Astro City Mail – February?

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Okay, I’m way behind on letter columns, so let’s catch up a little. This is the one that should have run in February, but I had a very bad Spring, fatigue-wise. I’ll catch up as swiftly as I’m able.

Anyway, this’ll be another fairly short one. To start off with, the print lettercol from ASTRO CITY #32…

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Fair warning. I have done something horrible to my back, and the doctor has put me on Valium and Percocet, so I make no guarantees about where this lettercolumn will lead us. It’s possible I’ll just fall asleep in the middle of it, because that’s the kind of debauched, exotic life this Vertigo writer leads. Sorry, team, if I’m letting the side down.

Anyway. We have a letter for you. It’s a nice letter and everything. Let’s call it the Letter of the Month, and pretend it’s from:

LEE K. SEITZ

I’ve been thinking about the Zirr since reading ASTRO CITY #30. I once told someone that, in the real world, people don’t actually consider themselves evil, even if we would apply that label. It’s only in comic books that people (or, in this case, aliens) do evil for evil’s sake. But it’s no surprise that in ASTRO CITY, being as nuanced as it is, that still doesn’t apply. Instead, the evil alien empire is actually a victim of a few bad individuals in control. And it’s a refreshing change from the stereotype.

But you know what I’m most interested to see now? I want to see how the Zirr priestlords work. Are they in control of themselves or also victims of brainwashing? In particular, who provides the lies, um, official version of the truth for the factcasts? Surely the Zirr Emperor is too busy to worry about the details.

Obviously Kurt can go back and revisit Zozat when he grows up to answer some of these questions. I suspect he left that thread dangling for just such a reason. But much like my seven-year-old daughter, I’m impatient and don’t want to wait that long. However, I’m also easily distracted and will no doubt devour the next issue’s story, forgetting, at least until the next reread of #30, about the Zirr. There’s so many stories to be told in ASTRO CITY and not enough Kurts, so I’ll take what I can get. Thank you for keeping them coming.

[Okay, before I answer, how good were you all at pretending this letter was from Lee? It should have been easy, since it actually is from Lee, so hey, there we go. Good job, everyone.]

As for you, Lee…

…yes, it’s quite true we can revisit Zozat and crew and see how they’re getting on at some point in the future. But even if we don’t, I think the story’s pretty well concluded, even if we never learn the details of Zirr society from the inside. Doesn’t mean we can’t, of course.

Mind you, I don’t think this sort of thing happens because of a few bad eggs pulling the strings on everything else. I think it’s more about earlier, power- and conquest-hungry emperors setting a tone, lying to the public when things didn’t go quite right, and then doubling down on that as needed. The priestlords are part of the system, and once a system gets going, it works to maintain itself rather than expose its flaws. We don’t need to go off-planet to find examples of that.

So how does one change a system that’s geared to maintain itself? That’s a question for another story. Could even be about someone other than the Zirr! You never know.

Anyway. Before the Valium has me thinking about the Brady Bunch again for some reason, I’ll do the bit about how as Letter of the Month writer, you get a signed copy of this comic. E-mail us your mailing address and we’ll poot one off to you, with our thanks.

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So. What else we got?

How about this fine letter from LOTM honoree MARK:

I was surprised and pleased to find my letter about #28 as your Letter of the Month in #30. Here’s my full address:

[redacted]

I am particularly gratified to see my letter in this issue, because—despite it being one we’ve seen in many places before—the story was so well told. The captions and dialogue, the use of alien words at the right places, and the marvelous use of flashback and montage sequences, kept the story moving. And I do mean “moving”; it was an extremely moving story for both main protagonists. And the art! So deliciously Silver Age. No empty backgrounds unless it was important to have empty backgrounds, to focus on the main characters. Such detailed action. Such detailed expressions on so many characters; in looking through the pages again to write this, I was able to see what anybody—alien or human—was thinking. This issue contains some of Brent Anderson’s finest moments. And it was all topped off by another Alex Ross masterpiece cover. I will be honored to have a signed copy of this issue.

Please continue the wonderful work on this book which is always a highlight of my comic reading days.

