Casual Fling (#1 – 4) – Jason Starr

3 out of 5

A somewhat typical tale of blackmail, elevated by strong characters and emotive art.

Casual Fling is, on the whole, fairly predictable. Some of its detail differ, and are maybe modernized to make it work in the digital age, but the story of a married woman – Jennifer – indulging in a possible one night stand, only for it to blow up her life, is standard drama fare. Add to it the recorded video of the affair that her partner from that night had taken, and a demand for money in exchange for not sending it to her husband and place of work, and you lean into an equally familiar pulp variant of the same.

However, although Jennifer’s path through panic, then taking control of the situation, and then potential revenge and redemption is expected, writer Jason Starr imbues the character, and her husband, with actual personalities, and lived-in lives and dialogue. Jennifer actually talks like business big-wig she is, and the couple’s banter – the little snipes; the things left unsaid – feel right as well, and more importantly, Starr makes sure that this doesn’t come across as an “easy” affair, before or after. We can actually understand Jennifer’s decisions the whole way through, which makes her soberingly logical approach thereafter – confronting the issue – much more satisfying. And the husband also isn’t just dealt the card of being the good guy, while also not necessarily trying to make the couple’s marriage seem any more broken than the next one. It’s all very weight, very real.

Dalibor Talajic’s art and Marco Lesko’s colors contribute to this: the former has a somewhat simplified style – more grander gestures than details – but it captures the emotions of the cast very well, and then Lesko uses rather brighter, flatter colors to work with that style, grounding it. All of this makes the ramp up and fall out very immersive.

But: we don’t go much further than that. There’s some potentially fascinating relationship nuance to deal with here, and also the way we treat stuff like this in the modern era, when we – in this case, we being Jennifer’s business partners – should be able to be more understanding of what’s going on, but that’s not really the direction the comic is going; Starr wants to give us a conclusion in four episodes. And so the blackmailer is eviled up so that we have no doubts about what follows, and a wisdom-offering hacker is tossed in to help Jennifer do some tech tracking – Starr may be winking at us here, calling the hacker ‘Sensei’ – and thus the back half leans more into giving us some twists and sensationalism. Entertaining? For sure, and we do get some outro pages that return to the more level tone. And I can appreciate only having a few issues to craft a conclusion, in which something more open-ended might not’ve landed.

Ultimately successful, yes, and gripping the whole way through – for different reasons in different issues, perhaps.