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The Intimates #1-7
posted December 5, 2005


CREATORS: Joe Casey, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Sandra Hope, Jim Lee
PUBLISHING INFORMATION: WildStorm/DC, comic book series, 2004-2005.

For a comic that hoped to position itself on comics' cutting edge, The Intimates never shook a slight aroma of anachronism. The entire project – since canceled with issue #12 -- felt like a throwback, a rare creature from one of those occasional fever spells when mainstream comic book companies think it might be a good idea to publish conceptual variations of core properties, satellites revolving around the great planets of tradition and trademark. The recent comic of this type best known to readers of this site is probably Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Sleeper, a moody, HBO television show version of good guys versus bad guys that in two mini-series mixed crime tropes and superheroes in a way that exaggerated the former and exposed some conceptual thinness in the latter.

The problem with titles like these from a sales standpoint is that there simply aren't enough people who care about the reference points in order to tether a sizeable, natural audience for the more out-there explorations. Comics don't sell enough these days to create enough readers who enjoy a variety of experiences within a single set of titles. Books like these can attract some semblance of an outside audience but also need readers interested addressing the subtle possibilities that accrue in the corners of every blind act of pop creation, to bring along for the ride. Without that latter readership, the original setting becomes a liability. An anchor on a short rope in deep water weighs you down rather than holds you steady. The majority of the readers left for American comics prefer wading into the idea pool rather than plunging into the depths of possibility.

Joe Casey's writing on the The Intimates suffers for its ambition. Casey not only thwarts superhero comic expectations by dealing with scene-to-scene work that resembles standard teen comedy and romance -- mistaken identities, poop jokes, the distant gulf between self-image and reality -- he's decided to tell his story in an incredibly baroque, dense way that may lose him readers for those choices alone. Standing in direct contrast to the asserted, monotone realism of today's comics, The Intimates is designed like a pageant. Characters remain in costume in class and out, get-ups that have been designed with an eye on the ludicrous by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Randy Mayor's colors are relentless and bright. Casey's dialogue abandons terse, tough-guy declaration for a sometimes-fragmented meandering within word balloons according to the sideways thoughts of its restless teenagers or its harried, distracted adult speakers. Most strikingly, Casey makes use of a narrative scroll at the bottom of the page. That part of the comic can be funny in and of itself.
Student romances are officially frowned upon by the administration... Teen sex tip: practice makes perfect... Destra's favorite novel: "The Green Grass of Ecstacy" By Raquel Bouquette... Punchy's childhood secret: He studied tap dancing for three years… For the continuity buffs: Duke has been completely regular since the events of last month...

The running coverage may remind readers of the intrusive media of American Flagg!, or the scroll at the bottom of a newscast, an ESPN roundtable or certain music videos. There's a distance to the commentary in The Intimates that's really intriguing. Casey's can't just mimic a presentational style because a comics narrative isn't really like a television show. The story forces the commentary to become a detached, stream of consciousness commentary that plays against these characters' real-to-them lives in a way that's slightly cruel. I think Casey in part wants to comment not just on the ways that kids process information now but on the breezy, event-light comic book storytelling one sees in most mainstream titles. His stories unfold in a way that far outstrips the weight of the subject matter. We already know that teenagers live far more dramatically in the moment than circumstances dictate; Casey seems to suggest they lead far simpler lives than anyone would care to admit. Casey's balancing act can also be seen as nod to an American mainstream comics culture that enjoys far more detailed and relentless coverage on-line than it does in arenas that reach out to a casual readership, a readership it nonetheless hopes to pursue.

In his scripts for WildCATS Volume 2, Casey nailed down the most interesting thing about that superhero team's original run of stories. The characters Jim Lee had thrown together during Image's run with the commerce bulls of the early 1990s weren't superheroes punching bad guys; they were fantasy characters fighting a war. In taking a step back from that conflict, these were people that would suffer from post-war stress and boredom. For Casey, the dissatisfaction of directionless, post-combat life seemed to mirror the lack of engagement many young adults suffer some five or six years into their first job. The result was a legitimately downbeat superhero title with a fresh approach to the metaphor of ass kicking as vocation. In The Intimates, it's harder to find that metaphorical connection. There's a glimmer of hope early on that Casey may explore superpowers as simply one more burden to be negotiated in a gifted kids' life. There's also the way modern life -- particularly now, with military recruiters right on campus -- both asks for and mocks the participation of young people in the more important issues of the day. But neither develops past the initial whiff of suggestion.

My hunch is that The Intimates failed to blossom into something special because it remained tied to parts of Jim Lee's original vision that are pedestrian carry-overs from the franchise-launching platform of a shared superhero universe. Casey's narrative may question the authority of its pulp roots, but only to a point. Casey has to back away from exploring the absurdities of what it actually means to wear those stupid costumes every day to school almost before he gets started. The assumption remains that each character will become some sort of participant in a fantasy world of "black ops" and "shadow organizations," or that they'll indulge in privileged "super-celebrity" -- all the broad nonsense that drives assumptions of how to approach a world full of superheroes, circa 1993-1994. It might be fun in a sick way to watch a character like the spastic Punchy function in a Grifter story someday, and I think if Casey had the work to do again he might be able to mine something out of the expectation of a new way of life that gets knocked out of a teenager's head not too many months after graduation, but in the single year of high school covered by issue #1-7, the potential comedy or insight to be had from the next, not-so-tough generation remains a long way off. Casey, Camunocoli and company employ bright color and snotty humor and off-kilter narratives and convoluted plotlines and brandish their refusal to fall into conventional character arcs. But they can't get far enough away to turn around, point and laugh.