Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Joe Casey And Nathan Fox And Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers And So Much More

"Nathan Fox's art on a Joe Casey story is like getting a million dollars and then finding out you won't have to pay taxes on it." -Bleeding Cool forum user alekesam.

I haven't gushed about Joe Casey or Nathan Fox on this website, and the Captain Victory relaunch is the excuse I'm going to use to do so.

The first order of business is that the colorist on the Captain Victory relaunch, Brad Simpson, is inevitably going to get a short shrift, so that's why he's getting mentioned first. For the Nathan Fox pages, everything looks bright and trippy and wonderful. For the flashbacks done by other artists, or for Off Brand MODOK the colors get muted like they're supposed to. During the main storyline, Simpson's color work is heightens the tension and keeps the mood dialed up at 11, if not 12. Look at the whites and blues in the first panel below.

Casey's a comics writer who'se bibliography and volume means he comes up with something great fairly reliably. Trouble is, he might have to get through two or three bad ideas first. Before Captain Victory, his most recent work I liked, Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker seemed to be Joe Casey saying "fuck it, I'm gonna die on this weirdo comics hill, but just after I plant my flag, let me take potshots at Mike Huddleston, who draws this thing." His next two comics, Sex and The Bounce, (Batman after he gives up the cowl and Spider-Man as a person in 2013, respectively) were unremarkable or straight up bad.

That said, he's been in comics long before that, so he was the other X-Men writer while Morrison was on New X-Men, he did the glorious pacifist Superman arc in Action Comics and also was joined by Ashley Wood on Automatic Kafka. For things Kieron Gillen fans care about, he did Vengeance, which introduced America Chavez as Ms. America and The Ultimate Nullifier, both of whom would go on to be in Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson/Norton's Young Avengers.

He's a lifer and a genuine weirdo in an industry where weirdoes with opinions run the joint. He goes for a kind of vulgar existensialism (see Vengeance or Butcher Baker), and his subversive take on superheroes is, when it's good, a couple degrees to the left of what I expect. I repeat: Pacifist Superman. His dialogue, though, in an attempt to be cool, can be painfully corny in hindsight.

I've never thought about a Joe Casey event comic because what I read of his work tends to have the scale one finds in those things anyway.

But when I like Joe Casey most often is when he's playing off in a corner somewhere and gets to make something weird, and that leads me to Dark Reign: Zodiac, which in turn, leads me to Dark Reign: Zodiac's penciller, Nathan Fox. Nathan Fox's style I'd describe as obviously influenced by Paul Pope, but with a delirious messiness to it that obscures or takes credit over an insane amount of detail. It reads quickly, but if you slow down, you see the hundreds of tiny flourishes.

DR: Zodiac was a blink and you miss it 3 issue mini during the Dark Reign era where Norman Osborn was in charge of just about everything, and the heroes went underground. Osborn's big moment was saying to the other major villains on his level "just don't kill puppies on television and you can do whatever you want."

Joe Casey apparently looked at that and said, "well, not every villain is magically going to be Neutral Evil, so can I get three issues to write Chaotic Evil dudes committed to mayhem?"

And Marvel said yes.

Penciled by Nathan Fox, the series was unabashedly mean-spirited. It included a hospital bombing, the savage beating of Johnny Storm and the on panel dumping of skulls out of a burlap sack (below). The opening scene is the investigation of the severed torsos of 100 H.A.M.M.E.R. agents in a warehouse. Nathan Fox's pencils made the experience messy, ugly and stunning. Yes, the heroes, when they weren't beaten to a pulp looked unblemished, but everyone else looked lived in.

Maybe the best moment was a faked Galactus attack.

The Casey/Fox team would reunite on Haunt for about 10 issues, or as long as it took Todd McFarlane to step away from it and then step back to it, to kill the momentum the new team built up. Before Casey/Fox, it was an Image project involving a future fascistic religion, a priest with the ghost of his brother who was a SWAT team member that had an off-brand Venom symbiote attached to him. Dreamed up by Mr. McFarlane, Robert Kirkman and Greg Capullo, the series was a laborious mess.

Casey/Fox looked at that and said "what if we lean more heavily into the b-movie aspect of the whole thing," and made it Awesome. It got wilder, under the Casey/Fox pencils, and apparently, further away from the vision that Todd McFarlane had for the character. McFarlane would take his toys back later, but those 10 issues were gleeful genre work. To go back to my point about Mr. Fox's delirious messiness and detail, just look at the electronics falling out of the helmets in the third panel.

But that was a long couple years ago and now Casey and Fox are reunited to work on a Jack Kirby revival for Dynamite, Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers.

It's great. Kirby's influence in superhero comics is massive, where any single issue he wrote or drew could have 10 ideas. This being comics, only three of them were worth following up on. Kirby's writing style was bombastic, and while there were tiny details (the man is called The King by the industry today) there were few tiny statements. Kirby's work that reflected Kirby was grand and sweeping.

And here's the thing: Joe Casey knows bombast. Joe Casey knows glorious comics idea that works on the page, but not out loud. It's a fine line between monkey punches robot and Nextwave punches Fin Fang Foom, but Joe Casey has been on the right side of that before, and with Nathan Fox, he's on the right side of it now.

(I pause here to mention Joe Casey's other Kirby comic, Godland, ended last year. Godland's penciller, Thomas Scioli is a dead ringer for Kirby. Godland is the first 100+ issues of the Fantastic Four with the serial numbers filed off, updated for this century, gone wild.)

Assisting Nathan Fox is a murderer's row of alt comix talent, the first issue includes Jim Rugg and Ulises Farinas, the second involves Michel Fiffe and the promotional material says Benjamin Marra, Jim Mahfood and Farel Dalrymple are forthcoming. Nathan Fox draws most of the pages in each issue, while the guests contribute whatever flashback sequences or a scene to add up to a total of 22 pages a month. I think that's what makes Captain Victory so exciting to me personally, is that the pencillers are working outside of their wheelhouse. Yes, they have done superhero jobs before, but their work generally is usually much smaller in scale.

Those pencillers are all talented enough that when they get out of their comfort zones, their work will still be good, and it's in service of a series who's ethos is bombast and crazy ideas, so it'll congeal. It feels new not because it is, but because it's unexpected coming from the people making it.

I did not expect a Jim Rugg Kirby crackle, but those crackles looked real hype when he did draw them. I know Michel Fiffe does COPRA, but that doesn't prepare me for him doing crazy sci-fi.

Captain Victory is the stage and direction I didn't know I wanted to see Casey and Fox tackle. It's hard to imagine a higher compliment.

All images are pencilled by Nathan Fox. Colors: Jose Villarubia (Zodiac), Brad Simpson (Captain Victory) and Ivan Plascencia (Haunt).

Joe Casey might like this one. These Mad Dogs Of Glory by Modern Life Is War. Title says it all, don't you think?

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