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Spotlight

Joe Casey and Ulises Fariñas Riff off Classic ’90s Image in New Lieutenants of Metal

By Jakob Free

The inside front cover of a debut comic traditionally lists the names of the talent who labored to produce it. In New Lieutenants of Metal #1, that real estate pays respect to something entirely different: a heavy metal playlist and dedication to the founding members of Image Comics.

"The entire series is dedicated to them," says Joe Casey, the co-creator and writer behind NLOM. "New Lieutenants of Metal is really an old-school Image comic book, where action and ideas are splooged all over the pages with reckless abandon. The founders’ original series were bursting with unbridled energy. That was the point, I felt. These were creators who were finally unchained, and they held nothing back."

NLOM artist/co-creator Ulises Fariñas taps into that unbridled energy and sense of freedom to bring the New Lieutenants to bounding, kinetic life. The first order of business for the artist? "Big biceps bulging! I loved drawing these ridiculous fight scenes where fists go through faces and experimenting with a more iconic art style. Drawing each character so that they all have their own unique silhouette really allowed me to stretch the expressiveness in each scene."

And big biceps abound in NLOM. The first member of the NLOM the reader encounters, Steppenwulf, is the epitome of gargantuan musculature, with a name that pays homage to the late '60s Canadian shredders. He also introduces the titular team, a heavy-metal-music-themed band of superheroes. At the start of the debut issue, Steppenwulf steps into a therapist’s office to undergo a process called "de-metaling," whereby all heavy metal music, clothing, and anything associated with the cathartic musical expression are removed from his person. His compatriots literally crash the session, arriving in the "Metal Jet" to abscond with their teammate and search for Manowarrior, a missing team member. To find him, Steppenwulf cuts his therapy short and rejoins the team. Along the way the NLOM encounter sentient monster trucks and nefarious boyband acts in a psychedelic, explosive Saturday morning cartoon of a comic book.

NLOM isn't the first time Casey and Fariñas have collaborated. The pair worked on the 2013 Dark Horse postmodern superhero collage, Catalyst Comix, but Fariñas was on board before a script had even been written for the creators’ latest venture. "During the development process, we basically talked about the characters and the type of book it was going to be and pretty much left it at that," Casey explains. "Once I was sending him Marvel-style plots (using a specific format I lifted from mid-'90s Scott Lobdell [comics]), I trusted Ulises to do his thing. A few years later… and here we are. Let the head banging begin."

"[That’s] the great thing about working with Joe," Fariñas says. "We’d just hang out for a bit at [Comic-Con International: San Diego], talk about what we wanted to make, and then… we made it."

The prime directive was upholding the tenants of NLOM, where bombastic idea generation and erupting energy take precedence. As long as those elements were in place, the pair trusted each other in a way that allowed for a natural exploration of ideas. "Our working process was different this time out. It was a lot more organic than our previous work together,” Casey explains. “Honestly, I had no idea what Ulises was going to come back with, but I knew it’d be not only something unique, but something that would play against type when it came to the style of comic book New Lieutenants of Metal strives to be."

Outside of '90s comics, NLOM is both inspired and fueled by ’70s/’80s heavy metal music. The aforementioned playlist spotlights power chord pioneers like AC/DC and Judas Priest, bands that balanced virtuosic skill with infernal fury. And despite the Lieutenants being new, Casey doesn't pay much mind to recent metal acts. "I’m a classic metal guy. Maybe I’m just an analog kinda guy, but it’s also the stuff I grew up with, and thus I pledge my everlasting allegiance."

Casey's sensibilities transcend his devotion to the era, though; the series gives him an avenue to grind an axe, literally, against the state of pop music, with a group of antagonists called the Boy Band Nation pitting their manufactured saccharine harmonies against the NLOM.

"Personally, I don’t listen to tween pop crap as a general rule, but I realize that stuff has always existed in our sick and twisted culture," Casey says. "For NLOM, we wanted the bad guys to be as diametrically opposed to the tenets of metal as anyone possibly could be. To me, every musical movement is a response to whatever’s being shoved down our throats by the corporate masters. And, of course, in our book, it’s not necessarily about music. It’s about an ethos. It’s about a lifestyle."

New Lieutenants of Metal is also a response, a call to arms, or an attempt to return to the glory days of Image Comics. "All of those ’92 launch books practically exploded off the racks,” Casey continues. “They were wild and undisciplined and oftentimes barely coherent… but that’s exactly what was great about them. It’s a tough thing to quantify, but that’s what we’re trying to do with our book. Good taste is not high on our agenda but having fun definitely is."

New Lieutenants of Metal #1 debuts on July 4, 2018.