EXCLUSIVE: Casey & Richardson Get Weird with "Catalyst Comix"

Get ready, comic book readers: heroes are about to get weird.

Writer Joe Casey and Dark Horse Comics are bringing back the heroes of Comics' Greatest World in "Catalyst Comix," debuting July 3. Originally conceived in the dawn of the 1990s, Comics' Greatest World, an imprint of Dark Horse, brought forth a slew of less-than mainstream heroes including the recently re-introduced Ghost and X. With Casey's "Catalyst Comix," Grace, Titan and the Agents of Change are returning to comic shops courtesy of artists Dan McDaid, Ulises Farinas and Paul Maybury.

The nine-issue superhero anthology series tells a series of interconnected, serialized stories. Beginning with the end of the world, Casey is striving for something a little different -- and a little strange -- with "Catalyst Comix," foregrounding the inherent weirdness of each of the characters. Comic Book Resources spoke recently with Casey and Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson about the upcoming book. Casey spoke candidly and with zeal about the necessity of weird-ing super heroes and pushing the genre towards the extremes of its potential.

CBR News: First off, what is "Catalyst Comix?" How, if at all, does this series relate to the early 1990s incarnation?

EXCLUSIVE: Art by Dan McDaid

Joe Casey: Well, we took part of the name from the old series to re-brand what is essentially a New Wave superhero anthology title containing quite a few of the characters originally published by Dark Horse in the '90s. We're telling all-new, all-different adventures in all-new ways. The whole thing is being furiously written by me and drawn with mind-altering enthusiasm by Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury and Ulises Farinas. C'mon, if those names alone aren't selling it for you -- get yourself to a doctor immediately!

Mike Richardson: The new "Catalyst" is Joe Casey's idea. He proposed a re-introduction of some of our Comics' Greatest World characters, particularly the "Catalyst" moniker and a group of characters including Rebel and Warmaker that were created by Barbara Kesel. Joe wanted to do a decidedly unconventional super-hero book and thus "Catalyst Comix" was born.

What can you tell me about how the book is structured? Is each formatted as an anthology, carrying multiple short stories? Are those installments self-contained or will they carry through the entire 9 issues? And is each artist handling a specific storyline or character?

Casey: Dan McDaid is drawing the Frank Wells strip in typical apocalyptic fashion. Paul Maybury is right on top of Amazing Grace.  Ulises Farinas is killing it on Agents of Change. Each issue is structured with a main lead feature and two shorter back-up stories. Every three issues, the lead feature changes. Frank Wells is first up in the rotation. These are serialized stories, some of them will end up being interconnected -- they certainly take place on the same world, and it all builds to something fairly intense. At least, it feels intense to me. We're certainly not holding back in terms of where we're taking these characters.

You're bringing back at least a few of the original characters like Frank "Titan" Wells and Amazing Grace. Who else is coming back? In what ways have they been updated for contemporary readers?

Richardson: Titan is a character based on ideas Randy Stradley and I used to toss around in our retail days about the inevitable corruption resulting from absolute power. I wrote the Titan arc and he didn't survive the series, so the modern Titan has obviously been re-thought. "Amazing Grace" was originally meant to be a sort of "Wonder Woman" in CGW. When Barbara took on the writing chores for the Catalyst portion of CGW, she basically invented her own version of Grace. Joe will have the chance to "update" her with his own sensibility and the unique approach he is taking with the series.

Casey: Don't forget the so-called Agents of Change and their 21st Century lineup: Elvis Warmaker, Ruby, Rebel and Wolfhunter. I'm not sure if I would say they've been "updated" as much as we've simply brought out their inherent weirdness and placed it front and center. And that's not a pejorative, by the way -- they're great characters, and we're all getting our collective rocks off making a different kind of comic book: something a lot more unpredictable than your typical, full-tilt superhero series.

What makes these characters great characters both to write and to read?

Casey: In some ways, these characters are still archetypal in their basic design, so for readers who are familiar -- maybe even overly-familiar -- with the tried and true superhero tropes, there's a jumping off point. For me, I get a chance to play against their archetypal nature, which is always fun to do.

Can we expect some new heroes or other supporting characters to be joining the team as well?

EXCLUSIVE: Art by Paul Maybury

Casey: In terms of new characters, it's just more fun to mine the material that's already there. There are so many characters, hero and villain alike, that were introduced back in the day and I don't think got their due in the original comics.

Who are these guys going to be facing off against? Who, or what, are their adversaries?

Casey: Back in the '90s, Mike and his Dark Horse crew created all sorts of crazy villains for the Comics' Greatest World line. Quite a few of them will be popping up here. But I would have to say, having written five issues so far, that the conflicts are a lot bigger than simply the villain-of-the-month. In fact, we kick off the series depicting the literal end of the world. For most superhero stories, that's the climax. For us, it's just the beginning.

