If you could live in any town depicted in a comic book universe, where would it be?
If you didn't answer "Astro City," you've probably never really immersed yourself into the world created by writer Kurt Busiek. But now is a good time to start, because the series is returning in June after a too-long hiatus, launching a new Astro City #1.
Working with Brent Anderson on interiors and Alex Ross on character designs and covers, Busiek has crafted a now beloved superhero universe within the confines of one city's rich history. Astro City is a mecca for superheroes, and the city's skies and streets are filled with costumed heroes that are familiar to the avid and loyal readers. Yet the Astro City comics are very character-focused, and they're told from the viewpoint of a wide variety of city residents, including those with and without powers.
The comic will now be published by DC Entertainment, having previously been part of the company's now eliminated WildStorm imprint. As Busiek told MTV Geek last week, it took him three years to get the series back in full swing because he was battling illness. Now that's he's feeling better, the series is back on track, and the creative team has even finished a few issues that are "in the drawer," ready to be published, giving them a head start on the comic's new ongoing status.
Newsarama chatted with Busiek to find out more about his plans for the series, how the end of WildStorm affected his plans, and what readers can expect from the first few issues of Astro City.
Newsarama: Kurt, fans were a little worried when WildStorm went away that it might impact Astro City. How did it affect your plans for the title?
Kurt Busiek: I can't say it did, really, other than by creating a little temporary uncertainty.
The plan after finishing up the two-part Silver Agent special was always to take a break to build up some material, and then return with an ongoing monthly series. So we're still doing that; it just took us a lot longer than we thought it would, but that was due far more to my health problems than to what was going on with WildStorm.
The uncertainty was mainly just an inevitability of living in the Internet age. There was no way for Jim Lee and the others to let WildStorm creators know what was going on and make plans for the future ahead of time, because the minute they started telling the staff that WildStorm was closing, it was going to be all over the internet — as indeed it was. And fair's fair — they had to let the staff know first.
So the news broke as they were telling the staff — and working things out with WildStorm employees was not something that was only going to take a few minutes. It was a drawn-out process, meeting individually with each staffer, talking about where things were going, whether they'd want to come along in the move, uprooting themselves from where they were living, etc. And all that had to be done before they could address the question of what happens to the individual books.
So I got calls from Jim, Hank [Kanalz] and others that first day, saying that things were hectic and there was all this to be done but we'd talk as soon as possible, which was fine with me. But it meant that for a couple of weeks, at least, I was getting all kinds of questions about the future of the book, and didn't have any answers. And that, in turn, generated more Internet speculation.
In the end, though, what it boiled down to was that DC still wanted to publish Astro City, and I've been happy with how they've done it over the years. The main question wasn't, "Will it continue?" but "What imprint bullet will be on the cover?"
Nrama: We finally learned it will say "DC" on the front. But I think now people are curious about the tone of the Astro City story we'll see this time around, as you launch the next volume of the title.
Busiek: Well, you're going to see a bunch of different stories. The first new issue is a single-issue story, then there's a two-parter, then probably a couple more single-issue stories — we've got a bunch of material done, but we're not 100% sure what order to put them out in. As I'd been working on the book during our hiatus, I just wrote whatever stories I could, and I'll figure out how to bridge between them and keep background elements developing appropriately as we go along.Anyway, I hate to tell much about what's coming — I always prefer the readers get it from reading the book, but I will say that we'll be meeting some new characters and some old characters, and checking in with a few of the human-level characters that were introduced years ago on a day that a big cosmic event happens in town. So there's a little looking back, a lot of looking forward, a number of surprises as things are set up to be explored, and a turning point or two. It's got a variety of tones, I'd say, from stirring to sentimental, from tentative to megalomaniacal.
Nrama: When does this first story take place in the Astro City continuity?
