Astro City Mail – January

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Our first lettercolumn of 2016! Tra la!

Let’s see what it said in the comic…

As I write this, scrambling to make an early-December deadline before my wife’s company Christmas party and a flight to Florida tomorrow morning, we’ve only gotten three letters in response to ASTRO CITY #29, and one isn’t even about the story. So it goes, sometimes. At the very least, it’ll make writing the online lettercol a snap.

But luckily, one of those letters makes a fine choice for our Letter of the Month. Take it away, Simon:

Simon Bullivant

I’ve reached a time in my life (let’s leave it at middle-aged), where ever-quickening reboots and reinventions, not to mention endless empty promises that the world will never be the same again, no longer quite do it for me. As a consequence my superhero comics purchases have dwindled considerably in the last couple of years. Dwindled, but not disappeared completely. The reason for that is ASTRO CITY. The universe it depicts is free from the groaning weight of constantly-revised continuity, and concentrates instead on honest to goodness storytelling. Indeed, Astro City is a place where such stories—with beginning, middle and end—can still be told in the space of twenty or so pages. This month’s story, “The Menace from Earth,” will run a little longer, of course, but deserves to.

The story, told from the viewpoint of a complex alien culture, was essentially one of mistrust and misunderstanding. In such an atmosphere, the eruption of violence with which the issue concluded was almost inevitable. Arriving as it did in the wake of the terrible events in Paris, ASTRO CITY #29 felt astonishingly prescient. ASTRO CITY #30 can’t come soon enough for me. I just hope that when it does, the resolution doesn’t turn out to be too easy and straightforward. Such problems in our own world have no simple solutions, and despite the presence of superheroes, I imagine things are much the same in Astro City. Everything I have read in the last two decades leads me to suspect you will not disappoint.

As I write this, I can only hope that #30 delivered on what you hoped, Simon. As you read it, of course, you already know. So write in and let us know how we did!

We, of course, weren’t thinking about Paris (how could we be?) or any Earthly cultures when putting together “The Menace from Earth” and “Enemy of the Empire,” just messing with classic superhero comics tropes—in this case, the militaristic alien empire—and looking for a new angle on it, a way to explore a human story by looking at the lives of characters we don’t normally get to see in a story like that. It wasn’t one of the story concepts that went into the original series proposal, but it’s been kicking around for a very long time, and it was good to finally get to it.

So now that it’s out, I can certainly see echoes of current events, but can’t say that they shaped the story or the ending. If they had, I think I’d have tried to make the Zirran Empire more nuanced—but hopefully there’s nuance enough in Zozat, Ziriza and company, and the possibilities inherent in their hoped-for future.

That said, thanks very much for the letter, Simon, and like always, them what writes the Letter of the Month gets the goodies. Or in this case, goodie. So e-mail us your mailing address, and we’ll send you a signed by me) copy of this issue, as only the crack Juke Box Productions support team can.

And that brings us to the end, except for what will be a short online column, I expect.

Let’s find out!

To begin our online festivities, here’s ANDREW:

First off, no I really didn’t like or approve of this issue. I think I liked it better when it was in movie form—A Bug’s Life! This tale didn’t take place in Astro City; the bug-people were way boring; the double-speak of said bug-people was…was worse than Kurt’s usual double-speak! I’d like to see more of the First Family, way more of Wolfspider (who was spotlighted last issue), and no more bug-people till the end of time: What is it with Kurt and animals anyway?

Hold on. You think we’re overdoing animals, so you want to see more of Wolfspider (based on an actual animal) and less of the Zirr (not based on any animal, but having multi-faceted eyes). Okay.

And no, it didn’t take place in Astro City, but involved Astro Citizens, just as, say, most of the Marissa Cowper/Honor Guard call center story didn’t take place in Astro City either.Or the Hummingbird story, most of the Starfighter story, and various others.

And you thought the story was the same as a movie where an ant goes to find a band of warriors to protect his people and win the attention of a princess? To each his own, I guess.

Onward! Here’s ANTONIO:

Thank you for helping me with the writing thing, the classes you mentioned sound interesting and I’ll be sure to look into them. Also I’ve been writing everyday now and the dialogue is coming much easier than it did before. But anyway, from what I’ve seen this issue I’ve garnered a few question.

1. Since Karl has been revealed to have red energy powers and not just Rubberman powers, does that mean his sister also has energy powers?

2. How did Darcy have red hair in the late 1990s, but in the ASTRA special issue appear with grey hair?

3. Since this alien world uses propaganda to paint the Fursts in a negative light, is that your way at showing how people on different sides of the spectrum use propaganda to paint others as bad and themselves as righteous?

