ASTRO CITY MAIL – SEPTEMBER 2013

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ASTRO CITY 4 is out this week. And true to form, we’ve got a letters page in it, and a Letter of the Month (in this case, from the lovely and talented Jay Johnson) on it.

Which means that, true to form, it’s time to do the extended lettercol here.

And just as a reminder: The letters picked to run in the lettercol each month—imaginatively called the Letter of the Month—will get the writer an autographed copy of that month’s issue. Autographed by me alone, because it’d be too much of a hassle to have it mailed around to Brent, Alex and the rest of the gang. So if you want a crack at a signed comic, write us letters.

That said, here we go.

Starting off, from ZACK:

I’m glad to welcome back the greatest comic series I’ve had the pleasure of reading. And hopefully this is the last hiatus, or at least the last long one.

As for the first issue back? I’ll admit I wasn’t enamored with it. It wasn’t bad, but it felt like a (re)introduction issue/set up issue. There was a lot that happened, but it felt like a quick read. The Broken Man breaking the fourth wall was interesting. I have a strong guess which character(s) he was, but naturally I’m curious and would rather be wrong…

With all of the recent stories taking place in the past and others outside the city itself, we haven’t seen the “modern” characters in action since really Local Heroes #1!  So, it was nice seeing the characters in present day Astro City again. The neatest thing is that time has passed in the series. New heroes with new influences in American Chibi and Reflex 6 (or whatever they ended up calling themselves) are still on the scene—and how Ben Pullam has aged in 17 years. I loved the irony in comparing and contrasting his attitude to a god-like being appearing this time, as opposed to last time. But different points in life lead to different decisions.

Issue number two was a different story (no pun intended), starting with the beautiful cover by Alex. I love the effect of the characters being under the light bringing out the brighter hues. It’s definitely one of the top covers throughout the series.

Marella’s story overall is very solid.  The story is not splashy and full of big moments, but perfect pacing and rhythm from start to finish.

I await her reactions and actions to her mistake. It feels a little like the recent Halle Berry movie THE CALL. Everyone makes mistakes at a job, but like an emergency dispatcher, Marella’s wrong choices can cost lives. It seems like a job that would have a lot of burnout with people that couldn’t handle the highs and the lows.

I’ve always been a sucker for super teams and groups, so a look at Honor Guard is always a plus for me. And the concept is one of things that hasn’t been explored too much and would have to exist in a superhero world. Of course it leads to questions, where does the funding come from? Government or U.N. support? Nicholls-Royce or some other corporation? Hopefully, not the last close look we get at Honor Guard behind the scenes…

One other thing I noticed in both issues, is that in addition to showing a little more age, Samaritan seems more emotive and outgoing, than the stoic personality or a reluctant leader we’ve seen in the past.

Once again it’s glad to be back in Astro City and thanks for the wonderful stories.

Glad you liked it, sir.

Who’s next? Ah, here’s MATT:

Hi! Been reading the oldest first issue, Image #1, through Image/Homage #14, past couple weeks, to have a good time, and to work out why I felt perplexed by the new #1.

It’s a matter of focus.  Nearly all my favorite issues-past were the ordinary-joe’s perspective.  Even stories centered on the fantasy/heroes aspects: Samaritan dreams of flying, like we all do; Loony Leo works the local-celeb host job in a bar.   The ordinary folks, and the ordinary-folks parts of the non-humans’ lives, that’s what I most enjoyed about Astro City.  And the focus in #1/Vertigo was on a non-ordinary, a madman, dislikeable and an untrustworthy narrator.

So I’m real happy with the focus again on an ordinary person, job applicant Marella, in the new issue two. Noticed that issue one’s titled “Through Open Doors, Part One”, yet issue two is “Welcome to HumanoGlobal”.  Will a “Doors Part Two” appear several issues down the line (I imagine a scenario in which The Broken Man’s  prophecies appear to be coming true)?  Just curious…

I’m three issues deep into Steeljack’s story now; really happy to read Loony Leo’s story again, and ha! you printed a letter of mine in it!  A lucky issue for me.

