EXCLUSIVE: Joe Casey Rolls with "The Bounce"

The Bounce is a new kind of superhero for the modern age. But he has specific ties to one of the longest running comic heroes of all time. Written by Joe Casey ("Haunt," "Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker") and drawn by David Messina ("Star Trek Countdown to Darkness"), Jasper Jenkins is a slacker and recreational drug user who also happens to be a costumed vigilante known as The Bounce. Casey has been working on "The Bounce" for a while now, but after coming up with the character's general structure he was unable to crack the code until he fully dove into another hero: Spider-Man.

Casey explained that only after working on Disney XD's "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series along with his Man of Action partners Joe Kelly, Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau did he discover a long-lost aspect of the character from the first two years of "Amazing Spider-Man" that he says most creators have missed out on in the ensuing decades.

While Casey remained cagey about what exactly the Spider-Man Code is, he d did tell Comic Book Resources it's clearly on the page in the first issue of "The Bounce," debuting May 22 from Image Comics. CBR News talked to the writer about understanding what made Spider-Man tick, translating that into the modern world and overlaying that onto his brand new character, The Bounce.

CBR News: What are your plans for the series in terms of length? Do you have set number of stories or issues in mind?

Joe Casey: I hate to crystal ball these things, since you never know which way the wind's gonna blow. But we've been working on this series for, literally, years. Starting in May, it's gonna be coming at you every month for the foreseeable future. I'm not the greatest longterm thinker, it tends to spoil the fun, but right now I've got this roller coaster ride mapped out through issue #12.
We don't know much about the "The Bounce" aside from the image of what I assume is the character doing acrobatics over a city and the logo. What can you tell our readers about The Bounce and what he's up to in the series?

The Bounce is a full-blown, 21st Century superhero in all the ways that just... feel... so... right. Underneath the mask, Jasper Jenkins is a typical twenty-something who likes to hang out with his pals, get his smoke on big time, put on a costume and jump out to do the hero thing. And the world needs him -- it's a dark place out there. But a more pressing personal problem is that his brother just happens to be the assistant DA, recently charged with rounding up the community of costumed freaks that Jasper is now a part of. A classic comic book dilemma! So, along with trying to keep his secret from his brother, the Bounce has to deal with a colorful and twisted rogues gallery which includes creeps like the Crunch, the Fog, the Vamp and the Horror. Clearly, we're trying to put the "fun" back in funny books, with full-on, four-color superheroics exploding off the pages...!

On the creative side of things, a big part of this series actually sprang from my feelings about Spider-Man and how the energy of the first two years of that series -- the way that character initially hit -- has never been tapped into in quite the same way, by anyone. And even now, when you go back and read those first thirty-eight issues from the 1960s, the uniqueness of it still shines through. Even Marvel hasn't been able to repeat the kind of success that Spider-Man has enjoyed -- and I'm not talking about sales success, I'm talking more conceptually. How many new characters have come out of Marvel that were hyped as the "new Spider-Man for a new generation?" But they never really stick, do they? At best, they become something else. At worst, they just fade away into oblivion...

As it turns out, after working on the "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated show, which I co-produce with my Man Of Action compadres, I realized I'd figured out what the essence of Spider-Man really is, why that type of character works so well (beyond the obvious attributes that pretty much everyone already knows). Two full seasons of that kind of production grind -- which we're still in the middle of, I might add -- you get all kinds of strange epiphanies. In this case, I'd actually cracked a deeper code. And, once I'd cracked it, I could apply it to one of my own creations while having the freedom to take it beyond the constraints of a corporately-owned IP, which is really all Spider-Man is now. There's a reason why no one has matched the energy and the inventiveness of the initial [Stan] Lee-[Steve] Ditko run. [David] Michelinie-[Todd] McFarlane got close, in terms of energy -- really, really close. With "The Bounce," it feels like we might've caught lightning in a bottle here. The reason a series with this kind of ambition is labeled For Mature Readers is simply because, in doing so, we're free to evolve things and explore things in a way that a Spider-Man series isn't allowed to. And, believe me, we're taking full advantage of that freedom.

