Review: The Future of Comics, The Future of Men: Matt Fraction’s Casanova

Geoff Klock’s new book, The Future of Comics, The Future of Men: Matt Fraction’s Casanova from Sequart is an in-depth, even exhausting, dive into the world of Casanova, but it reads like the coolest lecture from the coolest professor you never had. The book is divided into four separate parts: an introduction, “The Future of Comics,” “The Future of Men,” and a section of stray observations. Published as it was before the fourth volume of Casanova could begin, it largely treats the first three volumes (“Luxuria,” “Gula,” and “Avaritia” as a relatively contained trilogy, with more stories to come. Even speaking as a person who will proclaim Casanova as his all-time favorite comic, reading the summary of just those first three volumes is exhausting; a reminder just how much Fraction, Ba and Moon managed to cram into those 18 issues. The rest of the introduction serves less as a thesis statement than an explanation of the thing that makes Casanova tick: Pulp Logic. Pulp Logic is basically the fact that, in pulps and their bastard offsprings, the comic books, things don’t necessarily happen because they make a ton of narrative sense; they happen because things have to happen. Klock quotes Raymond Chandler and it’s worth reprinting here: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter” (Klock 8).

I don’t want to just summarize the two main sections of the book, because that would do you a disservice. After all, it’s worth reading, and its observations are far-reaching, outside of the pages of Casanova, into the pages of Fraction’s Hawkeye and Iron Fist runs, all the way back to Jack Kirby (omnes viae Kirby ducunt, after all). In the interest of that, I’ll try to sum up some salient thesis points.

Within “The Future of Comics,” Klock does a lot of unpacking and backtracking through Fraction’s pop culture references. Unsurprisingly to regular Fraction readers, a lot of them (no seriously you guys like a ton of them) lead back to David Bowie, particularly “Space Oddity” and his predilection for changing who/what/when/where/why he is at the drop of a hat. This becomes especially relevant during discussions of Luther Desmond Diamond and the murdering of universes during “Avaritia,” as well as Kaito’s refrain of being “all content, no context.” After that, it turns into a lengthy discussion of Fraction rebelling against/trying to subvert Grant Morrison and Alan Moore’s hold on superhero comics of the time. Of the problem of trying to make something new in a space for art, Klock maintains that “[y]our precursors are insignificant, overbearing, or paradoxically both” (Klock 17). The section is informative and quite interesting from a comics history/comics zeitgeist perspective, but it wanders a bit, and tries to shoehorn a call-to-action into the final paragraph about what the industry can do to better itself (spoiler alert: let the characters change). The main point seems to be that comics should use themselves as modes of détournment: the act of “turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself” (Klock 29). Klock isn’t wrong in his argument by any means, he just shifts gears from a somewhat casual, deeply informative series of statements to a very strident call-to-action that comes a little bit out of left field.

Casanova cover“The Future of Men” is the real meat of the book. “The Future of Comics” has a lot of overlap with other media and books like Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, but “The Future of Men” has more to do with the politics and performance of gender and sexuality than any other topic. Klock wanders far and wide in this section, but he manages to stay within the orbit of his main topic, and brings up a lot of really interesting stuff. He goes from the learned aspect of the new American masculinity that the country learned from John Ford/John Wayne films post-WWI, the fact that that masculinity is a choice and it is a performance, to the issue of transsexuality in “Gula” to the bisexual love triangle in “Avaritia.” It’s a lot of stuff that is clear to readers of the book that are difficult to verbalize and denote. As this is the most fascinating part of the book, that’s all the summary I’ll give you.

Klock ends his extensive essay on a note of optimism. For all the wringers Fraction puts Cass & Co. through in each volume, there’s always a note at the end that things might work out. Whether Cass and Kaito are sharing a drink on Kleptomik/Cryptomech or Sasa Lisi is reassuring the spaceboy, Casanova is a book about patricide, fucked up gender politics, entrenched asshole-ry, and the fact that we can always rise above them. Klock posts this in direct opposition to most mainstream media, be it comics or film. After all, “Braveheart won more than a few Oscars with this [nihilistic] formula, and it worked for the Punisher forever” (Klock 100).

Whether you’re a casual fan of the series, a diehard fan of the series, or someone looking for a scholarly resource about how the fucked up history of the American zeitgeist flavored (and still flavors) the politics of American comic books, this is a volume that’ll fit neatly on your shelf. Intensely readable, filled with information but still moving a long quickly. As a guy who’s constantly trying to find new ways to recommend Casanova, this is a good new trick to have.

Some stray observations about the book:

  • Finally, someone else who isn’t impressed with The Walking Dead.
  • Pulp Logic in its purest form: “Why? Because 1) It’s awesome and 2) because fuck you, that’s why.”
  • Definitely made me want to dig back and find Klock’s previous book, How To Read Superhero Comics and Why.
  • “Laffs motherfuckers, laffs!”
  • “Not a minor point in a book fucking around so hard with David Bowie” (Klock 16), seriously just let me take an independent study course with you, Klock, it doesn’t matter that I’m not in college any more.
  • Grant Morrison apparently modeled for Abercrombie + Fitch in 2002, so I need that picture blown up to poster size in my living room.
  • Solid Identity Crisis
  • Finally, a breakdown of all of Casanova Quinn’s dick-outs by issue.
  • He’s going so deep on David Bowie, we’re talking Guild of Calamitous Intent and The Venture Bros.
  • Wow, I’ve never read Mark Millar’s run on The Authority, but it sounds awful.
  • He misspells Michael Moorcock as “Michael Morecock.” Aubrey Sitterson will find that amusing.
  • I’m glad he addresses (as Fraction does in the backmatter of the Luxuria hardcover) the problematic “Magical Negro”-ism of “”

Score: 5/5

The Future of Comics, The Future of Men: Matt Fraction’s Casanova Writer: Geoff Klock Publisher: Sequart Price: $12.99 Release Date: 12/25/14 Format: Paperback, Non-Fiction