New readers will get an introduction to the world of Astro City in June, as the acclaimed comic book series is starting with a new #1 at DC Comics.
The new DC ongoing will kick off a series of "done-in-one" stories that will introduce new readers to the world created by writer Kurt Busiek.
As the writer told Newsarama in March, the story in June's Astro City #1 will feature many costumed characters, but will be told through the eyes of Ben Pullam, a non-powered resident of Astro City. It will also introduce a character called the Broken Man, a hero who will narrate the issue.
The comic, which now has volumes dating back to 1995 at various publishers, will now be published on an ongoing basis by DC Entertainment, having previously been part of the company's WildStorm imprint.
Astro City returns after a three-year hiatus because Busiek was battling illness during that time. 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 Anderson and Busiek to find out more about the themes explored in the first issue, why the Broken Man is so important, and what readers can expect from the ongoing status of Astro City.
Newsarama: Kurt, since you've had a few years hiatus on Astro City, was your design for this new #1 to introduce new readers to this world?
Kurt Busiek: Well, we always want to do that with each #1 issue [of a new volume]. There's always a story that says, "Come on in. Here's what it's like. We're showing you the lay of the land."
So, yes, this first story, in this new series, was designed that way, not because we knew we'd be coming back from a long hiatus, but because we knew we'd be starting off a new run. Even if it came out three or four months after that last one, we'd still reintroduce people.
For this issue, I didn't know we would be gone for three years before it would be published. I started working on this new issue immediately after we finished up the last stuff. It was only because I was sick for so long that the series was delayed until this point.
But if you look at the first issue of any of our book collections, it always serves as a way for people to start the series. Volume 1 starts with the Samaritan story, Volume 2 starts with the guy who becomes Altar Boy, Volume 3 starts with Ben Pullam and his family coming to the city.
So that's always our intent as we start a new volume. There's always a chance to pick up new readers. And we always want to make sure they're welcome.
Nrama: Brent, you've designed a lot of characters and concepts for this series. Is it getting to the point where you're comfortable with this place and the type of characters that inhabit Astro City? Is it getting easier?
Brent Anderson: I'd like to say that, but nothing about Astro City is easy. It's a challenge. Every single new character, every new storyline — each one is a unique challenge, which keeps me on my toes, but it also keeps things interesting.
If it ever got easy, I'd probably get bored, and I'd want to move on, because the challenge wouldn't be there.
Busiek: One of the things that Brent has to deal with all the time is, I won't just say, "Here's a new character. Design it so they look cool." I go, "Here's a new character that would have debuted in 1968. Make him look cool in a way that looks appropriate to 1968."
So the characters have to feel right for the time period. They have to feel right for whatever sub-genre of superhero adventure they had their root in. It's not just, make up a cool costume that shows what the characters can do. It's, cement this character to a time and a place and an attitude and a style.
I can only imagine... no, I don't have to imagine how much of a challenge it is. I make Brent do it. And I get to see.
Anderson: Well, you make the job easier, Kurt, because you're very knowledgeable about those time periods, and you have enough of a visual sense that you can convey what it is about the iconography of a particular hero during a particular time period, and I learn a lot that way.
Busiek: Yeah, but unfortunately, what you're learning is, here's the artistic sensibilities of 1957, something that will probably not be useful to you in any other context. But hey, it's learning!
Anderson: Unless I'm doing retro commissions at conventions.
Nrama: One of the things that's cool about this series is that the characters do age, and the younger characters move forward and become a little older. Is there a new batch of characters that are going to be thrown in there with this volume? Are they younger? Is there any kind of a new attitude?
Busiek: There will be new characters appearing, but they won't be appearing all at once. I mean, we've seen new characters arising over the years. A lot of the characters are still around as we pick up this series. The current Confessor has been around for 10 years at this point, but he was a kid when he started out. Samaritan's getting older, but that doesn't really affect him.
But characters like Quarrel and Crackerjack, we're going to do a story about the fact that, you know, these are acrobats. They don't have superpowers and they depend on their physical gymnastics skills and they're probably in their 50s by now.
That's not the kind of story you can generally get in a superhero series, where most superhero series time doesn't grow forward like that.
We've seen that there's a new generation of the First Family growing up. When we next see them, they'll be few years older and we'll learn more about them.
We're going to introduce new characters organically as they naturally come up.
Anderson: I noticed that Alex is painting Samaritan with a little age on his face these days too. I'm pleasantly surprised to see he's going to age a little since 1995, when we last saw him.
Nrama: Ben Pullam is at the center of the issue, and he's not one of the powered heroes. Can you tell us anything about what role he plays in the introduction of where Astro City is now?
