Right to it again.

Last week, Wildcats writer Joe Casey dropped by to speak on the cancellation of the long running Wildstorm series (click here). This week, Casey and I chat about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and The Intimates, two new series that the critically-acclaimed writer is bringin’ to you this fall. Enjoy.

Brandon Thomas: Marvel was where you started your career, but you’ve been down with DC the last few years. What brought you back, and kicked off this new Avengers mini Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?

Joe Casey: For whatever reason, last summer I’d somehow rediscovered my obsessive childhood passion for the Avengers. It was the series that got me hooked on superhero comic books, and my favorite runs still hold up for me. Trust me, a bigger Avengers fan you won’t find. I think I could take on Busiek in certain Avengers-related areas. So, at that same time, Quesada and I were talking about what I could possibly do if I were to come back to Marvel, and I told him flat-out that all I really wanted at that point was to write the Avengers.

I’d been down the road of what Priest calls Paycheck Comics with the Uncanny X-Men gig, and not much good came of that. I learned my lesson, big time. Only write what you have a love for, especially when it comes to the classic characters. For me, at Marvel, that was the Avengers. So, Quesada pointed me in Tom Brevoort’s direction and soon Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was born. Now that it’s all written and almost completely drawn, I can’t wait for it to get out there and for Avengers fans–especially diehards like me–to get their hands on it. Plus, it’s been the best time I’ve ever had writing anything for Marvel, and hopefully I’ll be diving back into the Marvel Universe with renewed passion.

Thomas: What was it about the Avengers that got you as a kid, and how are you bringing that over to EMH?

Casey: I think the sense of fraternity was the greatest appeal for me. And to me, the Avengers were always written as mature adults, especially by guys like Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart and David Michelinie, so I felt I was really getting a window into that world of adult behavior and interaction. There was soap opera without it being too soapy. Plus, the chemistry of those particular characters. Out of everyone in the Marvel U., there’s just something about the balance of the Big Three — Cap, Thor and Iron Man — mixed with those great indigenous characters like the Vision, Hawkeye, the Wasp, the Scarlet Witch, etc.

The Avengers don’t have to be the JLA or any other team…they’ve got they’re OWN unique dynamic. In EMH, we wanted to show the origins of that fraternity and that chemistry. Seeing deep friendships form between these characters was something I was excited to write about.

Thomas: This series takes place between a couple earlier issues of Avengers, right?

Casey: Yeah, it takes place within and around the first 16 issues, from the inception of the team to the first lineup change. So, we’re talking about Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man/Giant-Man, the Wasp, the Hulk, Jarvis, Rick Jones, Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, the Lava Men, Kang, Zemo, the original Masters of Evil, Count Nefaria… all jam-packed into eight bi-weekly issues over four months.

Thomas: You’ve always proven very attentive to who handles the art on your projects. Did anything about Scott Kolins surprise you, as the pages started coming back?

Casey: Not really. I wanted Scott on EMH because I honestly think he’s the heir apparent to George Perez in a very significant way: his layouts. When I was studying up on his work while we were begging him to sign on, I found myself counting panels on various pages in his Flash run, and being shocked at how many panels there actually were. Seven, eight, and nine-panel pages that weren’t strict grids but didn’t look crowded at all. That kind of effortless density is a lost art for sequential storytelling and I think Scott’s the best guy at it since Perez.

Thomas: When playing with the Avengers, there’s a very long and potentially complicated history already in place, before you even get started. I’m sure you dealt with this a bit in your Superman run, but how do you approach a concept like the Avengers, and write a story that manages to stand out, and doesn’t go down as just another Avengers mini?

Casey: Well, I had pretty strict parameters, since EMH does take place during the very early days of the team. Back then, the continuity was certainly less complex than it is now, so that made things much easier. But, more than anything, we’ve been able to delve deeper into the characters than Stan, Jack and Don did back in the ’60s (a reflection of the style back then, not on their skills as creators, believe me). The interior exploration of characters I love like Iron Man, Captain America and Hawkeye — back when they were in their rawest, most pure forms — has been what drives me creatively on this thing.

