Astro City Mail – Late September 2015

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October 4th is way closer to September than September 18th is to August!

Anyway, let’s get this here lettercol done. Kicking off with the text from the print page:

* * *

You say it’s your birthday…

…it’s my birthday too, yeah! Or, well, if this issue comes out when it’s scheduled, it will be my birthday [Edited to add: It didn’t. Got moved a week on the schedule without me knowing. Ha!]. Right now, it’s a couple of days before #26—which is ASTRO CITY’s birthday issue—comes out, so happy birthday to us in the past-that-is-now-for-me and happy birthday to me in the future-that-is-now-for-you!

Everybody dance now!

Or, well, enough about birthdays. They’re so last month, and I’m probably out to dinner with my family anyway. Stop dancing. Yes, that means you. I see you, with your feet. Knock that off, willya?

Let’s move along, and see what we’ve got for our Letter of the Month. Hey, look, it’s a fellow with the unlikely name of:

Vic DiGital

Happy 20! I got on board with issue 3 of the first series. Took me a couple of months to believe the hype. Been on board religiously ever since.

Like most older readers (I’m an ancient 47), my comic reading habits have changed dramatically over the past 25 years. Life interferes and suddenly you discover that even though you’ve been faithfully buying a comic, the stack of unread issues pile up month after month. One of my current favorites is Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT. LOVE IT. Last issue I read was #10. Looking forward to the final issue (#36?) to come out in a month or so and I’ll binge read the whole thing.

All that to say that with ASTRO CITY, I noticed a curious phenomenon. I’m not sure how long I actually was doing it prior, but starting around issue 14 or 15 of the current run, I consciously noticed that I wasn’t letting ASTRO CITY pile up. I was reading it in my car, either in the comic shop parking lot, or I would pull over somewhere in a shopping center and read it there with the motor running. This is the only comic I do this with.
It’s now a ritual, of course. Even before leaving the comic shop, I’m planning on where I’m going to read it. Sometimes it’s a park, sometimes just pulled over in a closed-down business’s driveway, but it’s always somewhere within five minutes of the comic shop. Never makes it back to the office or back home. It’s gotta be the car.

Anyway, just wanted you to know that ASTRO CITY remains the best comic on the rack, and is the only comic that’s car-worthy. BTW, loved this month’s issue with Hummingbird. While I wish for an entire line of Astro City comics, issues like this one give us not only a full issue’s worth or story, or two-parter, or even an entire story arc, but what feels like an entire (shorter) run of a title. I crave more, but I am sated…for now.

Glad to hear it, Vic. And I know just what you mean about car-reading—I used to do precisely that with Mark Waid and Greg LaRocque’s FLASH run, particularly during the “Return of Barry Allen” story. I’d leave the comics shop, get in the car, and read the issue before I could bring myself to turn the key and head home. Just too excited to know what came next.

So we’re all flattered that ASTRO CITY presses that button for you. And for writing the Letter of the Month, you get a copy of this very issue, signed by moi. Send us your mailing address, and we’ll fire it off to you at some unknown speed or another.

That’s Vic! What’s next?

Ma foi! It’s MAX:

Hi Kurt, Brent, Alex, et al, I have loved reading ASTRO CITY since the 90s, back when it was an antithesis to the “grim and gritty” stories that prevailed. I never cared much for those stories. I’ve always looked to reading superhero comics as a way to transcend everyday life and experience; stories that are physically implausible but humanly possible. And you guys and gals were always able to make those comics.

“Were.” Hah. You still are.

Anyway, I’ve finally gotten around to reading some of the recently published collections (Through Open Doors and Victory). There were a couple of times that I got choked up when the heroes did the sorts of heroic things that reminded me what being a hero is all about. In “View From Above,” the way Winged Victory accepted Joey was reassuring, and then when she hugged him at the end of “Victory” with such warmth and gratitude, it was astoundingly heartening. And I have to say that Marella Cowper’s actions all throughout “Mistakes” were inspiring in a way that few superheroes are able to achieve! I’ve got a question: what comics or stories motivate you to be the best sort of human you can be? Thanks for the sharing the heroic lightness of being with us.

Thanks, Max. I don’t know that I have a good answer for you, because I think everything I read (or see) inspires me in some way or another, whether it’s to be more like someone I admire or less like someone I don’t. When I was a kid, what I read showed me people doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing, just as I saw real people in the world around me, and the messages I got from it all were “I want to be like that” or “I don’t want to be like that.” And it all contributes, it all adds up, whether it’s something dramatic like seeing Spider-Man choose to save the city even if it’s going to wreck his personal life to admiring the way someone like Mark Evanier answers questions online.

