Sunday, May 23, 2010

Casey Jones: Badass or Loser?

The other day, I was thinking about my favorite character in the TMNT universe: Casey Jones. I was thinking about his timeline throughout the publication of the Mirage comics, I was thinking about his interactions with the Turtles, I was thinking about his accomplishments over the course of the series and I was thinking about what he was like as a person. And you know what? It suddenly dawned on me:

Casey Jones is a total loser.

If you strip Casey Jones of the more outrageous elements of his character, the hockey masks, the mutant turtle drinking buddies and the swashbuckling ninja adventures, and try to look at Casey as if he were a real person in the real world… wow, you’d be ashamed to say you knew the guy.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Casey. Even after all this contemplation, he’s still my favorite Turtles character, but if I stop to think about him realistically and objectively, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that he’s rather pathetic.

Let’s take a look!

*Early life

The only glimpse into Arnold Casey Jones’s life prior to meeting the Turtles was relayed to us in the story “Hun” by Tristan Jones (Tales Vol. 2 #56), partially adapted from his origin as seen in the 4Kids cartoon series. Here, we find out that Casey was always a tough kid that liked to fight, but hated street gangs, particularly after his father was killed by a gangbanger named Hun, who torched the family business to the ground and proceeded to beat Casey within an inch of his life.

We later find out that the beating Casey took left him with a sort of brain damage, resulting in mood swings and self-destructive behavior (whether it affected his intellect is uncertain). Casey then proceeded to live in the basement of his mother’s apartment building all the way up until his twenties (TMNT Vol. 1 #61), working as the building’s “handyman” (“superintendant” would be a bit generous). Between handyman gigs, he also briefly worked as a bouncer at a bar named Torchy’s, beating people up for fun and profit (TMNT Vol. 1 #10).

Exactly what kind of an education Casey has is unknown. It seems pretty clear that the guy never went to college, at least, and judging by the IQ level he regularly displays, I have my doubts he even finished high school.

Try to imagine someone you know in their twenties who never went to college, may have even dropped out of high school, and currently lives in their mother’s basement. Now try to imagine that their idea of “work” is going to a bar and beating people up. Then, in Casey’s case, he either quit that job or got fired so he could become a masked vigilante, beating up purse-snatchers for the shear thrill of it.

That last part may sound kind of badass, but think about everything else you’ve just read in conjunction with it.

*Casey Jones: Outlaw Hero…? Yeah, right.

Okay, so what you may be thinking now is, “Hey, Casey may be a brain-damaged lunatic with no formal education who lives in his mom’s basement getting drunk all day, but he’s still a hero out to help the little guy!”

Is that so?

I see Casey as a guy who simply likes beating people up with only a fractured moral compass keeping him from being a criminal (trivia: in the eyes of the law, vigilantes are considered criminals). When not on the prowl in his hockey mask, we already know that Casey enjoys getting into bar fights, whether it’s as a bouncer or as a patron. His hatred for Hun and street gangs may have initiated his decision to become a vigilante, but I think his inherent desire to pummel people for the adrenaline is his primary motivator.

His first appearance in Raphael (microseries) #1 showed just how unbalanced he is in his delivery of “justice”, beating purse-snatchers to within an inch of their life because he got a sadistic sort of satisfaction out of it. You may think his cause justifies his methods, as he’s out to protect the innocent, but he’s contradicted that philosophy on a number of occasions.

I think the most glaring instance occurred in TMNT (Vol. 1) #12, “Survivalists”. At the beginning of that issue, he and April are having a picnic when an innocent man on the run from terrorists stumbles onto their get-together. The man is clearly distraught, screaming for help and injured. What does Casey do? He hoists him up by his collar, pulls back his fist and threatens to beat him to a pulp for ruining his picnic, stopped only at the behest of April.

Yeah, a real hero, alright.

Casey would later mellow out in the rage department, particularly after Shadow was born and he had to temporarily give up the vigilante lifestyle. Regardless of that, he never seemed like someone who was out to help the little guy as much as he seemed like someone with a crushing psychological need to shove sporting equipment down the throats of strangers.

