NYCC: Joe Casey & Dark Horse Reinvent "Catalyst Comix"

Dark Horse Comics is in the midst of a revival for its "Comics Greatest World" line - the publisher's '90s superhero universe. And while already announced "Ghost" and "X" series represent slick, modernized takes on the original concepts, the latest comic to bring back the CGW cast is angling towards cutting edge craziness as masterminded by writer Joe Casey.

This morning at the Diamond Comic Distributors retailer breakfast at New York Comic Con, Dark Horse revealed plans for "Catalyst Comix" - a CGW-themed anthology book written entirely by Casey and featuring the art of Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury and Ulises Farinas with a first issue cover by Rafael Grampa. Readers familiar with the original '90s series may recognize faces like Amazing Grace and Titan, but the working mechanics of the book will be far different than anything done with the heroes before...and far different from anything done with heroes period if Casey has his way.

The writer opened up on the comic first with CBR News, and below, Casey describes how his boredom with corporate comics, the excitement fueled by his collaborators work and how both of those led to the final form of "Catalyst Comix" which launches this Spring.

CBR News: This is the third series from Dark Horse relaunching part of its Comics Greatest World line. What's your memory of those original series as a reader?

Joe Casey: Ironically, those books were busted out during the one period of my entire life where I wasn't paying as close attention to comic books...and especially superhero comic books. Probably "Sandman Mystery Theatre" and "Starman" were the only ones I was paying any attention to. I was more into Peter Bagge at the time. But I remember seeing the CGW books on the stands...especially that first Frank Miller "X" cover. That was hot shit. There was a sweet Geof Darrow "King Tiger" cover that always stuck with me, too. Having actually read them since, I realize just how weird and eclectic a lot of them were. But at the time, I just wasn't the guy who was gonna buy into a whole new universe of characters. Not to mention, I couldn't afford to, financially.

So my memory of those original series is mostly about how fucking broke I was...!

That said, when the possibility of working on "Catalyst" came up with Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson, what made you want to get on board? What was your in to the story?

Originally, it was a completely different set of characters I was gonna take on and revamp - characters that Dark Horse were publishing but didn't own or completely control outright. So when that didn't work out, Mike and I had been talking enough that he suggested I look at the CGW characters instead. Y'see, from the very beginning, I came to this whole thing with a specific approach... a way of doing superhero comicbooks that was in direct contrast to the current, overly-conservative nature of Marvel and DC. So then I had to find the CGW characters where this approach would work best. I knew a few of them - like Ghost and X - were already set up for series. But those were more genre characters anyway...I wanted the over-the-top. four-color superhero characters. Characters like Titan and Amazing Grace and Rebel and Warmaker. Y'know, the real kooky shit.

The core concept of Catalyst seemed to be the CGW riff on the classic "greatest heroes of the world" team concept. As someone who's written his fair share of Avengers stories and the like, what do you hope to do here that will ring different in terms of team book execution?

Well, let's clarify exactly what this book is... I'm not just revamping the old "Catalyst: Agents of Change" series. "Catalyst Comix" is kind of a whacked out anthology book, completely written by me, drawn by artists Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury and Ulises Farinas. I wanted to see these guys in particular drawing superheroes. My pitch to Mike was, "Look, DC Comics will put a guy like Paul Pope - a singular, visionary artist by anyone's standards - on a special 'Batman' mini-series but would never in a million years put him on the monthly 'Batman' title (for now, let's just ignore the fact that Paul probably has no interest in that gig)." For DC, having an artist that's so unique and individualistic as the "public face" of one of their IP's is, for them, a step too far. It's too weird for them. It's much safer to have someone with a more "mainstream" style (in other words, a style that can be easily copied by other artists) because it maintains brand consistency. But, for me, superhero comicbooks need the exact opposite. They need to be weird and unique and dangerous-looking. On the other side of the street, Marvel will hire Benjamin Marra to do a USAgent strip in their "Strange Tales" anthology but they'd never hire him to write and draw "Captain America" monthly (again, if he even wanted the gig, which I kinda doubt). Conversely, I love John Romita, Jr. He's a master storyteller and a great guy. But at this point, it's much more exciting for me as a fan to see him drawing "Kick-Ass" than it is to see him doing his latest Marvel superhero gig. Don't get me wrong. This is not me making a judgment on anyone's career choices...I'm just stating how I feel as a reader on the outside, looking in. I'm bored by these books, too...and all the recent marketing research suggests that I'm probably at the top end, age-wise, of these publishers' main target audience. So, y'know, what the fuck...?

Listen, I'm the nutjob who convinced Marvel to hire Eddie Campbell to draw a section of "Uncanny X-Men" #400. That was eleven years ago, so it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I feel this way. I was way too affected by reading [Peter] Milligan/[Brendan] McCarthy's "Paradax" and "Rogan Gosh," Kirby's "Captain Victory," Matt Wagner's "Grendel," [Mike] Baron's "Badger," "Elektra: Assassin," [Mike] Allred's "Madman," Grant [Morrison's] "Doom Patrol," the [Garth] Ennis/[John] McCrea "Demon," [Dan] Clowes' "Lloyd Llewellyn," the early "Mister X"...these are what I think of as cutting edge superhero comic books, even to this day.