For any interested, a quick list sequence and summation of earlier issues:

Image
1.  SAMARITAN dreams of flying*
2.  Reporter witnesses battle with the OLD SOLDIER, whom no one’s seen for decades.*
3.  Petty Crook discovers JACK-IN-THE-BOX’s secret i.d.*
4.  The Girl from Shadow Hill in bigtown Astro City, sees The HANGED MAN*
5.  Old Man/ALIEN complains about CRACKERJACK*
6.  SAMARITAN & WINGED VICTORY’s date.

Homage
1.  New Family in AC decides to stay (despite THUNDERHEAD’s attack)
2.  ASTRA’s day vs. SILVER BRAIN and hopscotch bully; two-issue story begins
3.  ASTRA’s adventure, intro. FIRST FAMILY; more hopscotch.*
4.  Bus Boy’s intro. to AC, intro. CONFESSOR; long story begins.

Image/Homage
5.  Bus Boy becomes ALTAR BOY; ALIEN app. Vs. “CRACKERJACK”
6.  ALTAR BOY uncovers CONFESSOR’s secret; vs. GUNSLINGER
7.  CONFESSOR’s bio revealed; hero registration begins.
8.  CONFESSOR  reveals The Mayor’s secret.
9.  ALIEN INVASION wind-up; intro. new CONFESSOR
10. The JUNKMAN’s story.*    (shorter stories resume)
11. JACK-IN-THE-BOX meets his (possibly) future sons.
12. JACK passes the mantle on – vs. BRASS MONKEY
1/2. Michael Tenicek dreams of MIRANDA; meets the HANGED MAN*
13. LOONY LEO, his story*
14. STEELJACK (the STEEL-JACKETED MAN) released from prison, seeks work.  Long story begins.

(* particularly great stories)

I’m not sure what the Broken Man has said to prove himself untrustworthy—uncertain, perhaps, but has he deliberately tried to mislead? Perhaps next issue, in which you see him again, will give you more to go on.

And yes, you’ll see “Through Open Doors, Part Two,” soon, though I’m not sure it’s a sequel, per se, so much as a bookend. But we’ll see what comes.

From MICHAEL:

ASTRO CITY #2 is a worthy followup to the first issue of the new series. Where do I begin? Well, at the beginning.

The idea that a group like Honor Guard would have a call center (okay, an “emergency contact line”) is one that makes you hit your head and wonder why no one has ever posited such a thing before. I’m trying to remember if groups like the Justice League or Avengers had such a thing; in general, there’s a way for the government to get in touch with them, and even individual heroes have had ways to be contacted (such as Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch for Superman or Gotham City’s bat-signal for Batman). But I don’t recall anything like a call center and an emergency line for the public to use.

Marella Cowper is another one of the usual background people in superhero stories who gets a chance to shine in a story of her own in ASTRO CITY. That said, although I found her eminently likeable, and am glad that she never once thought to reveal to her family what her real job is, I did find her somewhat undefined otherwise. Although we do see her with her family a bit, I don’t have as much of an understanding of her as I did of, say, Brian Kinney at the start of Confession. I presume that you’ll fill in more of her background as the story plays out, however.

And I’d like it to play out well for her. I know she’s devastated at the end of the issue by the thought that she didn’t do enough for the girl in Quevachi, but my hope is that (assuming this is the call we see in the last panel on page 18), she will be vindicated. I know we only saw a little bit of the call, but it seems to me that there was absolutely nothing in the call to hint of something needing the full intervention of Honor Guard.

Finally, although I understand the need to move most of the letter column to the web, it’s a little disappointing as it reduces the chance for correspondents to get their names in print. I wonder if you might have room on the letters page to run the names of all the people whose letters are appearing on the website. It might help encourage your readers to visit the page, by reminding them that the dialogue continues online.

At the time I write the lettercol for print, I haven’t written the online one yet—for example, I wrote the print lettercol for #5 yesterday (and should have written it about a week earlier, but stuff), and am only writing the online lettercol for #4 now, because it doesn’t need to be published until tomorrow, and doesn’t need to be approved and designed and printed and shipped and all that. Plus, I want to keep that page in the comic as uncluttered as possible. I like JG’s design for it as is, and wouldn’t want to add another bunch of text.