In the real world, we call that a “bully”. Ever bump into someone’s shoulder by accident, turn around and say a sincere “excuse me, my bad”, only to have the guy you “offended” explode at you in a screaming rage? Maybe it ends with a hockey stick up your ass, or maybe it just ends with them cursing you out and storming away, so angry you’d think you just shoved their grandmother down an elevator shaft. The point is that Casey is “that guy”. Bump into him on the street and apologize and, well, you’re probably going to get the hockey stick up the ass.

*I’m not as think as you drunk I am!

In the world of fiction and social get-togethers, drinking is “cool”. Nothing says “badass” like a guy who knocks back some whiskey then gets into a barroom brawl for the fun of it.

You know what isn’t cool in fiction or in social get-togethers? Debilitating alcoholism. Guess who suffers from that setback?

Throughout most of TMNT Volume 1, Casey was just the hard-drinking “badass” stereotype, getting drunk with Raph and kicking ass. Then by the time “Shades of Grey” (TMNT Vol. 1 #48) came along, we found out that Casey had a serious drinking problem that went from “badass” to “pathetic”. After killing a teenager in self-defense on a routine vigilante mission (nothing says “badass” like killing a kid!), Casey retreats to his farm in Northampton (which was left to him by his deceased grandmother, by the way; he didn’t “earn” it) to avoid the legal repercussions of, you know, killing someone. He then proceeds to hit the bottle hard and in the process loses April, gets his ass beat by Don and pretty much flushes his whole life down the tubes (leaving the rather irritated Turtles to make excuses and take responsibility for him to another vigilante, Nobody).

This eventually sends him on a road trip to "find himself" where he winds up as the world’s fastest widower and most ill-prepared single parent. He eventually returns to New York a changed man, but by “changed man” I mean that he just ends up living off of his girlfriend, April, in the exact same way he lived off his mother for most of his adult life: in the basement as a "handyman". Oh, and he still has his drinking problem. So, he’s pretty much exactly where he was when he started his journey of self-improvement, except now he has an infant daughter to take care of. Awesome.

Casey’s drinking problems never really go away, but depending on what continuity fork road you take, they might take a brief break.

In the Image TMNT Volume 3 series, which was the official continuation of the Mirage series at the time, Casey never got over his drinking problem even for a moment. In TMNT Vol. 3 #7, after being promoted to “assistant produce manager” at the grocery store (an esteemed rank reserved primarily for teenagers and illegal immigrants), Casey celebrated by getting completely wasted. After finding out that Shadow had been kidnapped by the Foot, he then proceeded to get even drunker, crawling from bar to bar, culminating in getting his ass kicked by a bunch of street urchins and having to be saved by the Turtles.

Even with a newborn baby to look after, Casey still didn’t have the fortitude to keep his drinking in check. Hooray! Drinking is cool!

Head on over to Mirage’s TMNT Volume 4 (which replaced Image’s TMNT Volume 3 in continuity), Casey managed to let go of his drinking problems for a few years. In Tales Vol. 2 #9, in the story “Community Service Brought you by…”, Casey even takes up motivational speaking to a bunch of youths, warning them away from violence and various other vices he was probably indulging himself in as little as a week prior. But by Tales Vol. 2 #60, which takes place after TMNT Vol. 4 #23, Casey is back to being a drunken douche. April’s left him once again (going on about her tenth soul quest to “find herself” in the series) and Casey solves the dilemma by drinking himself silly and getting into a fight with Raph, who by this point has been mutated into hulking Gamera-like monster (don’t ask).

Casey’s drinking didn’t end there; by TMNT Vol. 4 #29 he drank so much he proved useless in a bar fight, had to be rescued by Karai and wound-up “spending the night at her place”. We’ve yet to see what that completely entailed.

You wanna know what’s cool about “drinking responsibly”? Everything! You have a blast with your friends, you take lots of hilarious photos, you crash on their sofa; good times!

