Remember Catalyst: Agents of Change? We don’t blame you if you don’t. Part of Dark Horse’s “Comics’ Greatest World” mini-universe in the early 1990s, the series and its characters seemed to be doomed to comics limbo…but now they’re back, with an all-star team of talents guiding new versions of the characters in all-new adventures.
Premiering this week, Catalyst Comix takes writer Joe Casey (Image’s Sex and The Bounce, plus many cartoons including Ben 10 and Ultimate Spider-Man as part of the Man of Action collective) and a group of some of the industry’s most acclaimed artists for a wild ride full of crazy characters – and an entire superhero universe in one book. We’ve got a preview of the series and a look at what to expect – along with a few looks at the original series.
Newsarama: Yo Joe, give us the down-low on Catalyst Comix!
Joe Casey: Nine issues. Three stories per issue. Written by me, drawn by Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury and Ulises Farinas. Covers by Rafael Grampa, Paul Pope and Brendan McCarthy. I think the artist line-up alone sells the book for me.
Nrama: What made you want to do this book, and work with these characters?
Casey: I'm always interested in taking on company-owned superheroes and pushing them out of their comfort zone, whether it's conceptually or artistically. In this case, we're able to do both.
I think mainstream superheroes generally tend to be a little conservative in their approach so this is a chance to do something decidedly different from that. It's like an alternate vision of what superhero comics can be... bold, colorful, surreal, hyper-kinetic, improvisational...
Nrama: Tell us about each of the main characters, and the format for this book.
Casey: I can tell you that we've got Frank "Titan" Wells, Amazing Grace and, finally, a new iteration of the Agents of Change. Beyond that, you'll have to read the book to really get the gist of what we're doing. The approach we're taking with each one is almost too weird to explain. One lead story and two supporting features, and every three issues, we rotate.
Nrama: Okay, one has to ask: Why the three-story/three-artist structure, and how will it work with the book?
Casey: Basically, I just want to work with as many great artists as I can, and this was a good way to do it. Plus, the idea of an "anthology" structure is something I've also been wanting to do for a while. I just think it provides more bang for your buck.
These artists -- McDaid, Maybury, Farinas -- should be drawing big, explosive superhero books. And I think the tide is turning, culturally in our industry, where artists that don't conform to any particular "house style" (that might or might not exist in commercial comics) are really penetrating the collective consciousness.
Nrama: You got yourself a pretty fly runnin' crew of artists – these are three great guys whose work has been getting a lot of acclaim over the last few years. How does your storytelling differ from artist to artist, and how does your collective creative collaboration work?
Casey: I recruited all three of these guys for the project, so I knew going in what they were capable of. Hopefully, as a writer, I just leaned into their individual strengths, and possibly pushed them -- in some instances -- slightly out of their comfort zones... either way, the results have been amazing. It's a great looking book, top to bottom.
These guys did a jam cover for SDCC that really shows the collaboration in its purest form. Getting three artists to make one cover work is no easy task, but these guys did a great job. Plus, colorist Brad Simpson is giving each strip its own vibe. Even Rus Wooton came up with different lettering styles to go with each art style.
Nrama: Okay, so I actually remember Catalyst, and Will to Power, and Agents of LAW, which beat Warren Ellis' Stormwatch ending of the cast being killed by Alien-aliens by having Law decapitated by a Predator; Plus: Eddie Campbell!
What did you want to draw from those original books? Please don't say Rebel's mullet. That...that was a tragedy.
Casey: There were a lot of kooky ideas in those original comics, which I completely appreciate... even more now than I did then. There were a lot of good characters running around, including some that only got a few panels of screen time, but we're developing even further here.
I see Catalyst Comix as a window into a universe, and we're going to give you as much of it as we can cram into 28 pages a month.
Nrama: I'm also curious if this continues the continuity from the original books, or is a complete reboot.
Casey: If you read the original comics, we're including plenty of Easter Eggs to give you some idea how things are connected to the old stuff. We're not too heavy-handed about it, but in some instances, I feel like it's probably pretty blatant. But, y'know, a lot of this gig is taking the material from twenty years ago and giving it a bit of spit and polish.
Nrama: For that matter, does it tie in with X, Ghost or other former "Comics' Greatest World" titles?
Casey: I'm sure everything fits together somehow. I'll leave it to more continuity-minded folks than me to figure it all out. I'm sure the editors at Dark Horse know the score.
Nrama: You've always kept a very high profile in doing different types of superhero stories. What kind of unique insight into the genre, or into culture/society in general, do you hope to convey with Catalyst Comix, aside from big concepts and hitting things?
Casey: To me, a lot of current superhero comic books have become very predictable. Even when they're unpredictable... they're predictable in their unpredictability, if that makes sense. It may just be where things are at right now, but the corporate nature of the most well-known superhero IP's has resulted in comics that -- again, in my opinion -- have lost a certain kind of energy that I really miss.
Actually, "miss" is a gross understatement... just as a reader, I'm actually heartbroken that we'll probably never get another Batman story with the singular vision and the cultural impact that Miller's Dark Knight Returns had.
Right now, everything feels so focus-tested and filtered through writers' rooms and editorial groupthink. It's the nature of the beast, I guess. But we're hoping there's still room for the kind of superhero comic book that shoots from the hip, so to speak.
Nrama: Given the success you've had in television, I'm curious as to how your work in animation has affected how you approach a comics script -- or what some things are you've found you can do in comics that you can't in animation.
Casey: The more I work in television (which is perfectly respectable work on its own merits), the more I appreciate making comic books. It's such a privilege to be able to do this.
Dark Horse has been great in letting our personalities infuse the entire package. There's a lot of care going into this. Despite its WFH nature, there's still a very personal aspect to the work that I hope comes through to the readers. It's not just another superhero book... or is it?
Catalyst Comix hits shelves July 3 from Dark Horse.