Joe Casey Seeks VENGEANCE on 'Boring' Superhero Comics

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Joe Casey first caught the attention of the comic book world while writing for Marvel in the late '90s, on books like Cable and The Incredible Hulk.

Since then, his career has expanded to other publishers and other media, as part of the Man of Action team (along with fellow comic vets Joe Kelly, Steven Seagle and Duncan Rouleau) that co-created Cartoon Network hits Ben 10 and Generator Rex. These days, he's busy with both his work in animation — he's also an executive producer on the forthcoming Ultimate Spider-Man TV series — and creator-owned comics like his current Image series Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker.

He's still writing for Marvel fairly regularly, though, mostly in offbeat miniseries like The Last Defenders and Dark Reign: Zodiac. His latest project for the publisher is Vengeance, a six-issue miniseries that started last week. (Preview of issue #1 here.) It's an exploration of villainy in the Marvel Universe, and stars several characters that Casey has written in past titles — including Stacy X, the mutant prostitute that he introduced during his run on Uncanny X-Men a decade ago.

Newsarama talked to Casey via email for some blunt comments on Vengeance, the role of work-for-hire comics in his contemporary professional life, series artist Nick Dragotta, and DC's upcoming September revamp, which he calls "a tacit admission that, for a while now, most of their books have been boring the hell outta the readership."

 

Newsarama: Joe, you've clearly got a lot going on, between animation work and creator-owned books. What keeps you coming back to Marvel for projects like Vengeance? 

Joe Casey: Good question. I guess I feel like I'm in the Marvel loop so heavily with the TV stuff right now, that when they ask me to do a comic book gig, I'll always be open to it. Plus, the nature of this project, how it came about, etc. pretty much assured that it probably wouldn't sell very well or be paid much attention to by the higher-ups who were more concerned with things like Fear itself or "Spider-Island" or whatever else they've cooked up in their power summits to keep the attention of the retailers away from DC's fashion makeover. That kind of freedom on a Marvel book is fairly unprecedented these days, so there's an attraction for me there, as well.  

Nrama: It seems that, for whatever reason, there's some amount of lingering vagueness among fans as to what exactly Vengeance is — possibly because it definitely does seem unconventional compared to a lot of Marvel fare. So what would you say to a potential reader who may be unsure what the series is all about?

Casey: I would say it's about… six issues long. Anyway… I'm pretty sure that most potential readers aren't sure what the series is or what it's meant to be. Honestly, that's fine with me. We already know it's not going to be a big seller so to try and sport a pose like, “You have to buy this book! Nothing will ever be the same again! Someone dies in issue # whatever! You can't afford to miss it!”

It's a book that's there to be discovered. Maybe if you're a fan of Marvel comics in general, you might pick this up and be surprised at just how much we're getting away with.  

 

Nrama: One of the stated themes of Vengeance is that many of the iconic villains in the Marvel Universe are currently either dead, somehow dramatically altered/rendered impotent, or fighting on the side of good. Which is kind of crazy when you think about it, especially how the heroes of the MU are generally much more protected in terms of status quo. Why do you think this is the case? Are villain characters just inherently more malleable than heroes?   

Casey: I think you might be onto something there. At this point, the big Marvel hero characters are more IPs than anything else. They need to be carefully and thoughtfully maintained for movies, TV and merchandising. But villains aren't burdened with that kind of responsibility. You can tell any kind of story with them and do pretty much anything to them. That's an attractive quality for writers who like to write actual characters as opposed to IPs.   

Nrama: Vengeance involves a lot of younger characters (Teen Brigade and all that), which seems to be a common motif in your work — what is it about younger protagonists that keeps you coming back?

Casey: I dunno. I guess I've always been kinda comfortable writing teenagers. Maybe it's where my own immaturity can come in pretty handy. Thank Christ it's good for something…!

More than that, I always hold this unrealistic belief in my heart that actual teenagers will be reading superhero comic books again someday and I want to try and provide characters and stories with those characters that they can recognize and maybe relate to, to some extent. If they ever come back, I mean.  

 

Nrama: It looks like a major element of Vengeance is introducing plenty of new characters (and/or revisiting some lesser-known ones). Given how the foundation of the Marvel Universe is built on decades-old characters, how important to you is the opportunity to add to that tableau?   

Casey: Well, to be fair, none of these characters are particularly new, and I know better than to blindly give over an original creation to a major corporation. These guys are more akin to revamps and 21st Century updates of older, pre-existing characters. That's something that's worth doing when you're dealing with these big superhero universes.  

Nrama: At the same time, you've commented that this will pick up on some threads from your Last Defenders miniseries from a few years back. How overt is this connection?  

Casey: It's overt in the sense that I'm writing those characters again, pretty much picking up right where I left them at the end of that series. I love those characters and, for me, they make a great team. Plus, they serve a very specific function in the book.  

 

Nrama: Nick Dragotta is on art for Vengeance. What has working with him on this been like? It looks like a fairly demanding story for an artist — lots of different locations, lots of different eras, lots of different characters. 

Casey: Dragotta and I collaborating on this has truly been a meeting of the minds. Ever since we started developing the look of the characters, we've also been throwing influences back and forth at each other, figuring out different ways to make our book unique.

And you're right, it's not easy on the guy… but, to his credit, he said from the beginning that he wanted to push the envelope, to do things differently than he'd ever done them before. When an artist tells me that, I don't hold back. I also never blame them when they end up hating me for it, but the work turns out great. We're really psyched about how it's been going so far.  

 

Nrama: Last question! In Vengeance, you're experimenting a bit with the narration boxes — like the text speak on the double-page spread of #1 — which is similar to some of your past work, like The Intimates. Can we expect this type of narration experimentation throughout the series?   

Casey: Only in superhero comicbooks would iPhone texting seem like a narrative experiment. By now most everyone in the civilized world is pretty familiar with that mode of communication. Seemed like a natural to me, especially with young characters and how they usually deal with each other.

If anything I do comes across as “experimental”, it's only because I often use my WFH gigs as storytelling laboratories, where I try different techniques and push myself in different directions. Since I'm not really trying to further my career in WFH comics, I'm not networking to be the writer on Spider-Man or some other big franchise, I've got nothing to lose when I work on books like this. I'm free to pretty much follow my own muse, and as long as the folks who sign the checks don't have a problem with it, I might as well jump in with both feet and try to f*ck sh*t up. I think there's real value in it. Because in my humble opinion, mainstream superhero comic books are pretty boring. Not to hammer on them too much, but what is the DC September relaunch if not a tacit admission that, for a while now, most of their books have been boring the hell outta the readership and they're selling poorly because of it? Everyone seemed to know it but them. Now they know it, and they're doing something about it, which is (hopefully) good for everyone. So, that's my long-winded way of saying, the quality and merit of our series might be completely subjective, but at least it'll never be boring.

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