Busiek: Well, I don't want to say too much, because I don't want to give away the story. And he's at the center of it.
But I will say that it works very well to address the question of what is Astro City and where is it now, specifically because he's asking himself the question, "Who am I now? Where am I? And where am I going?"
When we first met him, he was new to Astro City and he had two young daughters. And his whole life was about taking care of his daughters so they could grow up safe and develop into adults. But now, he's not a newcomer to the city. He's an old hand in the city. But his daughters are out of the house. One of them is out in the working world, and the other one is a graduate student at Stanford. And they visit. But he's an empty nester, and he's trying to figure out what he's going to do with his life.
And trying to figure that out in the context of Astro City, where superhero stuff is hopping all the time, gives us a road into saying, "This is what Astro City is like; this is the sort of thing that happens here." So here's a guy with a question about his life that's being mirrored and amplified and resonated with the superhero action around him.
Anderson: I love the parallels with this book and throughout my life, because I'm about to become an empty nester this year.
Busiek: I do all this stuff backwards myself. I wrote Marvels, which was about a guy who had two daughters, and I wrote Astro City Volume 2 #1, which was about a guy who had two daughters. In both cases, about a year and a half or two years apart. And then after that, I had two daughters, about a year and a half or two years apart.
So my daughters are younger than Ben's daughters, and younger than Phil Sheldon's daughters [from Marvels]. So I have to work out what happens to Ben fictionally before I get to see it happen in front of me, which I think is unfair, but that's just the way it works.
Nrama: Can you tell us anything about the Broken Man that is narrating this #1 issue?
Busiek: He's crazy. He's got a very unconventional relationship with reality. And in an ordinary situation, a person with an unconventional relationship with reality would be considered a lunatic. In his case, it's a superpower. And he is connected to a great deal of what's been going on through Astro City history.
If the story of the Silver Agents in the last set of Astro City books was a story where we eventually got at some core questions about why Astro City is the way it is, the Broken Man is a way that will get us even deeper into those questions, because he has experienced and witnessed and been involved in this stuff deeper than any other character we've seen so far.
But like I said, he has a very eccentric relationship with reality, which means that the way we're going to find this stuff out is not going to be terribly straightforward.
Anderson: The Broken Man is a character that can only exist in the unique world of comic books. From my point of view.
Busiek: Right. You'd have to adapt him. You'd have to change things about him in order to have him in another form.
But I'll tell you, he's a hero. Or at least someone who thinks of himself as a hero. And he's fighting a war that requires him to bring together the help he needs in a very unusual way, but he can't go to the big, main superheroes — the Samaritans and Confessors — because in this war that he's fighting, they've already been compromised.
So he's fighting the war in the background. He's fighting the war in the shadows. And he's got to keep it under cover.
Anderson: Equal portions of paranoia and self-importance.
Busiek: We only have his word for it, at present, that the war he's fighting is important. He considers it very, very important. And he considers himself very, very important. But whether he is or not is something we'll have to discover over time.
Nrama: How many issues is this first story arc? You told me it was only one issue, right?
Busiek: Yes, the first story is a single-issue story. The first six issues are all actually single-issue stories, much as we did back with the first six issues.
But the Broken Man story is much, much larger. Just as the first issue of the series introduced Samaritan, and it was a complete story, but we had a lot more to do with Samaritan.
The Broken Man is making his debut in a single issue story, but the issues that he's dealing with — the stuff that he introduces — is going to come up many times in the stories to follow.
Nrama: It's been awhile since I asked you about the Astro City film rights. Has the option with Working Title lapsed?
Busiek: The Working Title option lapsed. But we're in the middle of a new negotiation with somebody else.
But because we're in the middle of it, I can't really say anything about it yet.
But yeah, there always seems to be stuff swirling around. But this is the Hollywood game, that things move and then they stop. And then they move and then they stop. And then they go in a different direction. And then they start over. And hopefully, at the end of all that, something happens. But there seems to be, always, motion, whether it's productive motion, you don't get to find out for a few years.
Nrama: Well, hopefully this return through DC can get the series back in front of people's eyes in Hollywood and we can see something with it. Although, like Brent was saying, there are some characters that only work in comics, so it will be interesting to see what they could do with it in another medium.
Busiek: Right. In the end, our goal is to make Astro City what it is as comics. And if it becomes something else, that's a nice side dish.
If we were trying to create something that would become a movie, we would have created something with, you know, four major characters — not 150.
For years, I told people that I didn't think Astro City could become a movie. But the movie-making technology has caught up to the point where it's actually possible now.
But we're working on the book. We're just trying to make the book as good as we can. And if we get other opportunities out of it, that's cool. But it's not the aim.