So I think I’ll let people who want to see their name in print be attracted by the lure of the Letter of the Month—after all, they get a signed comic out of that, too!

I originally came up with the idea that became the Honor Guard contact line back when I was writing JLA, and wondering just what was going on in the rest of the Watchtower. I thought having a support staff would be nice, and it’d be interesting to see a story involving someone who commuted to the moon. So when I never got to doing that, I reworked the idea and used the setup as a springboard for a very different story in ASTRO CITY.

As for Marella, I hope you feel you learned more about her in Part Two—I don’t think we needed to know a lot about her background, really, since what we learned about Brian (his relationship with his father, his martial-arts studies, his longtime interest in the Astro City heroes) fed into the story, Marella’s story is about her choices in the present, and doesn’t need more than the history we showed. But characters get to show their humanity in various ways, and I think she got a fair shot at it, at least.

From DAVID:

Thank you. Thank you so much. This new ASTRO CITY series reminds me why I read these damn things in the first place. I didn’t think you could top the first issue, and along came the second. Brilliant stuff. The inventive ways to examine this genre of storytelling that you exhibit is astounding. The emotion that you put into it is only equalled by the emotion that we fans pull out of it. This story had everything. Man, I was feeling good for Marella until that last damn page! And that last damn page is the difference between ASTRO CITY and every other book on the stands. The twists aren’t standard or contrived, simply because the situations in which they occur have never been done on a comics page, and if they have, not nearly as well as you do it.

I’ve been with this book since issue five of the original mini. What amazes me is that over the years, despite the infrequency that has plagued it (and I mean plagued it), there has never been a bad issue. There’ve been issues better than others, to be sure, but every. single. one. is the high water mark for superhero storytelling. Beautifully illustrated, colored, covered and scripted—I cannot tell you how it feels to wait for a book with this level of anticipation, have that be rewarded fully and, here’s the biggie, know I only have to wait thirty days for another’n! Christmas twelve times a year, guys. No exaggeration.

My favorite thing about ASTRO CITY is that I can tell that no matter how much I and my fellow fans love this book, you guys love it more. It’s a testament to the quality of the work done on this series that, after pretty close to twenty years, you are all still here. No fill-ins, no surprises. Kurt, Brent and Alex put out a book, it says “Astro City” on the cover, and you kill it.  Continued health and success to you all, and again, thank you so much.

Our pleasure, really. Thanks for supporting the book all these years.

From DAVE:

As a long time ASTRO CITY fan who followed you in trades, I’m excited to now have the opportunity to follow this fabulous city again as a monthly ongoing comic. I have recently reached a point in my life with the birth of my son that I needed to reevaluate my comic buying for monetary reasons. It allowed me to really think about what kind of books I enjoyed and what I was buying just because I’d been buying them for years. It gets to a point where the constant death, reality resets, and what not lose their excitement. However with ASTRO CITY you take the typical superhero flare and humanize it and present it to us in ways that are both heartfelt and unique.

“Welcome to HumanoGlobal” presented to me what seems like an obvious and unbelievably clever notion that superhero teams would use call centers to weed through the requests and find the real threats. I just could not stop being astounded at how masterfully you presented this idea and then fleshed it out over the entire issue until it seems like of course every superhero team must have something like this.

The idea however would have remained simply clever if not for the fully realized and wonderfully characterized Marella. Through her eyes and words you present to us the same old superhero fights most of us have been reading for years in ways that seem new and fresh.

My heart sank when Marella realized her casual dismissal of simple spousal abuse turned out to be much more. In any other story, in any other comic book, I’d simple think that how would she know and it was not her fault. However after getting to know Marella and understanding who she was, my heart sank as she came to the realization that she should have caught this and that people were dead because of her.

Very rarely these days will I pick up anything new with the price tag of 3.99, but I knew the pedigree and talent that came with the title ASTRO CITY and Mr. Busiek, you and your wonderful collaborators, have not disappointed.

Here’s to a very long and successful run and thank you for writing a comic that actual had me care about the protagonist.

Glad to have you aboard.

