In fall 2016, former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way injected a heavy dose of postmodern fun into DC Comics with a new “pop-up imprint,” Young Animal. Its ethos tied back to DC’s Vertigo umbrella from the early ‘90s, casting new optics on legacy characters including psychedelic alien Shade, the Changing Man and the trans-dimensional misfit adventurers in Doom Patrol. The ensuing series harkened back to an era that challenged the definition of comics with heady, mature themes, reveling in punk-rock subversion and literary complexity.
Starting with Way and artist Nick Derington on a new Doom Patrol book, Young Animal later introduced Shade, The Changing Girl by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Way, Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming and Mother Panic by Jody Houser and Tommy Lee Edwards. (A fifth series, Bug! The Adventures of Forager by Lee and Mike Allred, debuted last May and concluded this week.) The new Shade witnessed an avian alien inhabit the body of a comatose teenager, Cave Carson spelunked into family drama as the titular character's reality dissolved and Mother Panic offered a class-conscious take on brutal vigilantism. The entire experience was effortlessly cool, and a neon feather for DC as their biggest competitor, Marvel, drowned in tone-deaf events and misguided synergy.
Save Doom Patrol, Young Animal’s core comics recently went on hiatus following their 12th issues, but a new event—the 5-part "Milk Wars”—will see the characters cross over with core superheroes like the Justice League, Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing in January and February. Fortunately in March, Shade, Cave Carson and Mother Panic will return on a more permanent basis with new number-one issues and tweaked title changes, ushering these innovative comics into their next phases. A new miniseries, Eternity Girl by former Paste contributor Magdalene Visaggio and artist Sonny Liew, will also join YA’s ranks.
Way summarized the reintroductions: “Young Animal is back to bringing the weird, with all your favorite characters going in drastically new directions not even they could expect. Find out what these characters are up to now, and how they’ve hit their next level of evolution. Catch up with Cave and Team Carson as they fly out of the earth and into outer space, follow Mother Panic while she discovers a Gotham City without Batman, and meet Shade’s new body! Plus the introduction of our newest character and title: Eternity Girl!"
Paste has the first covers and solicitations on these three semi-relaunches, and also exchanged emails with the books’ returning writers to discover more about the mind-melt future of Young Animal.
Writer: Cecil Castellucci
Artists: Marley Zarcone, Jamie Coe (Backup Feature)
Release Date: March 7, 2018
Shade has shed her alien identity. She’s stepped out of her original Earth body and into another one. Now, free of the burdens of any past life, and finally on her own, she sets out to see more of her new home. But how does she cope when the madness takes all the human emotions she was forced to confront in the Milk Wars and turns them into a bouillabaisse of memory and confusion? And to make it even more challenging, Shade must also face her namesake, the original Changing Man.
Paste: This title is appropriate, seeing how Changing Girl ended: Loma, like most teenage girls, found peace after discovering her own distinct identity and bodily agency—literally and metaphorically from Megan. So what phase of life will this new miniseries parallel? The wanderlust early '20s? The constructivist early 30s? Am I completely jumping the gun with this question?
Cecil Castellucci: This is a hard question to answer without giving too much away. I will say that it’s a bunch of years later, but leaning more towards the wanderlust times. But of course to Shade, that means something very different than it does to a human. It’s true that she does have her own body and identity now. She can’t go back to who she was, she must become who she is. That’s definitely a part of being in your early adult life. You go out there, you make a lot of boneheaded mistakes. You still haven’t mastered your wisdom. You put away your childish things and you change. I find it funny that you say that she’s found peace. I think of it more as she’s found a bigger understanding about self and about how you gotta live it or lose it. If you look at the end of the last series, there are a lot of crumbs that I left there to follow. I can say that I will be picking up that trail and following it to its conclusion. I hope you’ll be delighted and have a few Oh! and Aha! moments when you read the new arc.
Paste: You also began to tie in Loma’s journey to greater Shade continuity. Should we expect more Rac Shade (the character created by Steve Ditko and featured in the Vertigo series by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo) and/or interaction with the other Young Animal denizens? For the former, how would you characterize him at this point?
