Ambidextrous: Joe Casey & Youngblood

Ambidextrous: Joe Casey & Youngblood

You should all know how I feel about Youngblood by now…

One of the first comics I ever read. The first comic I was ever paid to write. Hell, the one and only thing I’ve ever stolen in my life was a copy of the Youngblood Yearbook.

So, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that one of my favorite writers would be helming the book upon its momentous return to Image Comics. Obviously, that wasn’t enough for me, as I quickly engineered a way into the first official trade collection of the run---or Casey simply invited me to participate---I don’t know, one of those. Anyway, we did an interview/conversation piece for the backmatter and I’m running a snippet of it in this week’s column. Other things to look forward to includes an intro by Kirkman, Liefeld and Casey discussing their favorite comics, and the first script Joe ever sold---an unpublished YB Strikefile story from 1995. All for the bargain price of 9.95 and in stores this Wednesday.

Please enjoy the following excerpt with our compliments…

Brandon Thomas: So, Rob gets in contact with you and says that he's thinking about doing a new Youngblood series through Image. What's your first thought, and how did this contrast to the initial thoughts you had when coming across the book as a fan in '92.

Joe Casey: Actually, it was Robert Kirkman that pulled me into this. He's really the one that really brokered Rob's return to Image. The Good Ol' Boy strikes again! Once everyone agreed it was going to happen, there weren't a lot of thoughts that differed from how I've always thought about the concept from Day One. I remember reading interviews with Rob in Comics Scene and Inside Comics where he was pimping the '92 Image launch and I was convinced he'd broken through a fairly significant conceptual wall, taking pop superheroes to a place I hadn't seen yet. Of course, then I bought the first few issues and, honestly, not much of what I'd loved about Rob's interviews seemed to be in the book itself. And I don't think I was alone in thinking that. It's something Rob and I kinda laugh about today. So, I wasn't exactly a fan of the comic itself... but I was definitely a fan of the concept and the ideas behind it.

BT: I don’t think anybody can look back on those books and say, “These are great comics,” but man, as a 12-year old I loved those things to death, and for years, a lot of the stories I wrote as an adolescent or in high school where some variation of the Youngblood premise. It was just a remarkably cool idea back in ’92 that’s become all the rage over the last decade, so the uniqueness of the concept has become marginalized. Can you imagine if YB was actually halfway readable when it launched? What would have happened to comics if that book creatively lived up to all of that stuff you imagined from the initial press?

JC: Yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to get into an academic discussion of the artistic merits of the comics I loved when I was twelve (although I’ve done it countless times). And, oddly enough, I don’t think if those early YOUNGBLOOD’s were any more “readable” that it would’ve made one damn bit of difference. You never know, it might’ve made things worse. Literary aspirations were not exactly being embraced in mainstream comics in 1992, unless you were quasi-goth. The zeitgeist at that point -- in terms of superhero comics -- was pretty much Mindless Pop Nonsense. At least, that’s what I was seeing. Marvel and DC could hardly rub two brain cells together at that point, either. It doesn’t take a group of Mensa members to come up with yearly X-crossovers or to kill Superman. If anything, Youngblood as a concept got people excited about superheroes because it was new and different. But the actual book itself? It was probably exactly what it needed to be at the time… shiny and vapid.

BT: But now our intellects have grown to frightening size and Hollywood has anointed our properties and creators as the next big thing in adventure storytelling. What’s a medium to do really?

Though the presence of celebrity culture and politics is all over your take of Youngblood, and I know in Wildcats, you were trying to position a corporation as a superhero of sorts, so what themes and elements are driving your take on Youngblood? Just from the first couple issues, it seems this is more “on message” than the Moore stuff, which while fantastic, seemed like him bending and twisting the guts to make them something more interesting to him. The celebrity angle was more or less glossed over, in the interest of fashioning them as “real” superheroes and it just seems like these characters can’t handle that sort of responsibility, you know? Does that make any sense?

