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Them’s Fightin’ Words, Joe Casey.

Jordan Smith

In the absence of the dulcet tones of Mssrs. Jeff and Graeme…

It should go without saying that all that follows is my opinion.

So, quietly and without much advance hullabaloo Dark Horse Comics made its entry…or rather its re-entry…into the world of Superheroics with Catalyst Comix #1




There’s a lot to recommend this book.  There’s a lot to recommend this series, really.   But, as with all things…a caveat.



First, if you’re a fan of offbeat capes and unique delivery systems this book may be for you.  The story starts by spinning out the various circumstances of the principal characters at the time of a major crisis.  It’s a cool set-up.

Second, if you’re in the mood for that trademark Casey dialogue (Snappy, knowing, and biting all the right brassy reference points) this book may be to your taste.

Third, all the art here makes some really bold style choices.  The list of influences is long enough to go up one arm and down the other.  Scioli / Kirby is all over Frank Wells.  Er, FRANK WELLS!  I see a fair amount Ross Campbell waiting in the wings of Amazing Grace.  The Change Agents benefit from an odd marriage of Sylvan Migdal’s Curvy and Geoff Darrow of all things.  Also, it should be noted there may be many – MANY – more influences here.  I am a stupid neophyte, not Frank Santoro.


amazing grace



A quick aside:  As all contributors are given credits as ART it’s hard to tell whether Brad Simpson colors the whole thing.  He is the sole credited colorist and could be the standout player for bringing such a diverse sensibility and individuality to all three chapters.  But, since it’s a little unclear, I hesitate to take credit for the color choices away from the individual artists.  It’s a really nice component of the book.  Especially worthy of note is the Change Agents chapter.  The colors there really set that section apart.

But then…there’s this.  And, from this point, for me, what was a nice exercise in genre bending becomes something else.




Whoa.  As the title says, Them’s Fightin’ Words.

So, by this, you’re led to believe that Casey’s taking some bold stance.  Some US VS. THEM classic bully wrestling storyline.  DAMN THE MAN and all that shit.

Except he’s using existing IP.



And, really, the US VS THEM manifesto should be retired.  If I could give this venture one bit of advice it would be to ditch the shrill “NO!  WE’RE DIFFERENT!  WE’RE RUSHING THE GATES!” mentality.  It’s passé in 2013.  We’ve played that game out.  Walking Dead, The Image re-emergence, SAGA, Vaughn and Martin’s Private Eye…

That game’s over.

There is no US VS THEM.

There’s only US.  Start pitching this series as what “WE” do at Dark Horse.  This is how “WE” chart the course.  As long as you’re hung up on showing “The Mainstream” they’re outdated you’re playing by their rules.

But, therein lies the problem.  You’re using THEIR methods.

This comic is riding generic names like Titan and Amazing Grace because it’s easier to do that than create your own thing.  DH Publisher Mike Richardson said yes to this because Dark Horse OWNS THE COPYRIGHTS.  He was one of the original creators!  So, you know, go ahead and show me how not mainstream you are by doing the ONE THING mainstream comics are reviled for more than any other ONE THING amongst the comics going Secret Society.   Don’t blame me when I ask if Barbara Kesel, Randy Stradley, Jerry Prosser, and Chris Warner are getting their royalty checks off of this “bold new line in the sand.”  When people ask Brandon Graham what he’s doing working on Prophet when he doesn’t own it he smiles because he’s in on the joke.  He’s taking money for work and not trying to pass it off as anything more than that.  It’s a check and he’s never pretended anything different.  NEVER.

Dark Horse and Joe Casey in particular are pretending to kick down the door of Superhero books but decades on from the ownership disasters of Miracleman and Zenith no lessons have been learned.  Kirby, who Casey so openly apes in the Frank Wells chapter, might SPIN knowing that this is being put forward as CHANGE and DIFFERENT.

A talented car crash of artists is pouring their work into a corporate funnel and this is the new version of “line drawing?”  This is the bold new stance?

It’s a good comic with lots to recommend it but please…don’t tell me it’s one thing – pretend to me it’s new ground – when it’s plainly more of the same.  Let it be what it actually is, the Dark Horse Corporate Super Hero Line.

Don’t tell me you’re re-inventing the wheel when it’s the same old grist stone that’s made a fine powder out of creators for the length, breadth, and depth of the industry.