Some answers:

1. Those “rubber man” powers were his energy powers slowly developing. And so far, at least, Sasha seems to have inherited powers from her grandfather, Prince Kaspian of the Beastmen, rather than from the spheralicity energy her grandmother was infused with. Whether she develops more than animal powers someday remains to be seen.

2. Darcy, like all of us, got older.

3. Mainly it was simply showing that the Zirr government do. Whether readers want to expand it beyond that is up to how they choose to read the story.

And that would have been the end of the column, but after I wrote the text for the print edition, we did get one more letter, a nice and chunky missive, from BUTCH:

I’m going to try to get everything KBAC-related off my chest in this email, so I’ll try to keep this as brief as I can.

In addition to the excellent MARVELS, what got me into KBAC was this one page ad that ran in WIZARD right before the series first started. I can’t remember what exactly was in it, but it showed a few illustrations of what life was like in Astro City. Something about the ad fired up my imagination, and I ended up picking up the first issue, being blown away, and signing on for the rest of the mini-series.

I didn’t stick around for the Homage reboot though, as I started college and sort of drifted away from comics at that point, although of course I would occasionally hear about things like Tarnished Angel or Dark Age. I ended up picking up all the Homage issues a few years ago, and am going to go after the rest of the stuff I missed out on as soon as I can (back issues aren’t easy to find here in Manila!).

Of course, when you announced the Vertigo relaunch I wasn’t going to miss it. What I didn’t expect was that, as the title progressed, ASTRO CITY would become my favorite book. And as budgets tighten and life gets more complicated, KBAC is now the one and only comic book that I still pick up every month. In a world where superhero titles are all interconnected and rebooted seemingly every other year, ASTRO CITY remains a consistently good, tight, superhero title. I enjoy some stories more than others, of course, but for the most part, every issue of ASTRO CITY is a guaranteed good time, with excellent, familiar characters, inventive concepts, and intriguing plotlines.

And the art remains a high point of the book, from Alex’s terrific covers (I really feel his connection to the title, even if he only does 1/23 of each issue) to, naturally, Brent’s interiors. I suppose age and deadlines may catch up to Brent now and again, but he remains the incredible artist he was two decades ago. A master of body language and storytelling, someone who can seemingly draw anything well—the perfect artist for the book.

I didn’t really like the art for the American Chibi issue—sorry!—but every other guest artist has done fine work. I’d rather Brent could do everything but having terrific talent like Nolan and Merino filling in to keep things on a monthly basis is a nice compromise. I’m sure you’ve seen the work of Doc Shaner—he strikes me as someone who could do a good job in the future.

On a personal note—thank you for the retweet and kind word for my retro First Familty fan art! I’m not too jaded by modern technology that that wasn’t a huge thrill!

On the current issue—it was slightly distressing when I realized that the story wouldn’t be done in one issue, because Zozat’s story was quite engrossing. I appreciate the thought you put into the world building of the Zirr. And of course, it’s nice to check in with the First Family every now and then. As I said, I missed out on a large chunk of the issues you produced in the last decade, so I didn’t even know that there were two new additions to the family. Not many comics can have that kind of effect on a reader.

KBAC’s most frustrating aspect, because of how it’s set up, is how little we get of each character. Really, how many issues of material have we gotten on, say, Jack-in-the-Box? Can’t be more than a dozen in twenty years…! Never mind the lesser ones. I want to know more about Loony Leo, about Ironhorse, the Silver Adept, Telseth, the Irregulars, Max O’Millions, Thatcher Jerome, Dame Progress, it goes on and on. Just have to be patient, I suppose! I’m glad we’re going to be checking in on Steeljack soon, though!

Finally, and not to get too sentimental, but I like to think another reason that I still pick up ASTRO CITY is that it acts as a link to that childhood sense of amazement that led me into pursuing a hobby and later a career in the comics biz. I grew up in the 90’s with the Spawn, Gambit, and Deadpool. But I also grew up with Ben Pullam, Crackerjack, and the Hanged Man—and those last three grew up with me, as well.

(Well, maybe not the Hanged Man. But you get the idea!)

Thanks for your time, sorry this ended up being a little long! Stay awesome and in good health, sir.

Thanks very much, Butch.

We’ll get to more characters in time—and just to whet your interest, after the Steeljack three-parter, we’ll do a Jack-in-the-Box two-parter! How’s that for service!

Doc Shaner, hmm? Sounds pretty cool to me…

Next time, y’all!

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