraction, via Boutique, to get in a funny observation that the correct plural would be “sorcerers supreme” on the model of “attorneys general” (Acedia 2).
Kaito is seen wearing a shirt that says “Brimp,” a reference to Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals. (Acedia 2)
Thelonious calls Kaito and McShane “Shartsky and Hutch,” a reference to Starsky and Hutch, the 70’s TV detectives, that works in “shart,” which delightfully portmanteaus “shit” and “fart.” (Acedia 2)
Fraction captures background phone chatter with “phone phone phone phone phone phone, phone phone phoneiii gotta call you back” the response to which is “phone?” (Acedia 2)
Acedia’s dominant color is orange, like the flames that bookend the first issue. Other references to orange abound, including actual oranges in Acedia 2 and the fact that Kaito is reading Frank Herbert’s Dune, about a world in which the primary religious text is the Orange Catholic Bible.
Odds and Ends
Cornelius Quinn calls a photographer a “deguerro-typographer.” The deguerrotype was a thing from 1840. Once again we see the confusion of time periods, as we did when there were 1960s film equipment in Gula 3, an issue that mentioned Google. (Acedia 2)
Thelonious is introduced with a sock full of nickels and a magic trick involving a bunch of aces, and we will immediately recall that these were the elements of his verbal introduction by Kubark in the opening words of Gula 2. Kubark’s father, it turned out, went to school with Thelonious and this is how the story must have gotten to Kubark. (Acedia 2)
Metanauts: Kawaii Five-O, part 1
Chabon’s title, a play on Hawaii Five-O, is about Kawaii, a Japanese aesthetic of pop kitchy innocent “cute” that you see in, for example, Hello Kitty stuff. In Metanauts 1 we see it in the window of the Christmas store, and it is part of the schoolgirl aesthetic of T.A.M.I.
Murlees is clearly based on record producer Phil Spector. He lives on 33 1/3 Spector St – 33 1/3 is the speed of an LP album. And he lives in a huge castle while producing a girl group, as Spector lived in a cavernous mansion and produced the Ronnettes and the Crystals. M.O.T.T. is revealed to stand for “Members of the Tribe,” Jews, like Phil Spector.
The name of Murlees house comes from Thomas Mann’s philosophical novel The Magic Mountain. It’s “brutalist tumors” are from a “space-borne ‘Erno’ petro-virus,” which apparently mutated the stone, which is a fun detail. Brutalism was an architectural movement from 1950-1970, and Erno Goldfinger was one of the main people who invented the movement, and so is name-checked in the virus. For examples of brutalism, think of the large blocky concrete structures of universities or government buildings, or the Whitney Museum in New York.
In Chabon’s story T.A.M.I. are operating in the main universe of the first three volumes of Casanova, not the world of Casanova Acedia.
The rock critic ignores T.A.M.I at first because they are “corporate bullshit” and prefers a street musician. She throws him for a loop by turning out to be one of the T.A.M.I. girls. The corporate girls are really talented and have indie street cred, and we see Casanova’s concern with the relationship between high art and low and corporate influence. Can corporate work really be art? Can you do independent work and corporate work at the same time, as Fraction and Imago do?
Imago wants to call herself “creative nihilism” – echoing Casanova’s concerns about nihilism.
The rock critic makes a joke about the girl, who said she did not have human reproductive organs, really being a man. When the person he is talking to says “seriously?” he says “or something like that.” “What else is like that?” “I don’t know but when I find out I bet … it smells like rock and roll.” Rock and roll is gender confusion, which is why one of its great icons is Bowie.
Metanauts 1 ends by saying the story will continue in the next “elliptical” issue. Ellipses are at the heart of a very condensed style made by cutting things out, which has the effect of making the story hard to follow. The end of Avaritia would be a good example of elliptical storytelling.
What the hell is happening on that one TV screen with the girl flashing the cameras? It looks like the girls are really maybe bugs?
Sasa Lisi’s replacement is called “Imago” which means “image” and the word “imago” has a whole bunch of associations including the last stage of an insect’s metamorphosis (are the girls bugs?), a journal founded by Freud (a member of the tribe), and the record company that produced Henry Rollins and Amie Mann.
Metanauts: Kawaii Five-O, part 2
Midori is a sweet liqueur manufactured in Japan.
It is interesting that the Metanauts travel in a car labeled Dworkin. Andrea Dworkin was a feminist infamous for her hard-line anti-pornography stance, a stance that bordered and occasionally crossed into anti-sex censorship. On the one hand she attacked pornography because it encouraged men to humiliate and abuse women, and so in a weird way her stance mirrors Fraction’s critique of the toxic masculinity of that other great male dominated popular film genre, the superhero movie. On the other hand, Fraction, author of Sex Criminals, could not be more sex positive, or pornography positive, or anti- censorship.
“Chronoclasm” would be a breaking of time, on the model of “iconoclast,” which literally means “breaker of images.”
The adorable creature the Metanauts are after turns out to be a version of Casanova, and it is funny that the Kawaii style obscures the fact that the three of them are participating in a threesome of some kind, a mirror of the Casanova-Luther-Lisi threesome of Avaritia 8. You can even see details from the cover of Luxuria 1 on the pillows.
The Tachyons mentioned here are a famous bit of science fiction technobabble related to time travel. Tachyons are theoretical particles that can travel faster than light, and you see them used in Dune and Watchmen and Marvel’s Silver Surfer.