When readers first met young Peter Parker, back in 1962 on the opening page of Amazing Fantasy No. 15, he’s wearing spectacles, carrying schoolbooks and listening too hard to the latest insult.
It’s a little different when readers are greeted by young Jasper Jenkins — the title character of Joe Casey’s The Bounce — in our exclusive preview of the first issue. Instead of eyeglasses, he’s got glassy eyes and the object in his hand looks suspiciously like a three-foot bong. He’s also ignoring the latest lecture. “With great power comes great responsibility” still applies — but in the case of this 21st century slacker soul, it may also be accompanied by metahuman munchies.
NOTE: The preview pages below contain R-rated language and drug use.
No one who knows the comics work of Joe Casey (once called the most dangerous man in comics) will be surprised by the edges in Bounce, which is published by Image Comics, already home to Casey’s ongoing series Sex. Casey’s creative audacity isn’t easy to put in a box, however — during his tenure as the writer of Adventures of Superman for DC — he re-framed the hero as a caped pacifist and, for a year, the Man of Steel didn’t throw a single punch in the book. Casey is also a partner in Man of Action, the creative collective behind the animation success of Ben 10 and Marvel shows on Disney XD. We caught up with Casey to talk about Bounce, Sex and off-the-wall superheroes.
Entertainment Weekly: Can you talk about the heritage of Bounce? What was the general starting point for this hero?
JOE CASEY: As a partner in Man Of Action, I’ve been in the trenches on the first two seasons of the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series on Disney XD, producing and writing that show and really figuring how to make that character work for a new generation. Meanwhile, I’d had this particular character of the Bounce in my head for a few years and wasn’t sure how to tackle the comic book. I had his personality and his powers, but no story. It wasn’t until I’d cracked the Spider-Man code in my own head — understanding exactly what made him so relatable when he first debuted in the early days of Marvel Comics, and how that’s been lost in the current comic book landscape — that I knew I could move forward and get the series happening. For my money, this is the kind of character that cuts right to the heart of the zeitgeist. This is truly a 21st Century superhero in all its explosive glory.
Collaboration is key in all of your pursuits and I wondering has it always come easy to you? What have you learned — maybe the hard way — about working within teams or with a partner like David Messina, the artist on The Bounce?
J.C.: My personal secret is that I’ve been playing in rock bands since I was 14 years old, so that really primed me for the kind of collaboration I deal with making comic books or being a Man Of Action partner or dealing with Hollywood in general. Sweating it out onstage in bars and clubs tends to test your abilities to work with others. It pushes them to the limit. You’re like monkeys in the trees, just working it out on a primal level. Luckily I came through the other side and now it’s a pretty painless thing, especially now that I can choose who I work with in comic books. I’m not depending on some editor to make a love connection. With The Bounce specifically, there’s a realism to David Messina’s art that helps sell the more surreal qualities of the character and the story. A comic book should be a thing of beauty — an objet d’art — and Messina definitely delivers in the way he draws.
When you hand your comics to acquaintances with zero background with the medium, what do you say? And what reactions do you get?
J.C.: Oh, I’m way past being any kind of advocate for the medium. I’m a lifer in this gig. I’m in it for the love of the game, so I guess I feel like the uninitiated, the uniformed… they’re just missing out and if billion-dollar box office movies can’t pique their interest enough to go into a comic book store or to click on a digital comic, I certainly can’t do it. Nor do I care to. First of all, it’s their loss, not mine. And second of all, comic books work best when they exist in the underground. The more light we have shining on us, the less interesting the work tends to become.
When you were a young comics reader, what taboo material was around and what did it represent to you?
JC: I came of age right as the Direct Market was being established, so that giant wave of independent comic books coming from new publishers like Pacific, Capital, First, Comico, Dark Horse, Vortex, Fantagraphics, etc. made a huge impact on me. I look back on those books and don’t think of them just as a place where taboos were being broken, it was just a lot of creative freedom being explored and ricocheting off itself, in every direction. It was personal, artistic expression delivered without limits. It’s the same spirit I try to get across in my own work. No limits, basically.
In Sex your characters have distinctive and vivid voices and that’s so important – it really adds extra contours to the storytelling. Do the voices come to you fully formed or is it a sculpting process? Or to you collect them from the world you’re hearing at any given time?
JC: I just do what any writer does; I filter the world around me through my own, idiosyncratic sensibilities. Plus, in any long form storytelling — when it’s being done right — the characters are leading you. They’re telling you what the stories are. With Sex in particular, we’re just building a specific world that the characters can inhabit. Once things have been set up, it’s just like a good prime-time television drama. You just want to find out what happens next. The title might be fairly direct, but I don’t think anyone could argue that the feelings it brings up, the visceral reaction someone has to the word itself, doesn’t fit the series.
You’ve worked with Smithsonian-level properties from comics world. What creator challenges come with that?
I think it would be more challenging now to write those IP’s, since the comic books at Marvel and DC now are more editorially driven, steered more by corporate interests, rather than creative ones. When I was in the belly of those beasts, things were more writer-driven, so I had a lot more freedom and I took full advantage. They gave me plenty of rope to hang myself with.
Of all the Marvel characters it seems like Spider-Man is the most malleable – he’s been presented with the most wild variations and in the most places. What is it in Spidey’s setting, story and/or symbols that make the character so supple?
With Spider-Man, I’ve only really worked on the character in animated cartoon form, and in that respect, we’re targeting a very specific demographic there… 6-12 year old kids. These are not comic book readers like I was when I was 6, because there just aren’t a lot of kids reading comic books these days. So we have to get at them through other media. Spider-Man is a character for kids, he’s most relatable when he’s speaking to that audience, so it was fairly easy to craft stories for the show. He’s a kid, too (even though he has “Man” in his name… but that’s all part of his complex psychology at work).
When you look at movies being released or filmed this year it’s like a checklist of your credits: Spider-Man, Superman, Wolverine, X-Men, the Falcon, Captain America, Iron Man. Is there a character or story situation in those films that you think will especially cool — or tricky — for a live-action filmmaker?
JC: Good creatives, plus the SFX technology available makes anything possible. So what’s really great about where things are at now is that it’s become a meritocracy again. These superhero movies are all typically big-budget affairs across the board, so it’s not necessarily a money competition to see who can spend the most. They’re all spending too much! It’s a talent competition. So, the most talented filmmakers will probably make the coolest movies, regardless of the character(s) involved.
I can’t believe I live in a universe where Korvac has been on a Saturday morning cartoons and Groot is going to be on the silver screen. How long until Squadron Supreme show up on PBS?
JC: They were just on last week, guesting on Sesame Street. They were teaching kids about the letter, “S”. What, you missed it? Doctor Spectrum looked great!