From ERIC:

The best ASTRO CITY stories for me have always been the ones not only about the well written characters and story lines but what lies around the corner for the characters. The wonder and excitement of seeing these new places and characters for the first time ad there reaction. The Human Condition exposed at it’s finest. This was one of the stories. It had the familiar ring of other stories I have seen and read before but added its own little take on the lower level employee or first day on the job to the big secret organization idea. I loved the cliffhanger too!

Of course, Brent did a bang up job as usual. That man really can draw anything you throw at him.

Also I thought the Alex Ross cover was amazing! I see that it will be a joining cover with next issue. We had alternate covers for the last issue of DARK AGE and one for the first issue of the current series. If memory serves (it might not) a long time ago you said ASTRO CITY was not going to do the alternate or gimmick covers? I think Alex Ross is fantastic! I just trying to make sure you take it easy on my wallet, sir 🙂

The happiest line I get to utter in the letter is I’ll see ASTRO CITY on the racks or in digital format (depends on where I am) every month for the near future and that puts a big smile on my face. Thanks, sir!

You’re welcome. And we’ve had at least one other variant cover before, plus different covers on the Wizard and Wildstorm versions of the #1/2 issue, so I don’t mind a variant for a special occasion. I don’t think the diptych on #2-3 counts as a gimmick—that’s still just one cover each.

But no planned foil or hologram covers, for sure!

From another guy named DAVID:

Well! Last month I hoped there would be a little less metafiction this month. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting “none at all.” Presumably we’ll be seeing more of Telseth the Ambassador, Ben Pullam and the Broken Man at some point?

Well, let’s move on from what wasn’t in the issue to what was. It was an issue of ASTRO CITY, written by Kurt Busiek (whose writing is never less than engaging) and drawn by Brent Anderson (whose art is never less than wonderful). After the long hiatus, the joy of that has not yet worn off. The Honor Guard call center is a nifty idea that is well worked out—if someone were to offer me a job there, I’d jump at it.

With that said, the story we got this issue seemed just a little generic. It’s almost a sports story: the newbie to the team struggles to find her groove. It doesn’t feel to me that this was a story that grabbed Kurt by the throat, that happened to be set in the Honor Guard call center; rather, that Kurt thought of the call center and looked around for a story to set in it. I finished this issue feeling almost like I’d already read the next one.

I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, here, with some predictions:

At the start of next month, Marella (having now made errors of judgement in both possible directions) is despondent. She wonders if she has what it takes to succeed in the job. Mrs. B is supportive, but Marella isn’t in a place where she can hear it. The turning point comes with a crisis that threatens the call center itself. Possibly some supervillain or enemy group attacks directly, and Marella plays a small but heroic role in coping. More likely, there’s an infiltrator: either some enemy puts a mole in place, and she is key in finding and neutralizing it, or some enemy finds her out and coerces her (probably with threats to her family) to be the mole, until she finds some clever way to turn the tables or at least sound the alarm. The first of these would let her demonstrate her job skills, but the second would be more dramatic, with higher emotional stakes, so I think it’s somewhat the more likely. Whatever happens, she comes out of the experience with renewed confidence and commitment.

By the time this letter sees the light of day (if it does), next issue will of course have been on the stands for a couple of months, so I’ll immediately look brilliant or idiotic.

Honestly, I’m hoping for idiotic. One of the things I like in reading is surprise. (I still look back with fondness on THUNDERBOLTS #1.) Here’s hoping that Kurt has found ways to surprise me!

Well, I did think of the call center before I thought of this particular story, yes, but part two didn’t go down as predicted, at least. So that’s .500, sir. Let’s see how you do next two-parter!

And you’ll see the Broken Man next issue, and Ben and the Ambassador the issue after that.

From DAMIEN:

First, a response to Torsten’s criticism of your dialogue. I can easily think of at least one line that always stuck with me: “You’re a god pretending to be a man. I’m a woman trying to live up to the role of a god.” (Probably usually remembered as “I’m a woman pretending to be a god”, for symmetry, not that I looked it up just now.)

