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Casanova by Daniel Reynolds

Matt Fraction leads a double life. Wait, let me start over. Matt Fraction is a writer with two wildly different modes of expression. I would wager that if you asked most comic fans how they know Fraction, it would be from the work he does for Marvel, as a past writer of Iron Man, the current writer of Hawkeye and the Fantastic Four, and the 2011 miniseries Fear Itself. This would be the mainstream outlet for Fraction; let's call it a cover life.

The other side of Fraction is in another dimension all together. It's where he explodes the linear nature of the comic book medium, pokes fun at its narrative directives, and ultimately smashes together some wild sci-fi, psychedelic, pop art fun. It is this life that brings us Casanova.

Casanova Quinn is an asshole. He's a thief, and a rogue, and his father Cornelius runs a powerful paramilitary force and spy organization E.M.P.I.R.E that protects the globe. He has a twin sister, Zephyr, and she is daddy's favourite. The Quinn family dynamic is strained, to put it mildly. In the midst of this familial strife, there is a villain (because, of course there is) named Newman Xeno. He is the leader of a different organization (W.A.S.T.E. There is also X.S.M and M.O.T.T. This book has a thing for acronyms), and he wants to, well, he wants to destroy the good guys. Generally, that's what villains do. Let's get back to Casanova. He runs afoul of some powerful people (a three-faced MODOK lookalike named Fabula Berzerko), is tossed from a plane, but, before going splat, ends up... in an alternate dimension where his sister is the asshole, he is 'dead' and suddenly things are different.

I realize this all probably sounds like the craziest episode of a bad spy show you didn’t watch, but hang in there because unlike most “look at me” writing, with all its meta/ironic angles, Fraction backs up his story, the tale of Casanova and the Quinn family, with a surprising amount of heart; and as the title of the book suggests, there is also a potent sensual appeal laced throughout. Of course, in a book as convoluted (in a good way!) as this one, that sex appeal comes from saucy robots, deranged orgies and the twisted relationship between an alternate dimension twin brother and sister.

To add an additional element of meta-twin commentary, the book (which has been collected into two volumes) is drawn, alternatively, by real life twin brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. Their work on the title, which is presented with minimal monochromatic flourish, is elegant, recalling the effortless grace of a Mike Mignola or streamlined Paul Pope. The real twins draw the fictional twins with a brilliant allure, humanizing them even as the story takes bizarre turns into alternate universes with spiritual cult leaders, giant robots, spirit animals and time traveling vixens.

Look, I realize I'm dancing around it a bit here. Casanova is an overwhelming book, one that both embraces the absurdities of comic book logic while also commenting on the ridiculousness of it all. Each issue breaks down into a complicated spy mission, the retrieval of some gadget, the recovery of an asset, etc. The story succeeds where others so obviously fail because of its steadfast grip on the pulse of these characters and the familial and romantic bonds that are forged and torn asunder over the course of the book's run. That Fraction can maintain this balance act, the medium between a brother and sister working out their issues with their parents while also jumping dimensions and battling an evil, mummy-wrapped (yes, mummy-wrapped) villain, is a testament to an extreme talent and a worthwhile book.

The first line uttered in Casanova is "I love my job," and in truth, characters repeatedly say they love their jobs (be it as assassins, spies, robot technicians or evil masterminds). By the end of 'Gula', the second collection of Casanova issues, Fraction has shown both his love for his day job as a comic writer, and love for that other life, as the inventor of pure story, unbounded.