Let’s just get right to it.
This past Wednesday, Wildcats: Version 3.0 #24 hit comic stores, and prematurely ended Joe Casey’s critically-acclaimed run on the title. The writer stops by Ambidextrous this week to give the long running series a proper send-off. Enjoy.
Brandon Thomas: Okay, so I just finished the last issue of Wildcats, and it’s pretty obvious that there was a lot more to say about these characters. What was originally planned to follow Coda War One?
Joe Casey: Ironically, with Dustin coming back, we were going to get back to the heavy character stuff in a big way. We had so many threads set up, it was just a matter of playing them all out in what was to be our final 16 issue stretch. I was actually writing issue #25 when the ax fell, so I was already into it when I had to stop.
Issue #25 basically picked up six months after the end of Coda War One and a lot had changed with many of the characters. The corporate angle was going to explode as we incorporated more politics into the mix. The Presidential elections would’ve played a big part in the book, just as they were occurring in the real world. The technology we’d been developing over the course of the run, the cars, the energy source, etc. was finally going to make the global impact that longtime readers always predicted it would. In fact, I’m not entirely sure we’d have been able to get away with the ending to our run as I’d envisioned it. It was a whole new way of looking at the Wildstorm Universe and there’s always a chance that editorial will resist things like that. So, maybe we’ve all actually been spared enormous amounts of pain…
Thomas: Where was the Universe ultimately heading? You already got everybody’s mouth watering with that last paragraph dude, might as well elaborate…
Casey: All I really want to say about it is that we were hoping to somehow transcend the “corporate” parameters which gave the series its foundation and take us into new, uncharted territory for a superhero comicbook. I know, I know…how many times have you heard a creator spout that bullshit line? But, really, what else were we gonna do with this thing? We had to swing for the fences. Anyway, the ending we had in mind took a lot of those corporate culture idioms and steered them toward more of a utopian ideal.
If the mandate for VERSION 3.0 was indeed “the corporation as superhero,” then obviously the “superhero” aspect was equally as important. So, the question was always, “What do superheroes do?” To me, the answer was obvious. They change the world. Corporations have so much power, they really could change the world in a manner much more significant than just filling their own coffers. In my mind, we were headed toward everything that superhero comicbooks should be…wildly naïve and thunderously uplifting. But, in doing so, it really would’ve changed the nature of the Wildstorm Universe. For one thing, the Authority and all that they represent would’ve instantly become obsolete. I doubt the suits would’ve appreciated that.
Thomas: From someone that’s been onboard with you since issue 5, I’m seriously going to miss picking up this book every month. Not trying to depress you or anything, but you’ve written nearly fifty issues of Wildcats. How weird is it not to have a Cats script due?
Casey: Well, I knew how the story ended, so in my own mind, I have the kind of closure that our readers will unfortunately miss out on. More than anything, I’ll miss the characters. Jack Marlowe, Grifter, Zealot, C.C. Rendozzo, Wax, Dolby, Ladytron, Agent Orange, the Beef Brothers, Ramon and Donovan. I thought we’d really developed an interesting ensemble cast of characters and having them interact in different configurations was really the most pleasurable thing about writing the book.
Thomas: When you took over for Scott Lobdell, way back in volume 2, did you have any idea of the direction Cats would eventually take?
Casey: I knew I wanted it to be a heavy character book. It was what that particular concept was always missing, the “human” angle. I wanted them to feel real and authentic in their behavior and their interactions. I think, with Sean Phillips, we succeeded on that front early on. Then it was a matter of figuring out where to take the characters…and that ultimately led to the corporate angle that took center stage in VERSION 3.0.
Thomas: At what point during volume 2, did that idea become exactly where you wanted to take the book?
Casey: When I got rid of Lord Emp and had Spartan take over Halo and become Jack Marlowe, the tracks were being laid right then and there. After that, I figured out Noir’s battery scheme and how Jack Marlowe would ultimately co-opt it and we were off and running. In a weird way, the seeds for all my Wildstorm work were planted in issue #4 of Mr. Majestic, when we came up with the concept of Otherspace. Once that very Silver Age-y idea was in place, I kept wondering to myself if there were more interesting applications to this time-honored tradition of another dimension. It’s a very
“comicbook”-kind of idea, y’know. The Negative Zone. The Anti-Matter Universe.
The Bleed. We had Otherspace and I wanted to use that idea in a way we’d never
Thomas: You ever see yourself revisiting the “corporation as superhero” concept in the future?
