We’re pretty wary of putting comics on our “best of” list when they’ve only released a few issues in a year. For us, “best” doesn’t just mean technically outstanding and original, it’s also a measurement of entertainment value as spread over 12 months – and if a series is late, absent or slow, that counts against it. It’s why the otherwise brilliant Avengers: Children’s Crusade didn’t make the cut, for example, or why we felt it too early to put Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men on the list separately.
The thing about Casanova is that in only two issues, it’s managed to do more than some comics manage in a lifetime – not just in terms of technical skill, but in its tapestry of concepts, characters and plots. Written by Matt Fraction and drawn, in this instance, by Gabriel Ba, the best compliment I can offer Casanova is to say that it’s truly a comics-readers’ comic. It panders to no-one, dares you to keep up with it, doesn’t look back if you fall behind. At a time when the world’s creative industries are obsessed with providing accessible material with as much popular appeal as possible, it’s refreshing to find a creative team willing to treat its audience as if they’re as intelligent and enthusiastic as they are.
It’s tough to decide what the real strength of Casanova is. Its pace and density. Its originality. Its humour. If I had to pin down the one thing about Avaritia that gave me most pleasure, it would be the meticulous control of the comic’s tempo. Where some writer-artist teams get you raving about a fantastic spread or plot twist, this one excites you with details as minute as a page transition. Turning from a 20-panel action sequence set in 16 different realities where universes die in the gutters, to a languid post-coital splash. It’s the kind of reckless gear change that should make a story flip over itself, turn into a fireball and skid roof-first across the tarmac. But somehow, it doesn’t.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Casanova: Avaritia is that in a year where Fraction’s Marvel output has ranged from “disappointingly pedestrian” to “complete misfire”, it somehow manages to be the absolute best work of his career. We could speculate why, but the fact remains that we saw two Matt Fractions in 2011. The writer of Fear Itself, Thor and Iron Man, a reasonably good creator struggling to live up to even those mild terms, and the writer of Casanova: Avaritia, an absolute genius deserving of mention alongside the likes of Morrison, Ellis and Gaiman.
If I were a professional comics writer, I’d utterly hate Casanova, if only because every issue would make me think “great, another brilliant storytelling device that I’d never have thought of, and which I can’t use for another decade without looking like a cheap imitation.” As a reader, I’m just happy to see those ideas put down once. It’s really only being kept off the top spot by the technicality of having delivered only 2 issues in 12 months – but the fact that merely the first half of the third arc is enough to make us call it one of the best reads of 2011 should tell you how strongly we both feel about this comic. Outstanding stuff.