Thomas: Around the same time, you’re re-teaming with WS to hit us with The Intimates. Tell us a little more about the series.

Casey: It’s about teen angst and superheroes. It’s got some Jim Lee goodness and a superstar-in-the-making in Giuseppe Camuncoli. It’s got great new characters that have Jim’s stink all over them (trust me, that’s a good thing). On the one hand, it’s a fun little series about superheroes going to school. The classroom drama, the social landmines, the heartbreak soup. All that good stuff. On the other hand, it might turn out to be the most challenging thing I’ve ever committed to four-color paper. I’m always looking to fuck with the form in some way and I think we’re doing it on this series. We all have high hopes, but I honestly have no idea what the reaction is going to be to this one when it launches in November.

One thing that was so gratifying about the Wildcats experience was to see how much the readers got involved — even attached — to the cast of characters. And I’m not just talking about the obvious choices, like Spartan and Grifter. For some readers, Agent Wax was their favorite. For a lot of them, it was Dolby. It opened my eyes to the fact that we’ve become an industry of high concept. More and more, things are geared to be sold to Hollywood, but I got into comic books as a kid because I loved the characters. Stories were great, sure, but I was all about the characters. I had my favorites…and they’re still my favorites to this day. With The Intimates, we really want to bring that back. If readers pick their favorites as the series rolls on and really feel some loyalty to those characters, that’ll be a real triumph for us.

Thomas: How are you fucking with the form on this book?

Casey: In subtle ways, I think. Some are more obvious and not necessarily all that groundbreaking, like the fact that every issue is self-contained. They’re like sitcom episodes…there’s a general continuity running underneath, but certain sitcoms are rerun endlessly and when they’re in syndication, viewers don’t necessarily feel the need to watch them “in order.” Hell, any random episode of Seinfeld is still fun to watch without it being part of a larger, connected story. We want to capture that same vibe. Then, of course, there’s the myriad of storytelling and technical bits we’ve come up with to hopefully make the series unique. I don’t want to talk too much about it, because I’d rather have readers just experience it as a whole, rather than trying to pick out all the tricks. Granted, we’re not reinventing the wheel, but I know that there won’t be another book on the stands like this one.

Thomas: What else about this book gives you a little breathing room from other teen superhero books?

Casey: There are no villains in the Dr. Doom mode, but at the same time, there aren’t really any “heroes” per se, either. The way these characters interact might be the most true-to-life depictions of teenage behavior anyone’s ever seen in a mainstream superhero series. I mean, we all know that teenagers can be downright horrible to each other, even the best of friends. The kind of behavior they engage in makes the folks on Curb Your Enthusiasm look like sensible, well-adjusted human beings.

Thomas: Has writing this been as challenging a work as you originally thought?

Casey: It’s been mind-blowing, actually. I’m writing issue #6 as we speak, and even just the structure of these things has been a challenge. There’s no real formula to fall back on, and every issue is so jam-packed with stuff, a single issue has turned out to be the workload equivalent of writing maybe three “normal” comic books. After finishing an issue, I have to take at least a week off to rest up for the next one. It’s good, hard work.

Thomas: Though Wildstorm just lost two very well received (at least critically) series, it looks like they’re rebounding a bit with pretty successful launches for Sleeper Season Two and Ex Machina, with new The Authority on the way. Can I call it a comeback?

Casey: It doesn’t feel like any kind of comeback to me, because I’ve been consistently allowed to do my most progressive superhero work at Wildstorm practically since day one. I’ve been working there for more than five years, so it’s always felt like a home to me. That certainly makes any mis-marketing or missteps that much more frustrating, but at least Wildstorm is constantly in there trying. Being part of the corporate behemoth that is DC (and AOL-Time Warner) could crush anyone’s spirit of independence and creativity, but I think Wildstorm’s kept it up pretty well so far.

Thomas: You think Jim Lee’s involvement is enough to push The Intimates securely into the marketplace?