Casey: I don’t know. I’d like to think I’m not big on repeating myself, but it’s territory that I’ve managed to mine and create kind of a niche for myself, as a comicbook writer. Am I somewhat known for being one of the writers that’s brought those elements back into superhero fiction? I don’t know. If that’s the case, I can definitely live with that distinction. But there are certainly other areas to explore.
Thomas: Oh, no doubt, but some writers definitely fall into a certain train of thought that follows them across projects, and I think the “corporation as superhero” angle is one you can lay almost exclusive claim to. You agree that there’s more to be said about it, either by you or someone else?
Casey: I think so, mainly for the fact that VERSION 3.0 got cut off at the knees. But I don’t know if it’ll be me who does it. The corporate angle will always be something that pervades anything that I do that strives to be contemporary, simply because corporate culture is so ingrained in our daily lives. It’s inescapable and will probably insinuate itself even more into our kids’ lives. But for me, it’ll more than likely just be a side dish to the main course of what comes next.
Thomas: Looking back on the full run, do you have a favorite and least favorite story arc? The one that emerged fully formed out of your head, and the one you’d still like to tweak endlessly?
Casey: I could probably tweak just about every issue in some way. The weird thing about Wildcats was that I was never “writing for the trade,” nor was I writing strictly for the serialized, monthly audience. With VERSION 3.0 especially, I just felt like I was writing this huge novel that would occasionally veer off on one tangent or another, but ultimately the characters were the focus of everything. Whether it was a corporate board meeting or a war with an army of super assassin chicks, it was always about the characters for me. So, to answer your question, I don’t have a favorite issue or arc. It’s all one big story to me.
Thomas: Man, and this is just me personally, but I think the most influential arc you did was Serial Boxes in Vol. 2. Until that point, it looked like you were “clearing the board” so to speak, of all the plot threads that Lobdell had started, but Boxes was where I thought the book officially became Joe Casey’s Wildcats. Everything about that story, the pacing, the tension, the resolution, it was just like THIS is the progressive superhero comic everybody is always talking about. I don’t know, maybe it was all the severed body parts, but that one was the absolute shit to me. What went into writing that particular storyline, and was that the point where you just started to “get” the characters?
Casey: I think there’s something to that. It seems so long ago, but I remember being pretty jazzed about that story. You’re right, I did have to spend a few issues clearing out the plots that were left over but, as I said before, from that “clearing out” sprang the foundation for everything I did afterward. Serial Boxes was, I suppose, a deviation from the norm in that it was a character-heavy suspense story. But it was also really on-point when it came to the emotional center of what Vol. 2 was supposed to be about.
In a very real way, it was much like Coda War One…a “time out” from the main thrust of the narrative to allow for deeper exploration into the character relationships, set against the backdrop of what some might consider a typical action thriller. Serial killer stories are nothing new, even in comicbooks these days. But I thought Sean and I did a decent job of portraying the toll this kind of life can take on the characters.
Thomas: From a craft point of view, what did you learn from writing this book and these characters?
Casey: A lot. Especially when it switched over to a Mature Readers label. I wasn’t all that interested in ramping up the sex, or even the violence, but I still had to ask myself, “How can I justify the MR label?” And my answer was to try to break from certain paradigms that we equated more to kids’–or, I guess, all ages–comicbooks, as opposed to adult literature.
I think some of our most loyal readers were disappointed by the Coda War One storyline precisely because it was the most “comicbook”-style story we’d ever done, with lots of action and fighting and shit blowing up. From what I could tell, that storyline made them realize exactly what they’d loved about the book in the first place, which was all the corporate stuff, the in-depth, emotionally ambiguous character stuff. All of the stuff that I guess would be deemed as “unconventional,” in the sense that you wouldn’t find it in the latest issue of Batman or whatever. There were definitely moments where I was feeling my way, but the comicbooks I’m writing now absolutely benefit from the lessons
I learned writing Wildcats.
Thomas: Yeah, I was probably one of those that read Coda War One, and realized exactly what I loved about the book, and please don’t take that the wrong way. Do you think if you’d taken the mature readers label, and used that as license to amp both the sex and the violence, people would’ve been more willing to get into it, because of its “extreme” nature. Kids do like the sex and violence, you know.
Casey: Sure they do, but responsible retailers aren’t supposed to sell it to them. Gratuitous sex and violence just isn’t my idea of “mature.” Don’t get me wrong, I love ’em both as much as the next guy, but I’d like to think we had slightly loftier ambitions for Wildcats Version 3.0. So lofty, in fact, that the book got canceled right out from under us. Ah well…
Thomas: Are “mature reader superhero comics” something just too oxymoronic to ever really work properly?