But if I had to pick a single example, I think I’d pick Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, starting with THE BOOK OF THREE. The lead, Taran, wanted so much to be a hero, but was ass impulsive and stupid as I felt, even after he got to see an example of a humble, no-fuss hero in Gwydion, Son of Don. And throughout the series, he learned from others—Gwydion’s understated rejection of pomp and circumstance, Eilonwy’s exasperated intelligence, Fflewddur’s rueful tenacity, Doli’s irascible sense of responsibility, Gurgi’s loyalty and hope…and by the end of the five books, Taran was the man he’d hoped to become, even if he had no idea what that entailed when he started out. And I had a very strong sense of “I want to be like that.” I wanted to be like Gwydion, but I also wanted to learn like Taran, to see the good parts of others and try to adopt those ways himself.

[I also, I’ll admit, had a wish to emulate the show-no-pain, don’t-complain reserve of Dick Francis’s heroes, but I’m no good at that whatsoever.]

But whenever I see someone, in fiction or real life, doing things with grace and intelligence and kindness and empathy, I try to learn from it. And when I see people being selfish and loud and arrogant and clueless, I try to learn from that, too.

Hope that’s a decent answer.

And here’s ANTONIO:

I just read the latest issue and I thought it was very nice. A cool little one-off story that shows us more about Honor Guard’s female side and also confirms that Greymalkin is a magical superhero.

Will we ever get an issue regarding Leopardman or Looney Leo again?

Could be, Antonio. I don’t have any immediate plans, but it’d be nice to see Leo again. Leopardman’s kind of a stiff, but if we ever learn more about Greymalkin’s background, it’d have to involve him some. So maybe!

On to T.J.:

Kurt, I’ve got what seems like a simple question: in what order do the various ASTRO CITY stories you’ve created occur? Is there a convenient rule of thumb?

The obvious answer would be that they occur in the sequence they were originally published, unless clearly indicated otherwise. Although there are many stories that are presented primarily in flashback, off the top of my head only the SILVER AGENT two-parter doesn’t seem to have a contemporary “framing sequence” (in that instance, it was my impression that the scene with Alan and his nephew the Senator was the only portion of the story that took place in the contemporary timeframe, but I don’t think there was anything definitive to establish it) that would seem to ground it to the modern day. However, once you get to, say, The Dark Age and the Shining Stars spotlight issues that becomes harder to reconcile. After all, does it mean, for instance, Beautie’s encounter with her creator occurred while “Charles” and “Royal” were taking a bathroom break from telling their story?

So another alternative is that they occur in the order that they are eventually compiled into collected editions. Those are typically consistent with the order of publication, but there are certainly exceptions going back to the Confession collected edition holding back the handful of issues that were published between the Life In The Big City material and the Confessor storyline launching. And now with the announcement that you are intending to collect the non-Brent drawn issues in their own collections, it seems like there will be more contrast than ever between the order issues are originally published then later collected. This approach enjoys the benefit of simplicity, but I suspect it’s possible there could be subtle details I’ve missed in the text of any of the stories involved that may directly contradict this viewpoint.

The practical reality may very well be, it really doesn’t matter. ASTRO CITY seems to be produced with a great sensitivity to the fact that any issue might be a reader’s first, and can probably read and enjoyed in most any order (aside from the multi-parters, I suppose) though I have to assume stories like, say, the recent ASTRA two-parter take on additional resonance when the reader is familiar with her prior adventure. However, as a fan I take great joy in trying to piece together these nuggets of information you pepper into these stories, and I get the impression you take great care to keep it all consistent.

So, ultimately, despite whatever order they “officially” occurred in, the most important thing is that they’ve been consistently compelling. Thank you for 20 years of storytelling with so much creative integrity. It’s a comic I cherish for the feeling it leaves me with after I’m done reading an issue, and one I admire for it’s consummate craftsmanship once I start to examine it closely on subsequent re-reads.

This sounds like a fine place to recommend Herocopia.com again—their ongoing mission to catalog all things ASTRO CITY has come to include working up a timeline of events, too, so they may have worked out those little details you may or may not have noticed. Or you may have noticed stuff they haven’t, and will want to join in!