Busiek: Now. Or, I guess, June 5th, since that's when the book comes out. It's set in the present, in the city as it exists today. So, since Astro City progresses more or less in real time, everyone's a bit older than when we last saw them, and life rolls on…
Nrama: Through whose eyes is the story told? And what character is the focus?
Busiek: That's an interesting question, for the first issue, because it's not a simple answer. The issue's narrated by the Broken Man, a character as important to the new era of Astro City as the Silver Agent was to previous issues.
The focus character is Ben Pullam, whom we last saw in 1996, moving to Astro City as the single father of two young girls. Now it's years later, the girls have grown up, and he's figuring out what to do with his life.
And the Iron Legion is in town, a new hero named American Chibi shows up, a cosmic envoy named The Ambassador makes his presence known…it's a busy day, even by Astro City standards.
As to whose eyes the story is told through, different people may have different opinions on that. The Broken Man certainly has an unusual perspective, and that gets explored, too.
Nrama: Is there a certain theme you're exploring?
Busiek: I wouldn't want to announce it ahead of time — ideally, the effect the story has on the reader should come from reading the story. If Brent, Alex and I have done our jobs right, then that'll be communicated through reading the book, and if we haven't, telling them what we were aiming at won't help.
I will say, though, that looking back, if there's an overall theme to what we've done so far in Astro City, it seems to be about bruised hope.
The people of Astro City, whether longtime residents or newcomers, superheroes or ordinary citizens, tend to have been knocked around by life in one way or another, swept up by forces they can't control. If they retain hope, if they keep an open heart, things seem to work out for them, but if they despair they may be lost. I don't know if that's something I believe, or if it's just the way the stories have worked, but it seems to be a pattern that recurs a lot.
And if that's my theme — keep trying, whatever the odds, because it beats the alternative — well, that's not a bad one to have, I'd say.
Nrama: I'd say that's a great theme. As the stories for Astro City continues, what other stories are you hoping to explore?
Busiek: We've got a lot to do — we'll be seeing some things that readers have wanted for a long time, like the origin of Winged Victory, and a look at her relationship with Samaritan. We'll be seeing the "new" Confessor, though by now he's hardly a newcomer to the role. We'll see new heroes, new villains, and of course new characters who are either just ordinary people — like the woman who works the switchboard at the Honor Guard crisis line to the organized-crime guy with his thumb into business that goes on in Astro City's rivers and what powerful artifacts that leads him to. We'll meet the executive assistant to a sorcerer, check in with Mattie Sullivan, the telekinetic who supplies special effects for movies and TV, and even get an issue devoted to one of the Menagerie Gang first seen in our debut issue, and explore just what kind of man likes to dress up in fancy costumes to commit crimes.
We've got plans to explore suburban life on an alien world, meet a talking gorilla who dreams of being a professional musician, learn about secret government organizations in the Roaring Twenties, and so on.
And behind all that, just as there was a building mystery in the previous material about the Silver Agent and his looming fate, there's going to be a running thread about the Broken Man, who you'll meet as the Broken Man in our first issue, but who you may have met before. And whose history goes back a long way in Astro City, and whose mission involves an unusual number of Astro City's heroes, whether they know it or not.
And that's just scratching the surface. I haven't mentioned the teen-sidekick road trip arc or the resurrection quest. Or the extra-dimensional beings so scared of one of Honor Guard's enemies that they'll do anything to be safe from him. Or Penny Bright, the eternal teenager, or the Ore-Master, or...
Nrama: Wow! I want to read all of them now! But since we're still a few months off from the first issue back, I'll just finish up by saying, is there anything else you want to tell fans about the return of Astro City?
Busiek: I'll add that we've got the whole team back — me, Brent, Alex, Alex Sinclair, John Roshell and Comicraft — and everyone's doing terrific work. The pages I've been seeing from Brent lately are some of his best ever, and Alex's new covers are just shatteringly good. It's great to be back in the swing of things again, and I can't wait for June.
If the readers are half as excited as we are, it's going to be a fun, fun summer. And beyond.
Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!