Casey: I have no idea. My personal experience tells me that it’s a bit of a stretch, but obviously a series like Supreme Power says otherwise. Then again, if I’d written that series rather than JMS, it probably would’ve gotten the ax, too.
Thomas: Even though you didn’t get the opportunity to see the whole thing through completion, is Wildcats your definitive work in comics?
Casey: Christ, I hope not. I think, in the greater scheme of things, it was an important work for me. It definitely scratched an itch that’s tough to scratch these days, when every character under the sun has been revamped, re-imagined and revitalized several times over. For a guy who grew up watching Frank Miller take Daredevil from near cancellation, and turn it into a genre-defining work, you always want your shot at taking a concept or a character that may have fallen on hard times, and try to inject a little life into it, a little more creative worth than it might’ve had previously. I feel like I got to do that with Wildcats so, while I wouldn’t say it’s “definitive,” it was certainly one of the most important long term assignments I’ve had so far in mainstream comicbooks.
Thomas: And it ends with a final page that reads like a sly commentary on the series itself, and its premature ending. This what you intended, or am I just projecting?
Casey: The ironic thing is, that page is exactly what I wrote before I knew the series was over. I certainly could’ve gone back and tailored Spartan’s dialogue to emphasize the meta-commentary, but reading what I originally had seemed to fit just fine. Plus, I liked the idea that the last line of the series is, “This is only the beginning.” We didn’t even put a “THE END” in there. I just thought it was fitting to leave it hanging like that.
Thomas: Does coming off a canceled title affect the way you approach the next big project?
Casey: Not really. I think I know what’s commercial and what’s not commercial. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a pretty commercial project. In fact, anything I do for Marvel from now on, I’ll try to be as commercial as I can, because that’s what Marvel does best. I’ve got plenty of other opportunities now to do experimental work that doesn’t have to bear the intense pressure of being an enormously huge seller, at least not in the Direct Market. In other words, I’ve gotten much better at hiding my subversive side.
Thomas: Is this the face of the game now, hitting something real commercial and than something not so much? Are we kidding ourselves to believe that it works any
Casey: All I know is what works for me now. I’m certainly in no position to tell anyone how to conduct their career, what choices they should make. Because, in the final analysis, it’s READERS who make the final choices for all of us. And I’m perfectly comfortable with giving them that kind of power. They put down their money, so they deserve it.
Thomas: Is there some “formula” out there that equals hit book, and if so, what do you think Wildcats lacked from that equation?
Casey: If I knew that, I’d be sitting on top of the fucking world, wouldn’t I? The fact is, some of my favorite books were not commercial blockbusters, so I certainly don’t equate creative success with big sales. Unfortunately, the market has contracted to the point where good work, experimental work, left-of-center work doesn’t get much chance to find an audience that can sustain it. The tolerance level for “cult books” at the big publishers is low, to say the least.
Thomas: You think the industry is reaching a point where it’s “change or die,” because not to diminish Cats’ cancellation, but some critical darling seems to be feeling the ax every few months now, and this little Internet community we’ve built always manages to explode in response. But what’s the point of having this group of readers that honestly knows a shit book from a good book, if we can’t even mount a “word of mouth” campaign that equates to sales? Is this all just piss in the wind?
Casey: Not at all. Every voice should be heard. Sometimes it’s more significant to simply articulate your POV, whatever it may be, than to sweat the details of how it’s going to affect anything. Nine times out of ten, it’s just not going to. Nothing to be bitter about, that’s simply the way it is. But, I can say personally that the Internet response to
Wildcats Version 3.0 getting canceled was tremendous. It definitely affected me on an emotional level because the way people talked about the series, the characters, what it meant to them, etc. made me realize that there was an audience out there for this kind of material. There’s an audience out there that GETS IT. Doesn’t matter how big or small that audience may be, it exists and that’s probably more gratifying than anything.
Thomas: I’d like to thank Casey for stopping by, and invite you all back next week when we talk about some of his upcoming work, including Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and The Intimates. Until then, there are five very attractive Wildcats trades available at a store near you, collecting much of Casey’s run.
I’ll also be attending the upcoming Wizard World this weekend, so if you run into me on the con floor, please stop me and say what’s up. Should have an extra cool SBC tee on for most of the proceedings. Back in seven.