Gerard Way’s Young Animal pop-up imprint was a breath of fresh air at DC Comics when it launched in 2016, capturing the vital transgressive spirit of early Vertigo books with a huge dose of the new—and the weird. The imprint’s initial four ongoing series each seemed to exist in their own bizarre world, which made the idea of a crossover—and with the Justice League of America, no less—a bold, unlikely, potentially disastrous step for the line. Thankfully, the heroes of the DC Universe met the Doom Patrol, Shade, Mother Panic and Cave Carson on Young Animal’s turf, resulting in a gloriously weird five-issue “un-event” centered on milk that homogenizes the publisher’s icons into ‘50s-era stereotypes of repression: Batman serves as a priest, Wonder Woman is more of a wonder wife and Milkman Man…well, you’ll need to read the series to find out his deal.
With the five-issue run collected in trade paperback this month, Paste caught up with Young Animal’s three ongoing writers—Shade’s Cecil Castellucci, Mother Panic’s Jody Houser and Cave Carson’s Jon Rivera—to look back on their one-shot contributions to the Milk Wars saga. We also snagged a lactose-filled quote from former Justice League of America writer Steve Orlando, who scripted the two bookending issues and masterminded “Milk Wars” alongside Gerard Way.
“Milk Wars” is everything comics should be: bold, thought-provoking, unflinching and born from the minds of an incredible group of true creatives, through a true collaboration, that I was lucky to be part of,” Orlando said. “The comics I read as a kid bore their way into my brain like a parasite, and it’s my sincere hope “Milk Wars” does the same for a new generation, culturing new bacterial ideas in everyone it touches.”
DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars Interior Art by ACO, Tamra Bonvillain & Marissa Louise
DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars Interior Art by Mirka Andolfo & Marissa Louise
Paste: Loma is divided into different emotional states when this special begins. Why did you choose to go with Happy for the viewpoint perspective? And how does that division help Shade grow from Changing Girl to Changing Woman?
Cecil Castellucci: It could have been any feeling, but I went with Happy because I figured that Happy would notice when they weren’t happy. There’s such a lightness to happiness and a gravity to other feelings and I felt that slight shift would get noticed more quickly. As for the division of emotions causing growth, I feel that when we mature, we begin to examine our feelings more closely. We are more able to take a look at where we are and what we are feeling and maybe even why. We become familiar with surprising shifts in our emotional state. When we are young, a lot of feelings are very raw. They are very heightened because it is the first time we are feeling things so we feel it intensely. I think the division helps Shade to sort out moving from feeling it all at once to figuring out what feelings mean.
Paste: Loma’s view of gender comes from a different context than Diana’s, which is itself pretty different than the average human woman’s. How much of Wonder Wife’s ‘50s-style Happy Homemaker personality clicked with Loma as archaic and how much of it just boiled down to Loma sensing Diana wasn’t happy in that role?
Castellucci: In a way, that archaic gender view is what Loma knows. Loma was obsessed with a 1950s TV show called Life with Honey which was a housewife who lived with a scientist at Los Alamos. So that perspective was her first introduction to Earth. But once Loma arrived here she noticed that Earth was not like what she thought it was. Or that Earth had moved on from that view. I think that Loma realized that something was wrong in her first and then kind of awakens to the world not being as she knew it when she arrived. Then seeing the cracks kind of shakes it all loose. ?
Paste: Mirka Andolfo was an inspired choice for a one-shot about a very repressed version of Wonder Woman, especially with Andolfo’s much more explicit series Unnatural coming out from Image Comics soon. What did she bring to the look and feel of this special?
Castellucci: Yes! Mirka is amazing! I think she brought a real softness to the story that has this fierce center. It is seductive and strong and it is so clear that something is not right in this world. There is also a great playfulness in the way that the Shade’s are drawn.
DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars Interior Art by Ty Templeton & Keiren Smith
Paste: Violet isn’t a huge fan of Batman, but she saves him in her Milk Wars one-shot. Do you think she was at all tempted to rescue the kids and leave Bruce to his priestly fate—or was it too good an opportunity to gloat to pass it up?
Jody Houser: I think this is a situation where Violet knows she’s in way, WAY over her head. She barely acknowledges she’s a hero on the streets of Gotham, let alone when dealing with reality-shattering chaos. As much as she doesn’t like Batman, this is much more his area of expertise.
Paste: You’ve worked on other tie-ins and shared-universe stories before. What made Milk Wars a unique experience for you as a writer? Did Gerard Way, Steve Orlando and the editorial team leave you a good bit of leeway to tell your story?
Houser: This was the only event I’ve worked on where I was able to have in-person story meetings with all of the other writers involved. Hearing everyone’s crazy ideas for their individual books helped me push further with the story I was looking to tell. Plus, this is easily the strangest event I’ve worked on (in the best possible way).
Paste: Ty Templeton’s major past Bat-works tied into the animated series and Batman ‘66. What was it like working with him on a Mother Panic story, given the grittier way Violet’s Gotham is typically depicted in the book?
Houser: Ty’s art and Keiren’s colors were perfect for showing just how far this version of Gather House is from Violet’s normal part of Gotham. In particular, I love the army of “Robins” they designed. Fennec Fox follows Mother Panic into Gotham A.D., so a part of the weirdness they brought to Violet’s world will always be with her.
DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars Interior Art by Langdon Foss & Nick Filardi
Paste: Young Animal is a pretty direct thematic successor to early Vertigo, and Swamp Thing is a foundation of that imprint. How did you feel taking on such a legendary pile of moss and twigs?
Jon Rivera: It was really exciting! I had originally suggested Swamp Thing as a sort of countermeasure to our other distinguished guest stars. They had such a good rhythm going with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, I felt that by the time readers got to the fourth chapter we would need to throw them another curveball. And as you said, he is very important to Vertigo, the imprint which is most influential to Young Animal.
As we went further along in the writing process, I also realized that Swamp Thing fit very well with some of the themes we were exploring regarding the homogenization or reworking of these superhero personalities. We have already seen this character run the gamut from the dark poetic works of Alan Moore, to an 80’s action movie and a kid-friendly, over-the-top 90’s cartoon. I had a lot of fun re-watching the first movie, and that cartoon definitely influenced a sequence in the story which I like to call, “Saturday Morning Wild Dog.”
Paste: Cave’s RetConn’d reality kicks off in a cubicle farm. Do you have any experience in the corporate toil? Was it cathartic to blow it all up? Or is that just a nightmare for an adventurer like Cave?
Rivera: Oh yes, I am no stranger to the grind. Being a freelancer living in Los Angeles, one of the big challenges is often juggling your day job and your dream job simultaneously. It’s very apropos for comic book work, as you often feel like you’re balancing a public and secret identity at work. When we meet Cave at the beginning of Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, he is also stuck working for EBX, so it was fun to drop him back into his own personal hell. I feel like Cave is at his best when he is extremely frustrated.
Paste: You’ve worked with Michael Avon Oeming for the rest of your Cave Carson saga. What did Langdon Foss bring to this one-shot?
Rivera: Langdon Foss was a wonderful surprise for me. Due to scheduling, I had written most of the script before I knew he would be drawing it. After building such a rapport with Michael Oeming on the main series, I was a little anxious to see this world through a new set of eyes. But Landon nailed it from the moment I saw his rough pencils, that first big splash image made me fall completely in love with his style. It was also very complimentary to the tone of the series, because I do love seeing terrible gross things being depicted in very clean, cartoony, art styles. I believe it adds a nice bit of contrast to those moments. Also, we were lucky enough to have both our letterer, Clem Robbins, and colorist Nick Filardi join us from the main series. I think it all tied together really well!
DC/Young Animal: Milk Wars Interior Art by Dale Eaglesham, Tamra Bonvillain & Marissa Louise