4 Responses to “ Them’s Fightin’ Words, Joe Casey. ”

  1. While i do not disagree with any of your points, it seems Casey is merely calling out the content of “Mainstream (superhero) Comics,” not the corporate structure. So using corporate IP to “nudge” the genre’s storytelling might not be something to call bullshit on. Though it is a fine idea to say, “If you are going to draw this storytelling line, why not go further to break the corporate comics paradigm?”

    I just assume any greater creative freedom or novelty here is that Dark Horse isn’t worried about selling branded lunch boxes and bedsheets, too.

  2. @BrianMc

    Reading the text piece through he definitely falls prey to the “working up a head of steam” bit.

    At first he’s talking about the artists and being a fan of polishing characters for revamp and by the end he’s transcending the slave drone dogma at work in corporate comics. And, when he takes that leap, he crosses into that “we’re better than you” thing.

    But he’s creating a separation that’s only based on decision making. The right editor at any mainstream comic can green light good stuff. That’s no ground to claim a revolution on.

  3. I think we’re at one of those regular points in the US comics cycle where knocking the big two is so much a part of the culture that creators do it without even thinking about whether it makes sense to their current situation – see Comics journal in the eighties, Todd Mcfarlene in Spawn letter columns of the nineties, through to Paul Jenkins reasons for quitting the big two* (‘They wouldn’t let me write Lex Luthor shooting Lois Lane in the head – what c-nts!’).
    Also, as Casey was whinging in his back matter about having to come up with back matter in Butcher Baker, and now also does it in Sex as well as CC, I think he may just be writing his columns on auto-pilot.
    Which is to say, I thought the book was pretty cool – and if you like Dan Mcdaid’s Kirbyesque look here, check out Jersey Gods – but was also thrown by his ‘this is the real way to do it’ creed at the end.
    That lead me to noticing the title of the book calls is Catalyst Comix, which raised two questions – is it a catalyst? And, is it ‘comix’ rather than comics?
    I guess the third question is – should we really care what creators say outside of the comic itself?
    (A possible fourth is – at this point should we even bother paying attention to any stand a creator makes, as they all go back to the big two teet eventually?)

    *Which was oddly similar to Giffen&Dematties quitting the big two five years beforehand (Boom! Clearly demand you burn your bridges in exchange for a contract!). **

    ** And depressingly similar to Warren Ellis over a decade ago. You know, before he ran back to Marvel and became a bit shite.

  4. @BenLipman sed…
    “That lead me to noticing the title of the book calls is Catalyst Comix, which raised two questions – is it a catalyst? And, is it ‘comix’ rather than comics?”

    I would say Yes to the first and no to the second.

    If this is truly a signal flare from Dark Horse that they are open to doing a “new” type of comic for them (For really the first time since the mid 90’s) then it’s a catalyst. If DH calls up Jeff Parker and asks for a superhero book or Kieron Gillen or whoever then that’s a radical shift in publishing strategy.

    I don’t think the work put forward, however, is a radical leap too far in any direction to claim revolution or change. Casey pulls way back and calls it a “nudge” at the last but pulling back there isn’t enough to erase all the harsh nonsense that rolled out before.

    Again, classic line stepping. Annoying.

    “I guess the third question is – should we really care what creators say outside of the comic itself?”

    Good point, Ben. In this little cult of celebrity that’s grown up out of a tiny business my view of creators is often less because of the constant access allowed. But, honestly, that’s almost everything. Like, hearing all this Steranko Twitter stuff about slapping Bob Kane does nothing for me but to listen to the comics community it’s like he’s a revelation. How is a stream of 140 character tweets gonna measure up to this?
    ((via comicvine))

    “Jim Steranko was born in Reading Pennsylvania in 1938. The son of a tinsmith, Steranko grew up poor, in a household that mostly derided his artistic interests. His drawing talent manifested early and he bought himself art supplies by collecting cans and bottles for the deposit money. He eventually went to work for a local printing company in Reading which he used as a springboard to get a job at an advertising firm. During his early years he held down a succession of jobs, teaching himself escapology, and learning enough sleight of hand technique to find work as a nightclub stage magician in New York. He kept up his stage magic, eventually garnering enough prestige to be inducted into the New York Witch Doctor’s club. In 1971 Jack Kirby created the character of Mister Miracle, inspired by Steranko’s exploits as an escape artist. Steranko was also a musician, playing guitar under an assumed name with several different rock bands.”

    You know? I mean, shit, enjoy the mystery.

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