We sent Mark his signed issue—we’re not running as late on that, because I have the Juke Box Productions Shipping Department, aka Ann, do that, and all I have to do is sign them—and I agree with him fully on Brent’s artwork, and how everyone in a scene looks like they’ve got internal thoughts, a life beyond the panels. No one’s just filling space in an Anderson-drawn book.

On to a good long letter from STEVEN:

Well, I seem to have gotten myself into a repeat of last year—spending a winter holiday on the couch with a head cold, catching up on ASTRO CITY—New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas this time. But hey, it means that my wife can go hang out with her siblings tonight while I stay home with the sleeping kids, and just relax with some great comics (and online lettercolumns), and penning a lengthy missive to you.

My binge started with a voyage with Starfighter in 22, an instant classic which showed so many thing that I love about ASTRO CITY—a character-driven tale that stood on its own, but had so many fleshed-out details (more than some series get in dozens of issues) that it felt like it could have been a 20th anniversary issue for Starfighter alone, with numerous characters ripe for their own mini-series (at least), and numerous subtle call-outs for long-time readers.

I guess the issue can’t quite be quintessential with Brent absent, but Jesús Merino was fantastic (gadzooks, those character designs and facial expressions!). I honestly didn’t realize at first that we had a guest artist (and I mean that as the highest possible compliment), but upon reading the next issue, it was obvious. Jesús’s style is clearly different from Brent’s, but fits ASTRO CITY perfectly, and I’m glad to have him visit the city on what looks like it will be a fairly regular basis.

I also really enjoyed how “meta” the issue was—how many times have people asked you where you get your ideas and create such “fully-realized worlds”? Hey, wait a minute, Kurt, have you been leading a double life as a superhero? Hmmm, Charlie Provost signing autographs looks oddly familiar, and it would explain those long absences when you were having health problems. Extraterrestrial health problems… 😉

That meta-context, however, made me realize what bothered me about the otherwise enjoyable 23 & 24—I just don’t care for Reflex 6. They rub me the wrong way, and just don’t feel like real characters to me. And I think it’s because of the sponsors and focus groups and name changes. They feel like the ASTRO CITY equivalent of the Simpsons’ Poochie to me—something created to be marketable and “hip,” but lacking in substance. And that feels so out of place in your independent comic where you are supposed to be free of editorial meddling. (I believe you recently commented online about changing characters’ behaviors to fit into crossovers.) Yes, I know you created Reflex 6, perhaps with the intent of making commentary on marketability, but frankly, other than Astra, I wouldn’t mind not seeing them again for a long while.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed Sticks’s story (which now has me thinking of TMBG’s “Dr. Worm”). It touched on a theme that keeps recurring in ASTRO CITY—that having superhuman abilities isn’t always a picnic, and very often makes you a target. This theme came up again in 25 and 26 (with nods to Sully and the Sideliners multiple times in a few issues). I have to admit that I previously didn’t think much of Hummingbird (the fairly plain blue leotard look reminds me of Dazzler, and her eyes and hair are, as my six-year-old loves to say lately, creepy), but after reading her story, it all makes perfect sense. Her bravery in the face of her trials reminds me of Firestar from early in your AVENGERS run.

Jesús again did a great job—though now he seems fated to draw characters with crazy flares around their shoulders—period-appropriate Starfighter and Hummingbird’s costumes are perfect for the era, but man, are they goofy (and fun) today! Both Hummingbirds also gave a spotlight to something that I often overlook—the magic that can be done by great colorists (thank you, Wendy and Alex!).

As always, the character designs were fantastic. I particularly liked Strawman—one of the funniest subtle puns in years, topped only by the Black Lab a few issues prior. My only minor complaint: we didn’t actually get to see Manda interact with her dad, nor see the “guys” hold the baby—dads need a little love, too 😉

So on to the actual 20th anniversary issue, I loved the callback to the first issue. Maybe, if and when you get to a last issue, it should be another round of dreams? I found it interesting (and perhaps symbolic?) that Samaritan was wearing shorts in his dream in the lab. I also found it odd that he went to the Fursts for help, and got a partial solution, but didn’t tell them that something else was going on. Both this and the Starfighter issue made it clear that something big is building up—more and greater threats, and that it’s only a matter of time before something hits the fan…

I couldn’t let the name “Doc Robotnik” pass by without asking if you meant that as a nod to Sonic the Hedgehog, or just liked the name. And hey, if the X-Men can also have a Greymalkin (without bothering to actually care about the meaning of the word), then you can borrow a name here and there, too. I also noticed the nod to Tierra del Fuego, a locale which I swear I’ve seen referenced in comics in the past, though the only thing I could find through Google was in the origin of the X-Men foe Sauron. So here’s a challenge to the other fans in the audience: what other comics have referenced the region?

