There’s more to being a superhero than acting like one. The best stories about superheroes show us not just the costume but the person wearing it, and Joe Casey’s newest Image series Sex takes that idea to its fullest by getting his heroes out of their clothes.
Launched earlier this month, Sex is an ongoing series by Casey and Polish artist Piotr Kowalski that follows a recently retired superhero who, now shorn of his crime fighting obligations, wants to catch up on all the things he missed – namely, sex. The former Armored Saint is now simply Simon Cooke, businessman and average citizen. But when his former world consisted of super-powers, super-fights, and kinky costumes, can he be an “average citizen”? That’s what Sex is about.
With the first issue on stands now and Sex #2 primed to come out on April 10th, Newsarama spoke with Casey about sex, superheroes and how comics are afraid to put them together.
Newsarama: With his superhero life behind him, Simon Cooke sets out with a new life goal: having as much sex as possible. What’s he looking for, Joe?
Joe Casey: He's looking for meaning, just like we all are. He's just looking for it in a very unusual way. Of course, it's not just about sex... but as an adult male who's lived most of his life in an incredibly repressed state, this is a huge area of interest to him. But I'd like to think that the creative goals of the series overall are much broader.Nrama: The idea of being a superhero (and reading about them, for that matter) centers on the power fantasy concept. With this series you’re showing Simon giving that up and trying to live life as a normal, single guy – who’s at an even bigger disadvantage given the exciting lifestyle he was used to before. Was his busy life as a superhero keeping him from engaging in relationships and being sexual?
Casey: Absolutely. His war on crime was completely all-consuming. And it wasn't at all like Batman or Iron Man, who seem to hop into bed and get laid on a fairly regular basis. Simon's life as a superhero was much more single-minded. I've described it before as a very "monk-like" existence, so just think about what that terms implies. His dedication to being a crime fighter left absolutely no room for any kind of personal experiences.
Nrama: That power fantasy of his previous life – without spoiling it for us, wouldn’t that memory weigh down on him now as a normal guy like you and me?
Casey: Well, it's a bit like post-traumatic stress disorder, y'know? As the Armored Saint, he definitely went through some intense experiences... experiences that would, as they say, leave a mark. He's not normal, by any stretch of the imagination... so to try to be normal isn't something that comes naturally to him. But, hey, he's sure as hell in there trying...
Nrama: I know it’s in the title, but the book can’t be all about sex. What does Simon do for a living now that being a superhero isn’t an option?
Casey: He runs the Cooke Company. The difference is, in conjunction with his previous lifestyle, he ran it primarily to fund that superhero career. Now he's faced with actually being there day-in, day-out, being the boss, doing the actual work, trying to propel the company forward... basically, another challenge he's got to deal with.
Nrama: Just how old is Simon now that he begins this new stage in his life?Casey: Simon's in his mid-thirties now. Which -- as has become painfully clear over the past few generations -- is still fairly young, in terms of one's emotional development and level of maturity. He started fairly young, as the result of a family-oriented situation that drove him to put on the mask and the cape in the first place. So, as the series begins, he's really dealing with his own adulthood for the first time in his life.
Nrama: With those disadvantages however, there has to be some benefit to being a superhero. Where’s all that brainpower going now that it’s not thinking about solving the next crime or stopping the next bank heist?
Casey: Okay, sure... he's got some money in the bank, he's got some status as a businessman in Saturn City, he's considered one of the social elite. He's definitely got a few white man advantages. In terms of where he's expending his energy, there are a lot of areas he's interested in exploring. Maybe not all the ones he should be exploring, however...
Nrama: Even though he’s left life as a superhero behind, does he have any powers, tools or equipment from those days he might still use?
Casey: Well, a lot of the trappings of the superhero lifestyle are still hanging around. It's not like he pulled a Bruce-Wayne-in-Dark-Knight-Returns and blew everything up. He definitely had a whole crime fighting set-up and that's all still there. I'm not sure what kind of circumstances would necessitate a return to "the toys", but the series is still very young, so you never know.
Nrama: With ten years in the superhero business, I imagine he’s built up quite a few allies and enemies. How will his associates from his superhero days be a factor in his civilian life going forward?