Casey: Not necessarily. That will ultimately depend on the quality of the book. But, Jim being on board certainly elevates it from the POV of DC’s marketing department. Jim’s an important creator in our field, so when he commits to something, the suits take it seriously. The rest of us — on this project, anyway — get to be caught up in his wake. Not a bad place to be when you’re launching a brand new idea.

Thomas: He’s doing the “comic within a comic” sequences, right? Can you talk a little about how that’s going to break down?

Casey: One of the main characters, Punchy, has a favorite comic book, a super-spy series called Supersonic Espionage Boom, starring Agent Boss Tempo. So, it’s Jim Lee getting his Steranko slickness on, and every so often we simply cut to panels from that comicbook. Jim and Cammo share a studio so it’s been easy for them to just pass pages back and forth.

Thomas: One year from now WS calls you, says that Dustin is hotter than hot following his The Authority run, The Intimates is hotter than that, and they want you to re-team and finish up your Wildcats run as the comic gods intended. What do you say?

Casey: You mean, after I stop laughing hysterically?

Thomas: Oh come on, I have this theory that if The Authority is hot and changing the game every four issues, then WS will have a lot more juice and momentum, and dammit if the optimist in me doesn’t see the critically-acclaimed creators of The Intimates and The Authority re-teaming to finish the story the market wouldn’t let them the first time. WS could sell that easily. I’m just saying, if a hypothetical possibility such as the one described above were to occur, what would be your response?

Casey: The problem is that Wildcats Version 3.0 will be a book that will be remembered — if at all –as a book that was very much of its time. The futurist concepts we were dealing with, mainly alternative energy sources and their affect on world politics, is very much the backdrop of our world right now. I mean, that’s why we’re in Iraq. If, at some point, we were asked to “finish the story”, that story would have to evolve simply because the world will have changed. Hopefully for the better.

And besides, the “he’s hot on (fill-in-the-blank), so let’s put him on (fill-in-the-blank)” only seems to work in the following manner: Artist X or Writer Y is getting buzz on a lower-selling, cult book, so he or she is offered a stint on Batman. And Dustin and I have both done Batman.

Thomas: The situation is enormously complicated of course, but is there anything you could point to that helped contribute to Wildcats’ cancellation? I remember that James Sime mentioned in his Comic Pimp column that Cats’ varying cover designs might’ve harmed its some readers’ ability to recognize it on the overcrowded stands. Little things like that?

Casey: James is a wise man and a snappy dresser, so there certainly might be some validity to what he says. On the other hand, I decided long ago to put myself on the side of “art” as opposed to “commerce.” Of course I understand the business side of it, because I’d be stupid not to, but I don’t want to be a businessman. I want to be an artist. Yes, in all outward appearances, you can be both, but you have to know what you are in your own heart. I make comic books. Publishers sell them. I have my job. They have
their job.

In the best of circumstances, we’re working together for the same goal: to entertain the readers. Me, by making the shit up. Them, by delivering it. With Version 3.0, maybe I knew on some level that the different cover designs would be a pain in someone’s ass, but I still love that we did them. They are some of my favorite comic book covers ever. And, as far as I’m concerned, enough people appreciated them that it was totally worth doing.

Thomas: Oh, I loved the Cats’ covers too, but I don’t think books are canceled for one particular reason or another, it’s a lot of smaller things that just chip away at the project. Comic book erosion if you will. Have you devoted any thought to what may’ve done this to Wildcats?

Casey: Not really. We were just trying to do the best book we could. Obviously, the only responsibility I can take is my own. I know I personally busted my ass on each and every issue of that series, but I suppose the numbers tell their own tale. All I can do now is move forward and try to apply whatever lessons I learned on that book, both in the writing of it and its reception in the marketplace.

Thomas: Thanks to Casey for fielding an onslaught of questions for a second consecutive week, and I’ll return in seven with anything interesting that happened to me at the Wizard World convention. Wish me luck.

Peace,

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