The Bounce, a new trade paperback collection being released this week from writer Joe Casey and Image Comics, is a lot of things — a sci-fi, action, philosophical, mind-bending, modern slacker-superhero story.
But one thing it's not? Predictable.
That's becoming the norm for Joe Casey these days, as he's been creating innovative worlds and characters for his own original work, most recently through the Man of Action imprint he co-founded at Image Comics. With ground-breaking series like Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker and the current ongoing Sex, Casey has been crafting stories that look like they're going one way, then end up going in an unforeseen direction — something the writer himself admits is a "bait-and-switch," but much more interesting than being predictable.
With this month's collection of The Bounce, which was originally released in 12 issues over the last year, Casey's story focuses on Jasper Jenkins, a drug-using, slacker superhero. But instead of following that seemingly Kick-Ass mold, the story quickly begins to explore deeper concepts and themes of self-awareness. Featuring art by David Messina, the story takes readers on an epic journey with Jasper, bouncing the hero between different worlds and unexpected encounters.
Casey's creative output doesn't stop with his creator-owned comics. The writer's also keeping busy as part of Man of Action Entertainment, the creative studio behind the hit animated series Ben 10 and producers and story editors on Disney XD's Ultimate Spider-Man and Marvel's Avengers Assemble.
Newsarama talked to Casey to find out more about The Bounce, the benefits of marketing it as a collection, and why he's so interested in writing modern takes on superheroes.
Newsarama: Joe, as a long-time reader and writer of superhero comics, how did the idea behind The Bounce evolve? Was this something that kind of naturally spins out of mentally living in the world of superheroes for awhile?
Joe Casey: I guess that's one aspect of it. But it's also another example of how genre fiction can be very personal, if you're willing to dig deep enough within yourself when you're creating it. It took a lot for this story to play out the way it does, and in some ways places a strange — but very satisfying — sort of cap on at least one strand of my career so far. There you go... there's a marketing tagline for you: "Strange but satisfying."
Nrama: The main character, Jasper Jenkins, plays the role of superhero but is tough to categorize as a hero. How would you describe Jasper?
Casey: Jasper's young, but he's trying. That kind of says it all. He's a typical twenty-something in that regard. His slacker side is constantly struggling with his responsible side, his looming adulthood. And, as the story rolls on... his growing awareness of the larger world around him is a main emotional driver. And you're right, there is a distinction between "superhero" and "hero" and the book explores that to a pretty significant degree.
Nrama: What interested you about exploring this story from a character like Jasper's point of view?
Casey: Out of all the cast, he's probably the most reader-identifiable. In other words, he reflects the typical superhero reader in all sorts of ways. And if you're used to reading Marvel or DC superhero comics and you pick up The Bounce, Jasper's journey will hopefully reflect your journey as a reader.
Nrama: Reading the 12 issues together, there's quite a bit more subtext and deeper themes than the first issue — or the initial marketing for the comic — might have conveyed. Was it difficult to come up with a way to "market" that first issue? Does the fact that it's collected give you a little more leeway to talk about the project and its themes as a whole?
Casey: Serialization is often a necessary evil in today's marketplace, but obviously I'm not opposed to it. Oftentimes, I really like it. And, besides, most of the classics were originally serialized, from Watchmen to Dark Knight Returns and so on.
But I'm glad that the "final" form is the complete book. Ultimately, that's really how it's meant to be read. In terms of marketing the initial series' release, I ended up reverting to my usual "performance art" mode and leaned into the whole "Spider-Man"-aspect of the Bounce character. For one thing, it was an easily digestible marketing hook and, as it turned out, worked quite well in launching the book.
But secondly, I was trying to prime the readers — those that pay attention to these things — for one experience and then, in the narrative itself, delivering another. Kind of a bait-and-switch, I'll admit... but at least it's not your typical reading experience. There's no other superhero comic book out there like it right now.
Nrama: Let's talk about those themes a little. The story explores the difference between our private lives and our public lives. Why was this one of the themes you wanted to explore?
Casey: Well, I wanted to delve into some of the basic tropes of being a superhero and explore how they might hold up in the 21st Century. One of those is that old standby, the secret identity. In the case of The Bounce, I wanted to examine the idea of how emotionally inconvenient it is to live the kind of double-life necessary to keep your identity a secret. You may think you're protecting someone by doing so, but it comes at a price. And, as the story unfolds, we see that it's not strictly confined to superheroes. In many walks of life, people have their secret lives.
Nrama: There are obviously other twists and turns in the story that we don't want to give away, but in general, how would you describe the overall story you were able to tell in The Bounce?
Casey: In its own way, it's a sprawling epic that crosses space and time and multiple dimensions... but it's meant to convey a simple truth: each of us struggles to live as the most authentic version of ourselves as we can. I personally believe that's where you find real peace in life. It's more than just "being yourself"... it's about self-awareness.
Understanding yourself. It can be a painful process, but the end result is definitely worth it. Denying who and what you really are is like living a lie, and that can end up doing real damage. Not just to you, but to those around you.
Nrama: What was it like working with David Messina, and what did he bring to the project?
Casey: Messina's one of the greats, and I think it shows in the art. For my money, it's the best thing he's ever done. What he brought to the book — aside from his obvious talent — is his willingness to go the extra mile when I asked him to draw things that, at first, might've seemed impossible. But he hung in there and just the novelty of having one artist on the whole book — a rare thing in this day and age — makes it even more special.
Nrama: Is there a chance you'll return to this world and readers might see more of The Bounce?
Casey: Never say never, but I'm pretty satisfied with what we've got. American comic books are not known for ending well, and I think ours did, so it might be better to leave well enough alone.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell readers about the collection of The Bounce?
Casey: Just to get out there and buy it and experience it for themselves. It's not at all what you think it is.