If there’s one consistency with Joe Casey’s writing, it’s that you never know what to expect. From his cerebral work on “Automatic Kafka” and “Adventures of Superman,” to his action packed “Uncanny X-Men” and riveting “Wildcats Version 3.0,” Casey has made a name for himself defying the odds. Last week fans were treated to his newest project, this time from Dark Horse Comics, in a mini series entitled “The Milkman Murders.” With the Comic Con International in San Diego quickly approaching, Casey took a moment to speak with CBR News about this project.
“It’s a four-issue, creator-owned horror mini-series written by me and illustrated by comic book legend, Steve Parkhouse. The first issue is out on the stands as we speak,” explains Casey. “The Vale Family is the typical ‘nuclear family’… until you look a little closer. The father’s a ticking time bomb, gakked to the gills on any drug he can score from the other husbands in the neighborhood. The son is a sadistic punk kid who hunts the neighborhood pets for kicks. The daughter is sleeping with her high school gym teacher. And the mother, Barbara, is just trying to hold it all together and pretend she’s got a normal family.”
The series is part of Dark Horse’s new horror line of comics and while that may come as a surprise to some, since the above description isn’t what many would expect from a traditional horror comic, Casey explained how it all fits together. “Scott Allie and I had been working together on other projects, like launching the ‘KISS’ comic book, and eventually he asked me if I had any horror ideas. Initially, I didn’t. But I eventually sat down and asked myself… what did I think was horrific? What I think of first isn’t about monsters or demons or shit like that… what’s really horrific are the things that human beings are capable of. Think of the darkest, most twisted thoughts that’s ever run through your mind… the kind of thing you’d never admit to anyone that you just thought. That’s what I wanted to try and explore…”
While Casey has written many series that carry the “Mature Readers” tag, this time the subject matter is more disturbing and while it may be different for Casey, he does admit the basic ideas aren’t something you might not have seen before. “Looking at the American suburbs through a satirical or even a horrific lens isn’t all that original. I fully concede that. But that wasn’t the point. I was out to horrify myself on this one. I wanted to push myself and my work in a direction I’d never gone before. As for how much I’ve lived through or seen… well, I did grow up in the suburbs so I’ve got that to draw on. Nothing quite so depraved as some of the stuff in ‘Milkman Murders,’ but on the other hand I’ve seen things growing up I wouldn’t know how to put in a comic book. Some things should just stay buried, I think…”
It’s hard not to look at Barbara, the loving wife, and see some twisted version of “Leave It To Beaver’s” June Cleaver in her… or an equally twisted version of any sitcom mom. “Well, they influence Barbara,” Casey admits. “She’s got this idea in her head that the model for the perfect mom/housewife can be found in those old family sitcoms. I think a lot of people bought into that image, especially back in the late 50’s. But we all know how far removed from reality that is, even back then.”
There’s a strong message about abuse in the series, but Casey isn’t preaching; instead, Casey is exploring the cause and effect of abuse, something he says he didn’t need to research too much. “If you’re asking if I’ve abused myself… sure. Who hasn’t? Although one man’s research is another man’s lifestyle, I guess.”
The end of the first issue makes it seem as though Barbara will be the focus of “Milkman Murders,” but don’t expect to see her in any other series. “I don’t want to blow anything that happens in this story, but at the end of it, you do get the sense that we could follow Barbara in her next adventures,” teases Casey. “But ‘Milkman Murders’ is designed to have an end. It’s finite.”
As mentioned earlier, Steve Parkhouse is illustrating the mini-series and Casey finds it hard to contain his excitement over that fact. “I’ve been a fan of Steve’s art for so long, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan. When Scott Allie tapped me to write a short story in the ‘Hellboy: Weird Tales’ series, I said I’d do it if I could work with somebody great, ‘like Steve Parkhouse.’ Well, Scott came through and got Steve himself! I was absolutely floored just to work with the guy on an eight-pager, so when Steve agreed to step in and co-create this monstrosity with me… well, it’s just been one of the creative highlights of my career so far.”
If you want to let Casey know how you feel about his work, you can do so in person at the Comic-Con International in San Diego this week, where he’ll be with his Man of Action studio mates, but the feedback he has received on “Milkman Murders” has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’m kinda shocked that the response has been so positive. Certainly better than a lot of first issues I’ve helped birth into the world. I’m grateful when anyone at all seems to get what I’m trying to do. For everyone that liked the first issue, I just hope they’re prepared for a wild ride, because this series ends up in a very different place from where it begins. The suburban satire is there at the kickoff, but it’s not all this series is about. By the time we get to the fourth and final issue, I think that’ll be clear.”
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