Astro City has been twisting and reconstructing familiar superhero tropes for 22 years, but this week's issue hits a new level of … well, cuteness. As series creator Kurt Busiek describes the story that kicks off in Astro City #47, "what happens when your crime-fighting powers come from a source that’s dedicated, capable…and adorable?"
The new story, which focuses on unlikely superhero who's half man-half dog (and just wait - you'll fall in love with the dog), is a change of scenery for readers of the series. Astro City just finished a storyline focused on the Broken Man, a character who breaks the Fourth Wall and speaks to readers - something he did plenty in the last few issues. But with Astro City #47, the plot sort of returns readers to the series' regularly scheduled program, pondering the origin of G-Dog, the latest hero to hit the streets of Astro City.
The title, which is being published in its latest volume by Vertigo (after stints at Image Comics and WildStorm), has been illustrated by Brent Anderson for most of its 20-years-plus run. But for the corgi-centered story that starts this week, Busiek is teaming with Mike Norton, Battlepug artist and one of Busiek's collaborators on the DC weekly Trinity.
Newsarama talked to Busiek about what motivated his Broken Man story, what readers learn about humanity from a half dog-half man superhero, and what's coming up next in Astro City.
Newsarama: Kurt, in the last few issues, you've really been playing with the thin line between fiction and reality, using the Broken Man to break the Fourth Wall. Was that something you wanted to do with the series for a while? Or did you feel like it was always there in Astro City?
Kurt Busiek: It’s something we’ve been doing since the first issue of the Vertigo run, actually - whenever the Broken Man has cropped up, he’s been able to see the readers, and has been intent on using us to help with his mission against the Oubor. So it’s been going on for a while, though it’s come to a head in this last storyline, since the past six Brent-drawn issues have been a kind of cracked history of Astro City as seen through the experiences of the various counterculture/music heroes who are tied in to the Broken Man.
So he’s been our focus - more or less - and that’s brought his direct communication with us to the fore a bit more.
To be honest, I didn’t originally come up with the idea that became the Broken Man for Astro City - I originally conceived it in the wake of Trinity, when Dan Didio invited me to do something else for DC and encouraged me to come up with some sort of dream project.
I was exhausted from the weekly treadmill of Trinity, and my “dream project” ideas got pretty weird - at one point, I had this outline for an interlocking series of mini-series involving the Dreambound, Tomorrow Woman, and a few others, including an old Steve Ditko hero named the Odd Man. And my idea was to make him odder still, a character who wasn’t quite connected to his reality, to the point that he could see ours, and was using it as part of a plan to coordinate all these other heroes in some epic struggle that was happening on an unimaginable plane of reality.
Anyway, I really didn’t have the health to pursue any of the ideas I’d come up with, so they all fell by the wayside. But I realized that the ideas I’d cooked up for the Odd Man would fit some thematic elements that had gone on in the background of Astro City, and some characters already in there. So we built the Broken Man out of that, and he fit into Astro City wonderfully. And his story has become as important to the series as the Silver Agent’s story was, earlier in the run.
They’re actually connected, in ways we’ve only been able to hint at, so far.
Nrama: How did the Broken Man story you just finished set the stage for what's to come in Astro City?
Busiek: Ordinarily, what I’d say is that they’re all stories - they’re about what happens in the story, not about what repercussions they might have for the future, since Astro City isn’t a series that’s really plugged in to the idea of constantly setting up and paying off thriller plots. We’d rather explore the characters and their lives than make everything a set-up to keep the readers eager for answers.
But, well, the Broken Man has been all about mysteries that need answers, and his battle with the Oubor is one of a couple underlying plots that’s driving the series, underneath everything else. So yeah, these six issues have been setting the stage, mostly by letting the reader know the origin of the Broken Man and the history behind him, which are things that (as the Broken Man has said himself) we’ll need to know to understand the danger that’s coming.
The Oubor’s still out there, threatening not only the world of Astro City, but our world, and all other worlds. So now that we know that, we can be of more help in the fight…!
Nrama: Let's talk about this week's issue, Astro City #47. What can readers expect after the conclusion of the Broken Man issues as we hit #47?
Busiek: Astro City #47 begins a two-part story with guest-art by the great Mike Norton, of Battlepug and Revival fame. For years, I’ve wanted to do a story about a hero who was half-man, half-corgi, to contrast with all those heroes who gain the powers (or aspect) of bats, spiders, wolves, hawks and other impressive animals. What happens when your crime-fighting powers come from a source that’s dedicated, capable…and adorable?
Anyway, once it was clear we were going to be able to get around to the story at last, Mike was my first choice to draw it, thanks to Battlepug, and my experience working with Mike on Trinity. He’s a great storyteller and he loves dogs, so this would seem to be an ideal story for him to do. And luckily, he said yes. Actually, he said yes several times, mixed with “Are you kidding me?” As I told him the story.
So yeah, in these two issues we meet G-Dog, find out how there came to be a superhero with corgi powers, and how it changed the life of Andy, the young man who becomes a rather unlikely hero. Plus, fair warning: The story’s fun, but it’s not always sunny and bright. We’ll mess with your feelings.
There was one page, in #48, that Mike told us he had to keep taking a break from drawing so he wouldn’t cry, which is how I felt writing it, too.
Then again, I did that in Superman: Secret Identity and in Marvels: Eye of the Camera, and those worked out well, so hopefully this will, too.
Nrama: It seems like this would contrast the psyche of a dog with that of a man. How does humanity look in comparison?
Busiek: Humanity’s complicated and messed up. Dogs - or at least, corgis - have a simpler, clearer view, maybe because they don’t have to juggle so many concerns. It’s all about doing things in the proper order, at the proper times of day, and herding the cows and sheep. Or if there are no cows and sheep, balls, stray children, random pieces of bubble wrap…or maybe super-villains, if they’re available.
Nrama: Are you a corgi person? Or maybe Mike is?
Busiek: I am. And Fenway, my corgi, modeled for the covers of #47-48, so that makes the story extra-special.
Hank, the dog in the story (or at least, one of them) is visually based on Fenway and character-wise is based on Fenway and Hector, the corgi we had before Fenway. They each have (or had) very strong, very clear personalities, and I wanted to get a sense of that in Hank. Hopefully, it comes through.
And Mike is a pug person, but he’s also a dog guy, and he brought a lot of lived experience to Hank and Andy’s story too. It’s really a gorgeous art job, both with Mike’s deft storytelling and powerful drawing, and with the painterly, impressionistic effects Pete Pantazis brought to the colors. It’s really striking.
Nrama: What else can we expect from upcoming issues of Astro City?
Busiek: After the G-Dog story, Brent’s back, first for a one-issue story featuring a very political hero - torn from today’s headlines! - called the Resistor. His secrets and his daughter’s search for them, are the focus of the piece.
Then an old friend returns for a three-parter, as we revisit Michael Tenicek, the lead character from “The Nearness of You,” maybe the best-loved Astro City story ever. He’s been dealing with the fact that his wife was erased from reality for the past 20 years, so it’s time to check in on him and see what he’s been up to, and how he’s coping.
After that, we’ve got a big story about the N-Forcer, and lots more after that...