Castellucci: I like being in my own bubble universe, where I can pluck some things, but mostly function in our own world. I think that makes sense for Shade. Obviously, in the Milk Wars crossover, there is a crossover, but all of our books are so strange, that I think they survive beyond and alone as well, kind of like someone you’ve heard about two towns over. As for Rac Shade, I would say that Rac has always been a big character in the book. Even if we didn’t see him a lot physically, his poetry definitely is a driving force of that book. I’ve always been interested in folding things in from Ditko and Milligan, but not having it be a direct sequel or continuity of it. I promise that I will continue to allude and give nods to the past. But this Rac is not quite the other Rac! But for Loma, Rac has always been her spiritual guru and that will continue in a more profound way.
Paste: You, Marley and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick conjured some gorgeous art-deco vistas of madness: often sensual, exotic and kinetic. How does madness shift into womanhood? Is there a different color palette? A different design?
Castellucci: Oh yes! Marley Zarcone is a genius and I can’t wait for you to see what she’s doing in the new book. It’s even more beautiful. Obviously, this is more a Marley question, but I can say that from seeing the pages from the first issue that everything about it is more mature madness. Loma Shade is a bit different, she’s got a new hairstyle and she’s a bit more mature. And I know that we’ve been talking about shifting the color palette a little bit to reflect growth, so you can expect that will be on the page.
Paste: If we’re looking at Shade, The Changing Girl as the debut album and this as the sophomore effort, what band would your Shade saga be?
Castellucci: That’s a really great question. And a hard one. I loved the first Hole album, Pretty on the Inside. It felt like a call to arms to me when I was young. I started my own band months after hearing it (Nerdy Girl/Cecil Seaskull if you’re curious). The feel of that raw first album to Live Through This feels like the shift that I hear in Shade. Full disclosure here, one of my life-long besties is [Hole bassist] Melissa Auf der Maur.
But of course, that doesn’t just cover it. It’s that feeling of going from something raw to something a little bit more mature in craft. The same could be said for a few other bands.
The Pixies: Surfer Rosa to Doolittle
Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Bjork: Debut to Post
Paste: What has you excited about this next phase of Loma’s life that I’m not touching on?
Castellucci: The things that I’m always interested in when it comes to character and story are how do we become who we are? Loma is having to become something completely new. Shedding her past and embracing what she’s become. She’s a butterfly after all. She’s a bird. She’s a poem. She’s a-changing.
Writer: Jon Rivera
Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Release Date: March 21, 2018
After a year of multiverse-hopping and fighting in the Milk Wars, returning to a normal life of digging and cave-diving just isn’t the same for explorer Cave Carson. Sure, he’s got his podcast, family and that cybernetic eye, but reminiscing about times gone by isn’t the same as living. Luckily for Cave Carson and his daughter Chloe, they’re about to get sucked into an all-new adventure—literally—when they go spelunking into a black hole! But what’s caused this black hole to appear and what’s its connection to the intergalactic music sensation, Adam Starglider?
Paste: What does bridging from “cybernetic” to “interstellar” entail? As your previous run had time travel and realities shards, how do you stretch your scope further into the black hole? What does interstellar mean to you?
Jon Rivera: In the last series, Cave discovered the "Reality Shards", which could transport him to different time periods and realities on Earth, but it's still Earth. This time around, Cave and Chloe are being accidentally thrust into the infinite possibilities of the cosmos. For an expert geologist like Cave, our universe is a playground. There's a new sense of wonder in Cave's heart, and it's incredibly exciting to explore. It's the open, untamed, nature of the cosmos which excites me. The sense of exploration has seeped into other facets of the book as well—we're being much more experimental this time around.
Paste: Will going from underground to the inverted heavens parallel a personal journey for Cave?
Rivera: We're joining Cave and his daughter Chloe about a year after the events of Milk Wars, and close to 2 years after the death of his wife, Mazra. We're catching up with Cave and Chloe at a pretty good point in their own relationship. They've spent this time adventuring together, making a podcast, and getting to know one each other as people. Both of them will be on parallel journeys. Cave will be confronting a dark time from his past courtesy of an old friend, an alien glam rocker named Star Adam. Chloe on the other hand, is questioning whether or not she joined her father's life of adventure for the right reasons. Is she running toward her own future, or hiding from it?
Paste: Cave reached a semblance of familial harmony with issue #12, an intimate counterpoint to the chaos unfurling around him. What relationships are you excited to focus on?