JC: Honestly, these days I’m not as interested in trying to (cue overly-dramatic music) change the face of comics, which I felt like we were doing with the Wildstorm books in some small way. Now I’m more into the idea of just kicking back and having a good time, trying to entertain the hell out of readers. So even the celebrity angle, while an essential part of the core concept, is only a backdrop for the story we’re telling. The thing is -- and this is an understatement if there ever was one -- I do think Alan Moore was actually onto something. Granted, he was basically doing a Teen Titans riff, and it didn’t go much deeper than that…but the idea that there’s some juice to the characters and the concept that goes beyond the celebrity stuff is completely valid. We’re not “glossing over” it like the Awesome issues did, we’re telling stories about characters that are striving to be purely heroic despite their celebrity status. To me, that’s worth exploring. And I think you hit on the big question that this series asks: Can these characters handle that superhero responsibility? Are they built for it?

BT: Really, I think this is something that Moore brought not only to YB, but to Wildcats as well when he was on that book with Charest. This would mark the second instance of you taking on a franchise that was somewhat “legitimized” by the great Alan Moore, which was pointed out to me by a friend of mine. When you take over a property like this, where some of the past issues were simply fantastic and some were the complete opposite of that, how much does that play into the work you endeavor to do? How do you know when you’ve taken just enough from the tone or vibe of a previous run, where it’s helping the stories you want to tell without being a very subtle “remix” of what’s come before?

JC: Well, the scratch mix approach is actually a fairly good one when it comes to books that have a history, good or bad. To be able to cherry pick the very best stuff to inform your own take is always a worthwhile way to tackle this material. You’d do the same thing if you were writing Batman. In the case of Youngblood, as much as I respect Alan Moore as a writer, I’m not intimidated at all by what he did for two simple reasons: 1) like I said before, Moore was simply doing his version of the Teen Titans, which is not how I see Youngblood so I know I’m not going to repeat that, and 2) he only did a handful of issues. You can literally count the number of Youngblood stories that he wrote -- that saw print -- on one hand. Genius or not, he didn’t do a whole lot in those issues aside from establish the new characters, and even that was mostly just the surface elements. He simply didn’t have time to do much else. What he did do, especially in the case of Doc Rocket and Johnny Panic, was to provide the raw material for some really great characters that we’re now able to develop even further in the new series.

Going even further back to some of the Image Comics/Extreme Studios issues…yeah, they might not be the greatest comicbooks every made, but every so often you’ll find a character or a story bit that sparks an idea. In a very real way, Rob was a master of the Throwaway Idea. Granted, those ideas would appear in books that sometimes read as confused or even nonsensical at times, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t pull ‘em out, dust ‘em off, and give them a little spit and polish. I mean, c’mon… to bring back Warwolf and to cast him as an Easy Rider-style biker or to give Blackrock those Tyson tattoos on his face…does it get any better than that? Okay, maybe it does… but it’s still kinda’ cool.

BT: And you killed Shaft!? What’s that about? I definitely agree about the “Throwaway Idea” thing, there have been a few things over the book’s run that with some development and such that could’ve turned into some really good arcs of storytelling. I remember being gassed up about a few of the crossovers they did, like when Chapel went to Hell and beat up the devil, or when all of the characters were turned into women for a month. That’s clearly some of the most ridiculous things to ever happen in the YB book, but it taps into that silver age mindset where it’s right on the line of being silly and being cool, but somehow cool manages to win out.

What are your favorite moments from Youngblood history, or stories you wish you’d had the opportunity to contribute to?

JC: Oh, man… if only I could’ve been a part of Babewatch…

Okay, that was a complete lie. Look, having done the re-script (and the new ending) of the original Youngblood mini-series, I think I’ve done enough to sully the collective memories of all you 1st generation Image fans out there. I think, if you’re a writer, you tend to look for almost anything else -- a character, a story point, etc. -- and get ideas on what your take might be. With the new series, we’re trying something a little revolutionary with Youngblood… good ideas AND good stories. It’s a delicate balance, brother…

The other 3,500 words of this, covering just about any and everything relating to Youngblood, as well as the previously mentioned features are again available now for only 9.99 at finer retailers and online merchants. Thanks to Joe for inviting me to be a part and back with more next week.

The Fiction House

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