In any case, your first instinct is probably correct: The ASTRO CITY stories take place roughly in publication order, except when they obviously don’t. Flashback stories take place in the past, a story like THE DARK AGE took years to publish but probably just a few days for Charles and Royal to tell, that sort of thing. But volume 2 #1-3 take place before Confession, while vol. 2 #10-13 take place after it, even if they’re in the same book.

That said, I don’t think any of the SILVER AGENT two-parter took place in the present—as I recall, the scene with the Agent and his nephew was another time-skip, and wasn’t meant to be happening at the time of publication.

But overall, if a story seems to be happening “today,” like, say, this issue, then it’s happening after the events of last month and before the events of next month (indeed, next month’s story refers back to this month’s, at least a little). And if we start hopping around in time, we’ll try to make that clear.

On to a hard-hitting complaint from TOM:

Kurt, Kurt, Kurt…

I can’t believe you went with “Tuxedo Gorilla” instead of “Monkey Suit”! Just sayin’…

Surely I’m not the only one who thought of this?

I don’t know if you’re the only one, but you’re the only one who wrote in about it! But as it goes, Sticks would never have gone with the name Monkey Suit any more than he’d have taken Shako’s suggestion of calling the band Monkey Town.

Because, well, he’s not a monkey. He’s a gorilla, and therefore a great ape.

Now, I suppose he could have called himself Great Ape…

And on that note, here to play us out is DAN:

20 years of ASTRO CITY?!? Wow. I started reading ASTRO CITY nearly from its inception myself. And it’s the only ongoing comic book series I still buy, albeit no longer always within the first few days of its release each month. (It’s been years since I regularly frequented a comic book store.)

I just finished reading up through issue 24. Previously, I had bought up to issue 17, which wasn’t a personal favorite (too much cosmic backstory for my taste). I next bought issue 21 at a random comic book store I happened to pass one day. I hadn’t loved issue 21 when I first read it as a stand-alone issue, either. But a few days ago I finally got issues 18-20 and read the entire 4-issue story arc. I am writing you today because that story is now one of my all-time favorite ASTRO CITY tales. Among other things, I read it as an intriguingly original (and typically nuanced) take on what the personality and lifestyle of a Batman-like, non-super hero might ‘really’ be like. I loved it, despite never really coming to like either Quarrel or Crackerjack as people or heroes.

Julius Schwartz would likely take issue with me, but I was not initially enthused when I saw the gorilla taking a selfie on the cover to #23. I ended up really liking ‘Sticks’ as a character after reading issues 23 and 24, however. (Though personally, I was wowed more by the pulp-ish lost world of gorillas and dinosaurs in Antarctica, and the wildly imaginative alien drug den featuring disembodied human brains, than I was with the band Powerchord at the conclusion.)

On a related note, I also recently stumbled on my five ASTRO CITY dolls in a closet, which I think are about 15 years old now. Seeing them again, I wondered why no more were ever made. A quick Google search revealed nothing substantive. So I thought I’d raise the subject with you here, in case there was an interesting explanation behind the toy line’s premature cancellation that you might share publicly?

In conclusion, gushing platitudes from a long-time fan.

And thanks back at you from all of us, sir.

As for the toy line…they were a startup company, and most startup companies don’t make it. Costs tend to be higher than expected, revenues lower, and unless they’ve got the cash reserves to ride it out while they’re establishing themselves, the market can be pretty tough. It was for us, when we were starting out, and thankfully Jim Lee and Homage came to our rescue.

So while I never inquired into the specific reasons, the toy company never put out more figures. They’d done an awfully-nice sculpt of Winged Victory, but the toy itself never materialized. Whether that was because the first toys sold too poorly, or for some business reason unrelated to the figures themselves, I don’t know. We just rode out the rest of the license term, and then those rights reverted back to us.

Someday, maybe we’ll do more!

In any case, here we are at the bottom of another column. Hope to see you all next time, and I hope we’re closer to on-time with the next online lettercol than we were with this one! See you then.

One thought on “Astro City Mail – Late September 2015

  1. I want to say there was something in the dialogue that placed the scene of the Silver Agent with his nephew to around 2000-01…

    In addition to the timelines, on our Publication pages, we have a Date of Story info, in which we try to determine when the events of the story take place, flashbacks included. Usually it’s pretty easy going by cover date or shipping date and dialogue and past history. The Steeljack storyline is the hardest to pinpoint due to several factors, umambigous weather and season, no real dates mentioned and the life real shipping schedule….
    One that T.J. would find interesting would be issues 21 and 22 of volume 2, where the two stories overlap one another’s timeframes where things could be happening concurrently.

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