I remember others less specifically, but the Confessor had lots of good speech too, as did Noah about the Confessor. Maybe not quotable for a funny file like much of Buffy, but there’s more to good dialogue than that. The Boxsons were also memorable, if not uplifting.

Now it’s my turn to pick on you, or your art team. I had the idea of doing “close reading” in the sense of looking carefully at the female figures in the new books. And the good news is that the interiors are great! Lots of women, who look and dress like real women in real ‘poses.’ And I think Marella looks, not at all fat, but wider, like a tall non-stick figure woman.

The cover of #1, though…actually I’m not sure any more. My first thought was that Winged Victory looked completely unnatural, and American Chibi dubious. Trying poses in the bathroom I came to think Chibi was a more natural “looking to the right” pose, then changed my mind back. Victory still looked impossible, then, maybe, not, though still rather staged. I’m not an artist or anatomist so it’s hard for me to be sure. But given trends in mainstream comics, perhaps you’d want to avoid even looking like Spinebreaker poses to the casual eye, even if carefully justifiable?

Into quite possibly excessive nitpicking, I came to wonder about the #2 scene with Honor Guard in flight. Nothing obviously wrong with it, and HG is half female. But the two members on their back, as it were, are Beautie and Winged Victory; the three guys and Cleopatra—arguably the least feminine of the women—are ‘right side up.’ This may seem completely trivial…except imagine a shot where the two on their backs are Samaritan and the Gentleman, and WV or Beautie has the central position. Feels unexpected, doesn’t it?

I have an AI background, so I raised an eyebrow at the causal ease of auto-translators, then wondered why an international organization was routing Spanish-speaking callers to an English employee + translator and
not a Spanish speaking employee…

I know overall this has been a negative sounding letter, but really, I love Astro City, including its inclusivity, and I don’t even read regular superhero comics. But I’m not good at gushing, and I care enough to nitpick. 🙂

Actually, one neutral thought, inspired by the one on dialogue: apart from Infidel and Pyramid and the alien invaders, you don’t have much in the way of memorable villains. There are recurring names, but no one who stands out the way Lex Luthor or the Joker or Magneto do. I wonder if that’s deliberate, to not glorify them, or an effect of not really being a recurring book. The Junkman was as close as I remember, and he’s a pretty benign villain.

I think we’ve got plenty of memorable villains, myself. Steeljack is a reformed villain, the Mock Turtle was an unintentional villain, Mr. Bridwell was a villain. We’ve seen plenty of powerful master villains, too, but for the most part we’re not telling stories that get into either big fights with those guys or into their heads, and I’m fine with that. Although we do have a story in planning stages that might fit the bill…

Can’t say I see any problem with the cover to #1, either. The “brokeback” pose, as I understand it, is when a character has an unnaturally-bent spine so as to display both their butt and their cleavage, and neither American Chibi nor Winged Victory is doing that (Vic, in particular, isn’t twisted at the waist at all). I wouldn’t want to tell Brent or Alex that they can’t have women bend at the waist for fear someone might misinterpret. I also wouldn’t have any problem whatsoever with a panel where Samaritan and the Gentleman were flying upside-down and Beautie and or Vic were right-side-up.

So it seems to me you may perhaps be looking to find something wrong, and finding stuff not because it’s there, but because you’re looking to find something. Could be I’m wrong, though. I think Alex and Brent do some of the most realistic, non-exploitative-looking superhero art in comics—but does anyone else out there want to weigh in?

As for the auto-translators, Honor Guard has the advantage of technology from Starwoman’s people; it’s really good. And it’s entirely possible that heavy volume of Spanish-language calls or a software attack from the Haxxorians kicked that one over to a non-Spanish speaker, but my general feeling is that the auto-translators are so good they don’t need to worry about that. Alien tech is often the best global choice.

And speaking of Spanish-speakers, here’s SAIZ:

DC has published only two new ASTRO CITY numbers and we can already tell it’s back just the way it has always been meant to be. I’d really have appreciated if they were published under the America’s Best Comics label but well, of course Vertigo is nowhere a bad brand to belong.

ASTRO CITY is one of the best comics ever. From its very first number 1 (the one at Image Comics, it’s been awhile), every story has been beautifully crafted, each one is by every means a single piece of art and all of them have been building the Astro City tale with lovely accuracy, since there’s nothing which is out of time or “betrays” in any way the overall history.

