Friday, March 26, 2010

Five Years Blogging: A Life Well Wasted 06

[David Brothers and I continue discussing five years of comics blogging. Part five is over at 4thletter.]

David Brothers: Oh, it totally makes sense, and I'm definitely like that with Spider-Man. I understand where it comes from, too -- superhero books are built to hook people over the long-term. We want to see the soap opera continue, even after quitting comics or growing older. I mean, why else would I have read so much of that last New Warriors run? It had to have been my love for Thrash and Jubilee, because it certainly wasn't good otherwise.

Nostalgia moves units. Otherwise, why would we have a Jean Grey tease out of Marvel once a year? Imagine if movies did that. The plot of Godfather IV being the return of Luca Brasi or something.

So, yeah, it's weird, but it's weird in a way that I've grown up with, like making waffles in the oven or a little syrup on eggs. I think when it goes overboard, like when DC brings back Hal Jordan and Barry Allen and Ray Palmer and expects us to enjoy the deluge of boring old fuddy-duddies who represent the Good Ol' Days, it comes off stilted and dumb. I get tired of the constant kowtowing to the past. Hit me over the head with something new!

I was skeptical of Marvel's latest stab at a book called New Mutants, mainly because it featured the original cast in a book of the same name, nearly twenty years after their book had been canceled and apparently in the same roles they held back then. Instead, though, Zeb Wells is telling the stories of those kids as adults, with the title being a simple and obvious nostalgia-grab.

When done well, it works, but I vastly prefer new stories. Death to the past! At the same time, though, a classic hero showing up out of nowhere with a slick, "Did ya miss me?" before KOing the big bad guy? That's pretty good. Reading comics is kind of like giving yourself Stockholm Syndrome, I think.

I find books almost entirely by recommendation these days. I quit reading solicits a few months back, barring a quick skim for names I know or new hardcovers. People like Matthew Brady and Jog are invaluable, really. Each week they round up what's new and interesting and point out stuff I never would've thought to pick up. I'm pretty sure that Matthew's long series on Naoki Urasawa's Monster reminded me that Monster existed and that I had nine of the eighteen volumes, and from there I tripped into Pluto and Viz Signature. Really, I should send him an invoice for all the manga I bought in 2009.

One thing I used to do with music (back when liner notes were a going concern) and that I do with comics now is pay attention to what people I like enjoy reading. The essays in the back of Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips's Criminal are great for finding movies or books I need to grab, and random interviews with writers or artists work in much the same way.

I don't pay attention to the corporate hype machine much any more. Everything is "work of his career" this and "best she's done yet" that. Getting suggestions from actual people, people whose tastes I kinda know, is much more valuable. This is something else where Twitter helps out a lot. "Hey, what should I read?" gets you a bunch of responses.

I know we share a few interests, but I think Joe Casey is our main overlap in tastes. Since we had to end up here eventually, let's start with the broad strokes. How long have you been reading him and what do you like about his work?

Chad Nevett: I love the essays and ads in Criminal for that reason. That's how I got exposed to Hard Case Crime and their line of books. I've only read four or five of them, but have enjoyed all of them.

Joe Casey... to discuss Joe Casey, we have to go back to the X-story "The Age of Apocalypse," because that's when I got a subscription to Cable via the title becoming X-Man for four months. That story began when I was 11-about-to-be-12 and it was the perfect thing for a kid that age. Everything you know is now completely different! Good guys can be bad guys! Bad guys can be good guys! Some are dead, some are back alive, some are brand new! I had a behind-the-scenes special on the story that Marvel put out and spent hours just studying the new character designs and the maps they provided of their alternate world. I love alternate reality stories. It's the same, but different and you can do anything? Sign me up. They're carte blanche to screw with what you know and let your imagination go complete nuts. No continuity, just awesome times.

Well, for those who don't know, "The Age of Apocalypse" was a four-month story where Professor X was killed in the past by his insane, time-travelling son Legion who was trying to kill Magneto before he and Charles had a falling out. This resulted in the whole timeline changing and, for those four months, all of the regular X-books were replaced with their "Age of Apocalypse" counterpart. Uncanny X-Men became Astonishing X-Men, X-Men became Amazing X-Men, etc. As I said, Cable became X-Man, a younger version of the character bred by combining the DNA of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, which is somehow easier to understand than Cable's origin. Something about this character appealed to me, probably the name. How was there no character named 'X-Man' yet? Since that was coming up, I asked one of my aunts for a subscription to Cable/X-Man for Christmas and, when the X-books reverted back to their normal status quo, my subscription carried on with Cable. (What's weird, though, is that in the lead-up to "Age of Apocalypse," the subscription page listed the "AoA" titles, not the regular ones, so I literally subscribed to X-Man... and that subscription carried on with Cable despite X-Man being the sole "AoA" book to continue after the event was over. Explain THAT to me, Marvel!)

So, I had a subscription to Cable and I kept up with that as the title was... eh, mediocre. I didn't mind it much then, but now? It was Jeph Loeb and Ian Churchill. After that team left the book, it sort of floundered for a while until James Robinson and Ladronn took over with #-1 (remember those issues?) and began their opening story with #48 as Cable took on the Hellfire Club and Apocalypse's Harbinger. This was a semi-big deal at the time since Robinson had his reputation and it looked like Cable was going to turn around. And, then, issue 51 came out and it was written by some guy named Joe Casey. Who the hell is Joe Casey? I had never heard of him and I had, at least, heard of... well, basically everyone. Of course, this was Casey's first work for Marvel and in comics aside from a very forgotten thing for Calibre, I believe... So, here I was with a subscription to this book, Ladronn still doing his gorgeous art and Casey as the new writer, so I was basically forced to read this guy's work and he hooked me. He followed through on all of the promise Robinson's run and really made Cable into a fantastic read. After that, I made an effort to see what he was doing and, thankfully, he popped up in a few books that my dad was buying like Wildcats, Deathlok, Mr. Majestic and the odd one-off issue here and there, and he really blew me away.

What appealed to me about his writing at first was how he could blend the new and the old. He's very skilled at taking older concepts or characters and making them work now. In his Cable run, he made it a point to have Cable interact with the larger non-X-related Marvel universe by putting him in Hell's Kitchen and having him start a romantic subplot with a waitress at a diner. One issue that really grabbed me was one where Domino had been beaten nearly to death by this guy and Cable hunts him down to this crappy supervillain hang-out bar. Before Cable arrives, though, we get a scene of some out of costume villains just shooting the shit playing poker and that was one of those instances where I hadn't seen something like that before. Bad guys just acting like regular people and telling funny stories about their run-ins with heroes. Casey's good about bringing things down to that human level, of merging the realistic and the fantastic. There's also something fearless about his writing. Not always, but on numerous projects, he just does what he wants and thinks will work, screw the rules or what everyone else is doing, or if it will be a commercial success. He doesn't seem to turn his back on commercial successes, he just doesn't court them. Then again, it's hard to simplify his entire body of work down into a couple of paragraphs since it's rather varied (in content, tone, and quality).

I imagine you weren't on board with Casey from, basically, day one like me; when do you discover him? If I were to guess, I'd say it was Wildcats Version 3.0 since, despite its low sales, that's where people seem to have discovered that, yeah, this guy could write and was worth looking out for (when they weren't confusing him with Joe Kelly, of course -- which I never understood since the last names are different...).

Read part seven on 4thletter!