Would you be giving away too much by talking about some of the Spider-Man code you cracked? Why do you think it's been so difficult for others to sort of 'see The Matrix' on this topic?

That's a good question. I really don't know. Maybe they're not looking hard enough, because it's there. And, like I said, most people -- and most publishers -- see Spider-Man and only see the across-the-board, monetary success of the IP, and that's what they try to emulate. They think it's a formula that can be followed to equal monetary success. As for what I've learned about what makes Spider-Man resonate, it's pretty hard-won knowledge, so to just give it all away here would be a bit of a cheat, I think. But, if you read "The Bounce," it's all right there on the page.

Had The Bounce been in your head for a while before you cracked the Spider-Man code or did his creation come along with the realizations?

Yeah, the basic character had been there, bouncing around my head, so to speak. But it was a rough, proto-version of the character. And it was a while before I really moved forward with it in any significant way, for the very reason we're talking about. I knew I might be dealing with just another Spidey-inspired knockoff, and until I could actually apply what I'd learned, I didn't even bother developing it any further. Now it's all there and it feels almost predetermined. It's weird that people are finally gonna be able to read this thing.

Part of what makes Spider-Man so popular is his positive nature even in the face of huge obstacles. Does the Bounce have a similar outlook on life or is that something that doesn't hold up as much when faced with his darker world?

The Bounce definitely has a take on the world that informs his behavior, his decisions, etc. -- but that mostly has to do with his recreational drug use. It's the slacker view of what he sees going on around him. He knows it's all going to shit, but whether or not he's motivated enough to actually do something about it remains to be seen. It may take him awhile, but that's part of the fun of the character.

Does the fact that Jasper's brother is going after costumed vigilantes potentially threaten his standing in the hero community?

It's not quite that cut and dried. These costumed characters -- hero and villain alike -- are completely out of place in the world. As they would be in our world. [Real world costumed vigilante] Phoenix Jones and his crew notwithstanding, I personally don't think that superheroes -- even the concept behind them -- belong in the real world. It's an old chestnut in superhero comic books, but the destabilization of human civilization when bona fide superheroes show up is still an idea worth exploring -- mainly because the world keeps changing, so the context changes. Not to mention, the Bounce might be the only one who regards himself as a hero. To the rest of the world, he's either an illegal vigilante that needs to be arrested or simply a freak to be avoided. If he wasn't so stoned, he might actually be offended.

You mentioned the heroes and villains being out of place in the world -- have people been doing the costumed powered thing for a while?

As with most things, when you put them in a superfiction context, there's a degree of metaphor involved. But depending on your personal outlook -- whether you're by nature an optimist or a pessimist -- I think it's a fairly accurate representation of the world outside our window. But that's part of the series' concept, the state of the world we all live in. Is it that bad out there? Yeah, it kinda is. You look at something like last December's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it's just too horrific to process. But it's a terrible reality we all have to face. The emergence of these fantastical characters is absolutely tied into those unthinkable realities. If a superhero is going to have any potency, it has to accurately reflect the society it was created within. Superman did. Spider-Man did. That's probably what's wrong with most superhero characters these days, especially at the Big Two publishers. They don't reflect much of anything anymore, except for maybe -- occasionally -- the eccentricities of the creators who end up working on them. It's dangerous to reflect society in any real way, there's always a chance you might offend someone or present a picture that's a bit too disturbing, too much chocolate in someone's peanut butter -- which is not something that corporate publishers generally like to do anymore. I guess "The Bounce" is fairly anti-corporate in that way (and probably many others).

It sounds like the Bounce has a pretty solid list of rogues. Can you tell us more about the Crunch, the Fog, the Vamp and the Horror?

I don't want to give too much away, but their names are generally a pretty good indication of what they're able do. For now, I'll just leave it at that.

You've developed a number of distinct comic book universes, so what do you feel sets this one apart from the others?