Over time I’ve come to realize what is that makes Astro City so special for me, and it’s exactly the same thing which makes special everything you write and also makes you one of my favorite writers ever, and it’s the fact that you do understand human nature and can actually make all of us sympathize with whatever the characters are going through, no matter if you’re reading CONAN, UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN, MARVELS, ASTRO CITY or any other book. And I really love other writers’ work but there’s no one else in the comics business who can make me take heart over the story the way you do.

In ASTRO CITY, you do a very fine job “enveloping” stories with superhero stuff, but the real focus is never lost, no matter how intricate the tale is, and there’s always a precious thing to remember and learn at the end.

I’m sure many people out there love ASTRO CITY for a lot of different reasons, and of course there are many other incredible things about it that I enjoy, but I guess what makes it so near and dear to me is the fact that I can actually picture the story in my head and care about the characters, so thank you very much for actually making me imagine what it would be like living at a place where superheroes are part of every day’s life.

Well, I’m grateful about the fact that you are giving us more ASTRO CITY tales y me despido desde la Ciudad de México, reciba un abrazo sincero de su amigo mexicano Saís Ruíz Reyes and please don’t ever let ASTRO CITY be away from us again!

We’ll do our best, Saís!

From RAUL:

While rereading “The Eagle & the Mountain,” I came to realize that if Infidel and Samaritan are powered by the same energy and the fact that Infidel seems to be immortal (or simply very hard to kill) does this mean Samaritan is immortal also?

Since you have stated before that time flows at the same rate in ASTRO CITY as in real life, then heroes as Quarrel and Black Rapier would be nearing their mid 40s, and even Roscoe James (the current Jack in the Box) would be in his early 30s (with even a Jerome Johnson sidekick perhaps?) and with all these new heroes introduced in the new series it is somewhat comforting to know that some of my favorites (including Samaritan, Beauty, Silver Agent & the Hanged Man) will be available, along with 4th generation heroes for new stories for a long time.

It is quite a rare chance for there to actually be generational heroes (maybe a fourth generation Furst team?) and I hope these sorts of themes get addressed on future issues…as well as a look on the current Confessor…pretty please?

You’ll see the current Confessor soon…and we definitely want to get to a story about Quarrel and Crackerjack that deals with them aging.

Infidel is very hard to kill, but I don’t know if he’s immortal. Samaritan is also very hard to kill, but even if Infidel were immortal, that wouldn’t mean Sam must be. After all, Sam can fly, and Infidel can’t, so even if they have a common power source they’re not using it in exactly the same ways.

I would assume Samaritan isn’t immortal. But I guess only time will tell.

From PAUL:

On behalf of all call centre workers who dream of something more and need an occasional hint to go and check the classifieds, thank you very much. A fascinating story, and a very original idea, of how the modern world would cope with the realities of having superheroes and villains out there is brought to us with great detail and a very affable lead character.

And yet I had a sense of foreboding all the way through—possibly down to the past tense in the narration—none of which though prepared me for the shock that the end was. It did its job though, because it made me want to know what happens next. Looking forward to it.

Hope you liked it when you saw it, Paul.

And that wraps up another online column! Be here next time, when I demonstrate my mastery of words like “the” and “is!” We’ll be seeing how you liked the finale of Marella’s adventure. Until then…

5 thoughts on “ASTRO CITY MAIL – SEPTEMBER 2013

    • Cap’s was semi-sorta rooted in the idea of the old Teen Brigade ham-radio guys from early issues of HULK.

      I want to do something with a modernized spin on that, too, someday.

  1. Yeah…a place the size of any version of the Watchtower – moonbase or orbital satellite – ought to have had a proper support staff. And when one considers that all of them would have to be trained in EVA operations/survival…hmmm.

  2. Astro City is the alternative to the current meme of bloody anatomically correct rains of body parts. For me writing is paramount. I enjoy exceptional art also. Astro City delivers a solid satifying product, with likable characters, which engage the reader.You end up thinking about the characters after the story is over.

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