Rivera: I love the relationship between Cave and Chloe, and it's my favorite part of the story to write. They will be joined once again by Marc Bartow, whose relationship with Cave is complex to say the least. He was Cave's mentor and psychedelic guru in the time period between the dissolution of the original Team Carson and the birth of Chloe. The original Bartow died years ago, and our current version is a refugee from an apocalyptic Earth (who Cave rescued in issue #8 of Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye). Since then, they've determined that their realities have an 86% compatibility rating, so most of their memories together are shared, but not all. Bartow compares it to them having seen different cuts of the same film. The nice thing about writing a grumpy character like Cave is exploring the type of people who still care about him.
Paste: Watching the Metal Men interact in Cybernetic Eye was a lot of fun. Are there any other DC toys you’re excited to work with?
Rivera: Cave is an explorer at heart, so we will be venturing into some unseen parts of the DC Universe!
Paste: What has you excited about this next phase that I’m not touching on?
Rivera: I absolutely love our last series: a melancholy, 12-issue story about a family in mourning set against the backdrop of a sprawling action adventure. That being said, I'm even more excited to move in a new direction. The stories we're telling this time are funnier, shorter and more satirical without losing the heart of what made the last series a success. We've already established these characters, and now it's time to set them loose on an unsuspecting, and unprepared universe.
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Ibrahim Moustafa
Release Date: March 28, 2017
After the fallout of Milk Wars, Violet Paige finds herself in a Gotham City unlike any we have seen before. Ten years into the future, in a world without a Batman, Gotham City has been taken over by the Collective, with Gala acting as Head of Citystate. In a high-tech town with zero tolerance toward caped crusaders and masked vigilantes, except for those designed by Gala and her association of aristocratic artisans, what’s a woman who has vowed vengeance to do? And what’s happened to her mother, Rebecca Paige? Perhaps a sad clown who makes balloon toys shaped as tommy guns and machetes on the abandoned Gotham docks has the answers. Find out for yourself as Mother Panic returns to a different Bat-time, different Bat-channel.
Paste: Mother Panic is the most political of the YA books, and its response has only grown in timeliness throughout the year. How do events like the recent tax reform legislation influence your scripts, of do they? How reactive is Mother Panic past the boundaries of fiction?
Jody Houser: The political timeliness of the book ended up being somewhat of a surprise when it first launched last year. We had always planned it to feel modern, but it ended up being more relevant to the moment than we expected. I don't necessarily react to specific events in the news when writing, but certain elements like class divide and anger at the abuses of the powerful have always been central to the story.
Paste: Gotham A.D….Gotham in the Year of Our Lord. Who does the lord refer to in this case? Has Mother Panic ascended to a godlike vengeance?
Houser: The A.D. is more meant to evoke the feel of a different Gotham. The time and place that Mother Panic ends up in after the events of Milk Wars (the Young Animal crossover event that kicks off the second year of the books) isn't the same Gotham that she left. So she has to deal with being in a strange version of the city she knew, with none of the resources she's used to having. And yeah, she's pretty pissed off about it.
Paste: What’s your take on Batman, who's had a nebulous presence throughout this series? Is this the one current DC book where he can be portrayed as the villain?
Houser: While I personally have always loved Batman, Violet Paige does not, and Batman's appearances in Mother Panic have always been colored by that dislike. There will be a new perspective on him and their relationship in the Mother Panic/Batman special (which Ty Templeton is drawing the hell out of). As for Gotham A.D., well, who's to say this version of the city even HAS a Batman?
Paste: What excites you about collaborating with new artist Ibrahim Moustafa?
Houser: I love Ibrahim's take on Mother Panic and the new Gotham... His art definitely has the stylized realism feel we were looking for in this arc, and it works well with the noir feel the book has had before. At the same time, his work feels like the start of a brand-new chapter to Violet's story and a great introduction to this new flavor of Gotham City.
Paste: Martial arts/superhuman strength/tech suit…how do you approach an action scene? Are there any influences or flavors unique to Mother Panic’s sequences?
Houser: Brutality. While Violet does have skill in fighting, she depends much more on her superhuman strength than the heroes we're used to in Gotham. More impulsive, too. At the same time, she wouldn't be a match in a drawn-out fight for members of the Bat family, for example. So she tends to move fast and hard, whether in a fight scene or moving through the city.