Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: The Intimates #1

[Beginning my issue-by-issue look at Joe Casey's The Intimates. For more of my examinations of the work of Joe Casey, there's a link in the column to your right. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Finally. Sorry for the delay. Let's do this. But, first, I'm going to direct you to this edition of "The Basement Tapes" by Joe Casey and Matt Fraction where they discuss The Intimates before it launched.

In restrospect, it's difficult to view The Intimates as a "commercial" book since it was cancelled after twelve issues of low sales and lukewarm critical response. Out of Casey's Wildstorm books, it's probably the one everyone forgot about by the time issue three hit the stands. I'm not going to convince you that this is somehow better than Automatic Kafka, Wildcats or Mr. Majestic, because I don't think it is... but, then again, those were some really, really great books. The Intimates is a fun book that has many moments of brilliance--beginning with the initial concept:

A school for teenagers who happen to have superpowers.

I've never been a big fan of teenage superhero books, because they rarely rang true for me. Casey means to avoid that by making this book primarily about teenagers and "superheroes" a secondary concern--a superficial element, almost. The first issue is just the first day of school where the reader is along for the ride and gets to meet everyone and see a few of the classes... nothing else really happens. Most of the issues are the same as Casey purposefully takes the teenage experience and just throws a costume on it. To put it simply: The Intimates is more Saved by the Bell than Teen Titans--and thank god for that, I have to say (never thought I'd be thankful something was similar to Saved by the Bell, but here we are...).

While The Intimates explicitly lacks some of the tropes of modern teenage life (swearing and casual sex--there is some of both, but probably not as much as should be), it captures what it's like being a teenager and going to school better than any other comic I've read on the subject. That alone makes it worth looking at, in my opinion.

The series is also unique in its storytelling. Casey uses an information-heavy style with compressed scenes, lots of dialogue, and, of course, the info-scroll at the bottom of most of the pages. Actually, look at the cover to the first issue and you'll see how information-heavy the book is, because the cover is an excellent indication.

Ther structure of the issue attempts to capture the feeling of the first day of school. It begins with a long scene with the homeroom teacher, Miss Klanbaid (whose superpowers and past are subject to numerous rumours). This scene takes up ten pages (with flashbacks included here and there), almost half of the issue, while the rest of the issue is a whirlwind of short scenes, often only lasting a few panels. This seems an accurate reflection of the first day of school where that initial class with the requisite speech seems to last forever and stands out in your memory, while the rest of the day just kind of flies by in a barrage of new people, new classes, new experiences... It's almost too much to take in. The pacing picks up as the issue progresses and while we get an extensive look at homeroom, towards the end, we get three one-panel shots of other classes along with quick profiles of the teachers. If you're curious, some of the classes taught at the Seminary are: Secret ID 101 (taught by Mr. Hyde, the former Commander Presence, a Superman stand-in), Morality 101 (taught by Miss M, the former Morning Glory, a manga-esque anti-hero), and Nuphysics (taught by Professor Bentley, the former Radical Bill, a science hero ala the Atom). We get a quick idea of Connectivity 101, which is taught by Mr. Green, but the class has been cancelled because his wife has run off with a radioactive supervillains (recalling a similar instance in The Rules of Attraction--attraction, connectivity... get it?).

Gym class gets a little more focus as it is taught by Sgt. Stomp and they do yoga... until Punchy ends the class by bringing up Sgt. Stomp's boots, which triggers an odd reaction where Stomp has a Vietnam-type flashback to the day that he lost the boots (to be clear, we don't see said flashback, he just begins rambling on about it).

There's an interesting dualism to this issue as indicated by the cover: both Destra and Punchy have mirroring scenes and actions in this issue. While Punchy effectively ends gym class with knowledge, Destra ends homeroom by blowing up a chunk of it thanks to her explosive fingernails. Both are very anti-authoritarian, have meetings with Mr. Dash, the guidance counsellor (a former speedster), both see themselves are much cooler than everyone around them... and, as the series goes on, they continue to parallel one another.

Since I've mentioned some of the students, I should get into more details there.

There Punchy, a "whigger" with an obvious '90s influence in his style and costume. He has a punchy doll on his left hand that's dressed like a nun and allows him to punch with incredible force and range. He's a bit of an energetic spazz. He's also a returning student that barely scrapes by.

Destra is rich, rebellious, has explosive fingernails, used to date an alien and is a total bitch.

Duke wears a costume resembling a football uniform and has the typical advanced strength, speed, endurance and invulnerability. His dad is a total redneck hick and he seems unsure of himself. His hero is Mr. Majestic.

Empty Vee is invisible most of the time, is overweight and a bit of an obvious symbol in that regard. She doesn't appear much in this issue (pun intended).

Sykes exists in a null field, and doesn't interact with the others. His null field often changes shape, though. We'll learn a whole lot more about him in issue six.

Kefong only appears at the end of the issue and is the "new kid." Matt Fraction wanted to use him in Casanova, but because these are all Wildstorm-owned characters, he couldn't and we got Kaito.

Immediately, the book sets itself up in opposition to "widescreen" comics, which reached its zenith in the Ultimates line, I'd argue. Miss Klanbaid makes a speech about the students not having to be like the Authority, working with the idea of Ultimates/Intimates that Casey discussed in the above column. This also works with the info-dump style where each issue is dense. Most of the information we get in this comic actually comes in quick one-panel flashbacks or the info-scrolls.

The use of the info-scrolls varies in some issues, but, for the most part, they're used to reference specific characters on a given page. Like, we're given a few facts about Sgt. Stomp on the pages he appears. Or, there's stuff like "R.I.P. WILDCATS VERSION 3.0" or various "teen tips" like "HAVE SEX EARLY SO YOU CAN GET BETTER AT IT SOONER." The voice of the info-scroll is close to that of Joe Casey, I think. I wouldn't say that it is Casey's voice entirely, but it's close. The information given ranges from serious to tongue-in-cheek. In some issues, a theme develops over the issue or a specific narrative is given in the info-scroll. The info-scroll in the final issue is particularly illuminating.

I haven't spoken about the art yet (not surprising). Jim Lee provides the covers and also draws the "Agent Boss Tempo" panels. Agent Boss Tempo is a spy in a comic book that Punchy reads and acts as a guide for his behaviour. While Punchy is in training to be a superhero, his actions are often closer to that of a spy. Giuseppe Camuncoli does the art for the series proper and it's a cartoony style that works quite well. He is able to cram a lot into each page and plays around with layouts a bit and panel shapes. He works very hard to fit everything in and do so in an interesting manner--and succeeds. As well, the lettering is unique with the use of rectangular word balloons and making the info-scrolls work (which take up a portion of the page normally devoted to the art, adding to Camuncoli's problems).

And that's the first issue. On Thursday, issue two, where Punchy and Duke try to sneak out and break curfew. Oh, those wacky kids!