Well, that’s as far as I got before I had the opportunity to play a game (King of Tokyo), and now it’s 2 am, so the remaining 4 issues will have to wait. But I’ll wrap this up with few more comments:

1) For being the comic sometimes described by others as “real people in a superhuman world,” we haven’t had a story focusing on a “civilian” in a while. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just an observation.
2) We still don’t know much about the Gentleman and Max O’Millions. Or a lot of others, for that matter…
3) I echo the sentiments of others online, and look forward to more ARROWSMITH when you can make it happen.
4) As usual, every time I read a stack of ASTRO CITY, I want to go back and re-read the whole series to see what connecting threads I’m missing.

Happy New Year, and a belated congratulations on 20 great years—here’s to many more (20 or more, if you don’t come to an “ending” before then)!

I’m not sure we’ve got another 20 years in us, Steven, but there’s plenty yet to come, at least!

Glad you liked so much—and yeah, we’ll be glad to have Jesús back any time he’s available, though DC seems to be keeping him busier these days. No comment about my other career. And hey, just as you liked Hummingbird when you get to know her, I’m confident that once you get more of a chance to hang out with Reflex 6, you’ll like them, too. No editor asked for them, but as our heroes get older, there are going to be new, younger ones, and they’re going to make their presences known…

I had no idea there was a character named “Doc Robotnik” in SONIC, and as such I’m thinking of changing his name for the TPB. Don’t want to tread on any other universe’s distinctive names. But Greymalkin is a street address in X-MEN (or at least I thought it was! turns out there’s a character of that name now, spelled slightly differently), and it’s a real word, so I’ve got no problem using it for a character who is, in her way, a gray cat.

There is a story coming up about a sort-of civilian, and I’m sure there’ll be more over time. We’ll see what the tides of inspiration bring.

Who’s next? Ah, here’s DAVE:

Spheralicity!!! I laughed out loud at that. (I think I’ll continue calling it “Kirby krackle,” though.)

We wouldn’t dream of stopping you.

And let’s wrap up with DUKE:

I’m just curious about how the issues have been collected. Vol. 13 contains: #18-21 and 23-24. Vol. 14 contains: #13, #22, #25, #27-28, and #31. It’s not a fact that bothers me in any way I Just want to ask a few simple questions. Is there a reason for this? Is it your decision or DC’s? How much influence when to comes to constructing a trade collection does one have over the other? Thanks for your time.

Yes, there’s a reason for it. ASTRO CITY vol 14: HONOR GUARD collects six stories about Honor Guard members, all of them drawn by guest-artists. Vol 13: LOVERS QUARREL, is all-Brent. That’s how we want to do it, collecting Brent’s issues together and the guest-art issues together. The one story that didn’t go that way is #12, the Clotheshorse story, drawn by Graham Nolan. Since that story was tied in with the others around it (as revealed on the last page of #16), it made sense to collect it with those others. But in general, we want to collect Brent’s issues in all-Brent collections and the guest-artist issues in all-guest collections.

It was entirely our decision, made by Brent and me together. I’m not sure what you mean by “one over the other,” but if you’re asking how much influence DC/Vertigo has over what goes into the collections, they’re not pushing us around or anything. We’re collecting them as we think they should be collected, and the fine folks at DC/Vertigo are helping us make the books the best they can be, and getting them out to you.

And on that note, we’re done with another column. I’ll try to get the next one done soon, but unless I do it tomorrow night, I’m off to Emerald City Comic Con the next day. So no promises, but I’ll do what I can!

And see you all next time!

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