You wanna know what’s cool about alcoholism? Nothing. It just ends in spousal abuse, child abuse and probably jail time.

Casey’s drinking isn’t the “badass” kind of drinking. It’s the “get yourself to an AA meeting this minute before you hurt the people you love… some more” kind of drinking.

*Dude, you’re creepin’ me out, here.

Hey, all you guys in your mid-twenties reading this, I want you to go try something. Go out and make friends with a bunch of fifteen year-olds. Then, buy them beer whenever they ask and get drunk with them. Then, get into fights with them that result in lots of playful “wrestling”.

On second thought, don’t try that. And if you have even two brain cells in your skull, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.

Let’s take a look at Casey. The guy’s at least in his early twenties (he was a bouncer at a bar, so yeah, he has to be in his twenties) and his best friends are all fifteen year-olds. In fact, if the visual evidence is any indication, his only friends are fifteen year-olds. Fifteen year-olds he gets drunk and fights with all the time. Forget calling the police, what the Hell does Splinter have to say about all this?

Now, setting aside the creepy pedophilic connotations his relationship with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might imply, I have to ask you this; how many of you know people in their twenties who hang out exclusively with high schoolers? Uh huh. Yeah. Okay. Now, tell me; how many of them are “badass”?

That’s what I thought.

In the real world, college kids or guys in their twenties who hang out with high schoolers only hang out with them because they’re such tremendous losers no one their own age wants to speak to them. Most of the time, the teenagers idol-worship the older kid through a sense of awe and ill-placed respect; “I can’t believe that older kid thinks I’m cool-enough to hang out with him! He must think I’m mature beyond my years and worthy of grown-up conversation!”

Those savvy enough to see through the ruse realize that the guy in his twenties is simply a man-child whose brain never left the walls of his high school.

That’s Casey in a nutshell. You can blame it on the brain damage, sure, but at the end of the day, the only people in the world he can relate to are fifteen. And even then, most of the Turtles seem to just accept him with a sigh of bemusement, not thinking especially much of him, as they regularly out-fight and out-think him. Rather than the teenagers tagging along with the older kid, he’s the older kid tagging along with the teenagers.

*Well, that’s, like, just your opinion, man. Who are you to judge?

Yeah, that’s right, who am I to judge?

To take the Devil’s Advocate here, I’m labeling Casey as a “loser” after comparing him to standard societal accomplishments and traits that would define a success. Does he have a college education? No. Lots of sophisticated friends his own age? No. A steady office job? No. A house in the suburbs? No.

But does that all really matter when you realize that Casey is happy and perfectly content with his station in life?

The guy has a loving family; a wife and daughter. He has a roof over his head and he’s surrounded by people who sincerely care about him despite his laundry list of character defects. He gets to do what he loves every day and, at least later on in his career, his work has made a difference in a lot of people’s lives.

And then he’s also done a whole lot of really cool shit like fighting mystical shark-monsters and ninja hordes, and you’d be a liar if you said you didn’t think that was awesome.

So is Casey really a “loser” if he has all that going for him? Maybe the real “loser” is the guy spending his Sunday writing an essay about a comic book character?

Oh snap.


Casey Jones is sort of like Hank Pym from The Avengers, only without all the wife-beating. He’s a guy with a lot of issues and, yeah, he can be pretty pathetic when you stop to think about him, but that’s one of the things that makes him so compelling.

Casey wouldn’t be so much fun if he wasn’t such a loser, if you ask me. When he puts on his hockey mask and starts kicking the crap out of Foot Soldiers and gangbanging ethnic stereotypes, you can’t help but swoon at how cool he is. But when he gets home and takes his mask off, you see a totally different side of him; the guy that still lives in his mom’s basement and hangs out with teenagers because he’s a brain-damaged manchild with drinking issues.

Yeah, in the real world we’d probably ostracize anyone who met even a fraction of such criteria, but this is comics. And in comics, that results in a “loveable loser”.

And hey, for a guy with a drinking problem, he’s never once hit his wife. How many of you alcoholics can say that?