Casey: The Saint had an entire rogues gallery that he dealt with in his career, and even though he's retired, those villains are still hanging around. Some of them are wondering what the hell they're gonna do with their lives, now that their opposite number is no longer on the scene. On the other hand, some of the others are seeing his absence as an incredible opportunity. Beyond that, a superhero that sticks to one location (as Batman generally does with Gotham, and as the Armored Saint did with Saturn City) tends to affect the overall social fabric of that place. The city itself changes simply because he's in it. Gotham without Batman would be a very strange and different place. And so, Saturn City has changed, as well. The irony of it all is... the Saint may be gone, but Simon is still there. He's on the front lines, seeing and dealing with the various changes that his alter-ego's retirement has wrought.Nrama: Why do you think sex has largely been avoided as a topic in the superhero genre in the mainstream, besides works like The Pro and The Boys?
Casey: Let's face it... superheroes are inherently sexual, especially in their design. But because superheroes are thought of mainly as children's entertainment, the sex is generally implied... never explicit. And, quite frankly, that's the way it should be. Superheroes were designed to appeal to children, to cut through the noise and teach them the simple values of right and wrong, good vs. evil. Occasionally, you have a Watchmen or a Marshal Law or an Elektra: Assassin that presents superheroes in a more "adult" light, but the main icons -- the characters published by Marvel and DC -- are children's characters and should remain as such. But, in Sex, I guess I get to have my cake and eat it, too. I can tackle the ideas of the superhero concept without it getting too weird or too confusing. This is a post-superhero series.
Nrama: With all that avoidance – what made you pop in terms to tackle the subject head-on?
Casey: Because this isn't a Marvel or DC IP... this is an original creation and, as an adult who's read superhero comic books all his life, I've got quite a few thoughts on the subject that I think are worth exploring. Why do adults remain fascinated with characters and subject matter that are expressly designed to reach children? And not simply fascinated... some adult readers are still as passionate about, say, Superman as any 10-year old would be. It's a strange facet of human behavior, but maybe we have a hard time letting go of certain things.
Nrama: Is sexuality in the superhero genre something you’d been thinking about and tinkering with for possible stories for awhile now?Casey: Sure, I've always had characters jumping into bed with each other. But, looking back, maybe there have been occasions when I picked the wrong characters to tell those kinds of stories. Or, more specifically, inappropriate characters to depict the level of sexuality I've put in my work. Maybe it was because I was a huge Avengers fan as a kid... where mutants were sleeping with robots and husbands were hitting their wives and supervillains were raping superheroines. That's pretty heady stuff for a kids' comic book. I wouldn't change a thing... I'm quite happy to have had my young brain warped like that. But as a working professional, I might be slightly more responsible now, if I were writing those company-owned IPs. We keep a close eye on that shit when it comes to the Marvel cartoons we produce. But it's why I go nuts on my creator-owned material, because I can write it for adults, it can be labeled for adults, and no one gets hurt.
Nrama: You’ve talked elsewhere about how you came up with the concept of Sex and then found artist Piotr Kowalski online. When you saw his work – what did he have that made you know you wanted to work with him, and why specifically on Sex?
Casey: Given the subject matter and the approach we were going to take, it just seemed right that I collaborate with a European artist on it. I actually didn't know that going into it on a conscious level, but when I first saw Piotr's art and learned of his career background, it seemed to fit. So Piotr's got a specific style that matches the material in a very purposeful way. It's one of the greatest things about working in comic books in the age of the Internet... you get the opportunity to connect and work with artists from all over the world, you can mix sensibilities and come up with something that's -- hopefully -- very unique.
Nrama: I know you typically work artist-first to develop a series, so what was it like bringing Piotr in after that first bloom of ideas for the book?Casey: I needed someone who could handle the schedule, first of all. This is an ongoing, monthly series and that kind of grind demands a certain kind of artist. Once Piotr was on board and we'd locked in as collaborators, it really allowed me to start thinking long term about the characters and the storylines and the overall themes I wanted to explore.
Nrama: How has the book developed since Piotr came on board?
I'm six issues deep on scripts right now, and Piotr's just finished drawing #5, so it feels like we're just settling in. As far as how it's developed, certain characters have taken a life of their own, certain story threads have begun to present themselves, and I'm happy to follow them and see where they lead. In a lot of ways, it's very much like writing some sort of weird primetime television drama... like an HBO show or an AMC series. That's the kind of tone we're going for, anyway, but mixing it with a very comic book pop art sensibility in its presentation... from the lettering to the coloring to the graphic design, this is a goddamn comic book and proud of it.FACEBOOK and TWITTER!