Mike was willing to take that kind of chance with the Dark Horse superhero characters. He agreed with me that to try and compete with DC/Marvel - on their level - was pointless. They might have the numbers, but we have the vision. As far as I'm concerned, DC and Marvel have fallen back onto some bizarre, corporate responsibility to keep superhero comic books boring, to keep them at a level where all the creative risk-taking has been beaten out of them. Comic books by committee. No thank you. Luckily, ours is a greater responsibility. There's still some Art to be made here. That's why I went with the name, "Catalyst." Its strict Webster's-style definition - something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces - is exactly what we want this comic book to be, on a chemical level.

So, yeah, this shit's gonna "ring different" in a pretty significant way.

We've seen two of the best known characters of this line relaunched (or about to be relaunched) already: Ghost and X. How familiar have you been with what Kelly Sue and Duane S have been planning for those books, and will any of their take impact what you're doing in "Catalyst"?

I have no doubt those books are going to be worth checking out, but what I'm doing is a whole other thing. Like I said, there's an exhaustion that has set in with the current readership, a generation of readers who probably hooked into comic books in general around the time the Comics Greatest World books first debuted. The generation after mine, basically. They've now been through several waves of creators coming and going, multiple storytelling fads, endless "event" books, countless occasions where the Internet was supposed to "break in half," a few editorial administrations at the Big Two publishers...they've seen it all. We've got online pundits actually feeling dirty and shameful because they find themselves trying to analyze Marvel NOW! or the New 52 or whatever other bullshit marketing ploys the Big Two are trying to put over on us. But what else is there to talk about, if you still dig on the idea of superhero comic books and still believe in their potential for providing a bit of forward-thinking entertainment? Hopefully, this'll give them something new to talk about, something different to think about.

The original "Catalyst" series, like all of the CGW titles, was centered in one city. In this case, Golden City. Are you picking up on that locale in general? Any ways in which the original team setup and characters like Grace and Titan will bleed into this book?

Because we've got an "Amazing Grace" strip featured in the book, readers will indeed be seeing Golden City in all its glory. But they'll be seeing it in an all-new context.

Since I'm writing all of the various strips appearing in the book, they will connect in some fundamental ways. I'm taking advantage of the fact that I've got that level of control. So it's basically three stories that actually tell one story. It's an anthology book that's not your typical anthology book.

The previous two relaunches have started out in "Dark Horse Presents" for short runs before expanding into their own series. What kind of format will you be rolling out your work in, and where will readers step into the story?

Let it be known, Mike suggested we do the DHP rollout for this thing, as well. But I made the counter-argument that we'd make more of an impact if we just launched straight away with a #1 issue, and to his credit, he went for it.

As far as for where readers will "step into the story," I can tell that it has a lot to do with the world ending prophecy of December 21, 2012. In fact, on page one, the world is literally ending. That's our starting point.

What can you share about the approach each of your artists will be taking, and what did you see in them as collaborators that fit your conception of this whole series?

Collaborating with Dan, Paul and Ulises is the main reason I'm doing this at all. Like I said, these guys would never be hired by Marvel and DC to draw monthly superhero comic books. And as far as I'm concerned, that's absolutely Marvel and DC's loss. But they're amazing and perfect for this kind of imaginative, over-the-top material. Superhero art is supposed to be bold and weird and beautiful. And from the moment I saw just the character redesigns from these guys, I got excited to do this all over again. It made my big toe shoot up in my boot! Before that, this was all a very abstract thought in my head, just a strange notion of what company-owned superhero comic books should look like...but these artists are making it real for me. They all have unique styles, but what they do share is an energy and a passion for what they do, and I like that.

The cover to #1 will be drawn by Rafael Grampa. That is a rad choice on almost any comic I can think of, but what in particular does his merging all these characters do to set the tone for what you want the book to be?

Grampa is just the tip of a white-hot iceberg. We're lining up covers from Paul Pope and Brendan McCarthy, too. I had an artist wish list and Mike just went out and got 'em all! Between the covers and the interiors, this is like a dream team of artists for me. All of these guys are contributing to the unique aesthetic of the series. At this point in my career, my interest in superhero comicbooks is mainly in how far I can push them, how much I can evolve them, how deeply I can subvert them, how often I can show that the basic Marvel/DC "house style"-approach of doing superhero comics is coming across as old and tired. That's where the fun is. I mean, if you're gonna go down, then I say go down in a blaze of glory...!

Stay tuned for more from New York Comic Con on CBR!

Green Arrow Oliver Queen Green Arrow Crisis on Infinite Earths feature
Is Arrow's Oliver Queen Transforming Into Another Major DC Hero?

More in Comics