With Dark Horse's superhero initiative, we've been seeing a number of new heroes emerge, and a number of revamped characters returning to stands. Most of these, so far, have been individual characters, whereas "Catalyst" presents a team of heroes. What are some of the unique storytelling opportunities of a team book? How are the heroes of "Catalyst" interacting with each other and what sort of relationships are developing?

Casey: Well, like I said before, only one of the strips in "Catalyst Comix" involves a "team" of heroes, although I think it's unlike any team you're going to find in superhero comics right now. As far as the overall Dark Horse plan, I leave that to Mike and his editors to work out and keep track of.

Richardson: We'll have some exciting news about several "team books" in the near future. These books will evolve out of the new titles.

There are a number of artists on this project -- what sort of unique perspectives are they each bringing to the book? And Joe, what has been your working relationship with them?

Casey: I hope it's been pretty good, since I recruited all three of them to do this. I wanted to make sure to pull in artists that I knew would do soul-bending work, but also happen to draw in styles that, for some unknown reason, seem to keep them outside of the mainstream superhero artist loop. I have no idea why that is, because this is how I personally want to see more superheroes done. McDaid, Maybury, Farinas -- these artists are as different from each other as they are from most of the folks who do get hired to draw the monthly books at Marvel and DC right now. At those publishers, these guys would be -- and have been -- shunted off to the occasional stories in Marvel's "Strange Tales" anthology or DC's "Bizarro Comics."  I love both of those books, but they're definitely built and marketed as something "other." Meanwhile, these guys would never be let loose on the monthly, primetime adventures of Captain America or Wonder Woman or whoever. But the way they depict superheroes is so much more exciting and individualistic to me. I'm just really psyched that Mike got behind this approach from the beginning. I can guarantee, there's no other superhero book out on the stands like this one.

I imagine you've been green granted a certain amount of creative license, despite this being adopted from its earlier incarnation. In crafting this superhero book, what did you want to do differently with the genre?

EXCLUSIVE: Art by Ulises Farinas

Casey: One of the first things I talked to Mike about was that we have a chance here to do superheroes in a much more exciting way than what I see as the somewhat atrophied creative approaches that Marvel and DC are forced to take with their IPs. For all kinds of reasons, they change creators -- artists especially -- as often as they change their socks, with the idea being that, for the reader, it shouldn't really matter. The creators are, for the most part, interchangeable. But it does matter to me. It seems to me that those publishers probably feel like they have too much to lose to be truly original with characters and concepts that are mostly being maintained to conform to their cinematic versions (or are being primed to become one). [It's] tough to take real chances when you've got studio heads and stockholders to answer to.

"Catalyst Comix" is, to me, a more pure form of superhero comic, harkening back to a time when all anyone was trying to do was the best, the wildest, the most exciting superhero comics possible. I'm telling you, this book actually vibrates in your hands when you hold it -- that's how much energy is being generated from what we're doing!  I'm serious -- buy one in July and see for yourself!

You're talking about the superhero story as something idiosyncratic rather than, say, iconic. You've touched a little on how the artists on board work outside of the mainstream aesthetic, and how that might push the genre. What sort of risks are you taking in terms of narrative: structurally, thematically or in terms of the actual story?

Casey: Granted, we're not talking about mountain climbing or running with the bulls here, so the term "risk" has to be taken with a big, fat grain of salt. Having said that, the challenge is to keep the energy up, to grab the readers and never let them go. A lot of superhero comics are written too much like TV these days. It's like the old "decompression" method has morphed into some sort of TV procedural/sitcom/"talking head" comic where characters end up talking more about cool stuff than readers actually get to see on the page. Obviously, that can be done well, under the right circumstances, but I just think that full-on, four-color superhero comic books should be more of a balls-to-the-wall affair.

I also think that, thematically, we're actually exploring some interesting territory: we're asking some cool questions involving the superhero genre, what it means and what it can mean to the culture, to the fabric of human society. Like I said, we're not trying to cure cancer here -- although that would be amazing if we could -- but we're definitely trying to engage the reader on at least a few simultaneous levels. I guess we'll find out soon how well we did at that.

Playing devil's advocate here, people love the primetime adventures of Cap and Supes, so why do we need weird superheroes?

Casey: Because the so-called "weird" ones have the freedom to actually push the envelope, as far as the art form goes. People may "love" what's going on in Captain America and Superman comics, but there's a certain status quo being maintained in anything involving those characters. You can't stray too far off the path, creatively, because these characters are owned by huge corporations [with] agendas that have nothing to do with making great comic books. Speaking from first-hand experience, those circumstances can often be creatively suffocating, and then the work suffers. It becomes less than it could be; its potential is not being fulfilled. So for readers who still love superheroes -- like I do -- they deserve to read some superhero comics where we can really go for it and show exactly what this genre is capable of.

"Catalyst Comix" #1 goes on sale July 3.

Tags: dark horse comics, joe casey, dan mcdaid, mike richardson, dark horse superheroes, ulises farinas, paul maybury, catalyst comix

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