I think it's more reality-based than anything I've done before, in terms of the setting and how we're depicting it. Maybe painfully so, but it's what's necessary to make the character work best. Sometimes context is king. I don't know how "distinct" that makes it, but it's definitely a different approach than I've taken with most of my other recent creator-owned series.

You've been pretty tight lipped about this book since it was announced last summer -- why is that?
Creating comic books has become such a personal thing for me, I've become so immersed in the art form side of it, it really never occurs to me to start blabbing about it to people until -- like now -- it's time to sell it. To build these books from absolutely nothing, just a blank page and an idea... there's a purity to that process that I don't want to mess with until absolutely necessary. I let this project percolate in my mystery box until the last possible moment. So it wasn't so much about being "tight lipped" as it was just me being in my own space with it. Shit gets talked about way too early in this business anyway, because people like to give off the appearance that they're doing something, whether they really are or not. But once you let the world in, your Art inevitably becomes a different thing, and I've become a lot more protective of that. Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying that we've just been working away, banking issues, making adjustments, rewriting, redrawing -- just creating, y'know?

What made you want to work with David Messina on this particular project?

Here's a weird bit of history that may blow someone's mind out there. Back when I was writing "Youngblood" (another example of being ahead of the curve, BTW -- this was several years before last year's crop of Extreme revival series, but I think what we were doing could've fit right in), I did eight issues with artist Derec Donovan. Then Messina was brought in to draw the series from issue #9 on. When I saw Messina's work, I was psyched to keep going. He'd even drawn some absolutely stunning pages, the opening scene of the "Youngblood" #9 script that I'd written, when Rob decided to take over the book himself and do... well, whatever he ended up doing. Totally within his rights, it's his property after all. But [Image Publisher] Eric Stephenson was so blown away by those pages -- as we all were (except Rob, so the story goes, although I still have trouble believing it) -- that he suggested to me that Messina and I keep working together on a creator-owned book. Luckily, Messina was up for it and we were off and running. And God bless him, he's been busting his ass on this thing. And, y'know, the proof is in the pudding -- this shit looks great. It might be the most commercial-looking comic book I've ever done (which is kinda scary, when you think about it).

Aside from the "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series which is a different kind of project, what draws you to a Big Two project like "Vengeance" these days?

Hey, don't forget about Marvel's "Avengers Assemble," which we're also writing/producing. But I don't really think of them as "Big Two" projects. Those have more to do with the ongoing Hollywood-ization of Man Of Action. If you're talking about comic books, I think it would take a lot to draw me to a WFH project at either Marvel or DC right now. Don't get me wrong, I've had more than my share of good times writing for both of those publishers. We're talking about dream-come-true kinda shit here, not to be minimized. But it's just not where my head is at. I happen to be writing this "Catalyst Comix" series for Dark Horse right now, taking a handful of their mid-'90s superhero characters and rethinking them for a 21st Century readership. But we're getting so much rope to hang ourselves with on that one, it doesn't exactly feel like a WFH book, and it's certainly a million miles away from a Marvel or DC gig, in terms of the freedom I'm getting to do the kind of superhero comic book we're doing.

So, to answer your question, what would attract me to another corporate, Big Two gig would be that same level of freedom, which I know is extremely rare. Especially now. You have to wonder if, in the current environment, Frank Miller would've been able to do his "Daredevil" run, or if you would've gotten Alan Moore on "Swamp Thing," or Grant Morrison on "Doom Patrol," or Walt Simonson on "Thor" -- maybe so, but I really kinda doubt it. Things might have gotten too corporate and too synergistic for that kind of individual creative innovation, that kind of out-of-the-box thinking. The thing is, I'm not even upset about it. Why would I be? It's probably just the natural order of things. What I now call alternative comix -- Image, Dark Horse, the self-publishers, the digital publishers out there -- are providing that buzz these days, the buzz of the New, just like they're supposed to. So it's all good, as far as I'm concerned.

"The Bounce" #1 from Joe Casey, David Messina and Image Comics hits stores on May 22.

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