Plenty of response, positive and un-, to the finale to the Winged Victory arc (including a surprising-to-me invocation of the word “Feminazi”), but for our Letter of the Month, let’s see a response to the question of whether to reveal the Hanged Man’s origin…
No, don’t tell the backstory of the Hanged Man.
One of the things I love about ASTRO CITY is the almost-real quality of the setting, and the multiple points of view from the whole population, from the hotel doorman to the most powerful hero. Those multiple perspectives lend veritas in ways that most books don’t because of the way they’re structured. Marvel’s Spider-Man comics, for instance, are always all about Spider-Man and his immediate supporting cast. We don’t see the web-slinger through anyone else’s eyes. Over in the Avengers titles, for another example, one of the most memorable issues for me is still the one told entirely from Jarvis’ point of view. For Marvel and DC books, stepping away from the omniscient view is a refreshing rarity. In ASTRO CITY, it’s a regularity.
In working from that personal point of view, I think it could be important for the people of Astro City—and the heroes—to see something they don’t understand and can’t explain. I’d say that sense of disturbing, unsettling mystery is a spur to maintaining a sense of personal wonder and curiosity. For myself, I like to keep an open mind about the possibilities of UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, and Bigfoot. Frauds and mistakes overwhelm and dominate these fields, of course, but I like to hold open the possibility that maybe, just maybe…
After all, only one of the stories of Bigfoot has to be verifiable.
Or can you imagine the impact of one solidly documented close encounter of the third kind?
As far as we’ve seen to date, Astro City doesn’t have Bigfoot—but they do have a woman with wings flying through the city. Astro City may not have UFOs—but they do have a near-invincible alien(?) policing the world at incredible speed. Unlike our world, the legends of Astro City are right out in the open where everyone can see them.
I suggest that the Hanged Man is a central part of what I’d call the “crypto-gnostic” mythos of Astro City. He is the mystery that even the heroes don’t understand. Because they don’t understand, he’s unsettling. One of the greatest temptations for a superhero would have to be indulging in the feeling that they have power and control, that “they got this.” The Hanged Man is the argument against that temptation. The heroes don’t know who he is, what he is, where he comes from, when or why he may appear: that central mystery is even more disturbing to the heroes than his creepy visage. For all their power and all they know, there is still…the Hanged Man.
That’s why I think the Hanged Man should remain a mystery. Thanks for reading my thoughts.
And thanks for those thoughts, Morgan. For contributing the Letter of the Month, you get a signed copy of the issue, so fire off an e-mail with your mailing address, and it’ll be on its way.
Most of those who wrote in agreed with you, so no Hanged Man origin any time soon. But I will say, I’m already thinking about a few hints and glimpses, to deepen the mystery. (Including one next month.)
So what else do we have for you this month?
Here’s one, short and sweet, from ELAINE:
Just wanted to send a quick message to say what an amazing issue this was. What a great way to end a fantastic story arc. I hope we see more of Winged Victory/Lauren with Samaritan/Asa. They are my absolute favourite ship.
Very glad you liked it!
I have to be honest, I don’t remember what it was that made me pick up ASTRO CITY a few years ago. I have been reading comics for almost forty years, and the one thing most of my favorite books have in common is that they’re pretty much always female-centric. I work part time in a comic store, so maybe it was someone at work, but in any case, years ago I picked up LIFE IN THE BIG CITY and was hooked. The characters are so real and human, whether hero, villain or bystander.
The very first comic character I ever fell in love with was Wonder Woman, and when I read the last story of ASTRO CITY’s first trade, the first date between Winged Victory and Samaritan, I was intrigued by Winged Victory. I get to talk about comics with the women (and men) I work with and when we talk about ASTRO CITY, which we often do, as it’s one of the books we all recommend constantly, I love talking about Winged Victory. When I was just coming out I thought I was so into Wonder Woman as a child, because I identified with women. As I got older I think I realized it had much more to do with the fact that I grew up with strong women in my life. In any case, when I read that an arc of ASTRO CITY would be dedicated to Winged Victory I was so excited to read it. I loved the way the ideas of what truly being a strong woman, and by extension a person, really is. I wondered if Joey would come out as gay or perhaps even trans, but I realized it didn’t matter. He turned to someone, anyone, who would teach him to channel his own strength. And Winged Victory’s realization about teaching him was one of the few times I’ve teared up while reading a comic in the last few years.
Before I forget to say how much Brent Anderson’s art moves me, I have to say he seems to be a master at capturing the heart of a character. When Winged Victory looked to Maisie for advice on how to handle her current stresses and how much she simply needed to hear she still inspired people, when she stood in front of the council to plead her own case, and the last panel where Joey shows his joy while Victory and Samaritan share a moment…each and every moment was drawn so that I could see every emotion in all of these characters.
Well, before I start to gush too much. Thank you for bringing us the new Confessor. I have been waiting to see how Brian would inherit the mantle since the first Confessor’s death. Now, once I get to see the Gentleman starring in an arc, I’ll have almost all my Astro City dreams come true.
Thank you for making the book I can’t wait to read every month. And thank you for sharing your talent and creativity with us all.
I fully agree with you on Brent’s artwork, John—I’m so often asking him for a panel that’s all about some sort of quiet emotion (and not always in a panel where we can even see the character’s face), rather than plot or action, and Brent’s dedication to getting just the right moment, just the right expression, on the page, makes me proud to have worked with him, these past 19 years.
This issue, we have art by Graham Nolan, so it looks different—but hopefully you’ll like the results just as much.
And we’re all happy that Winged Victory and friends have meant so much to you, over the years.
The finish of the Winged Victory arc was…resoundingly okay. As a straight adventure it worked fine, but whatever commentary or subtext you were trying for about women, men and how they relate fell flat.
One reason, I think, is that the story presents two options: Team up with men or stand alone. But what if Winged Victory had gone to Cleopatra or Beautie for help, or any of the other female heroes? Not that this would bother me in itself, but since the Council of Nike made an issue of WV depending on men, someone should have raised that as an option. Maybe WV isn’t close to the other heroes as she is to Samaritan, but then she obviously isn’t chummy with the Confessor, either. And it might be interesting to see how other women heroes see WV’s mission.
I did like your handling of Karnazon as the villain created to express a bad point of view (racist, sexist, homophobic, mutant-hating, what have you), and how that pretty much guarantees a second-class character (or so I read it). Did you have any particular character(s) in mind?
As for the Hanged Man, I bet the origin is awesome. But very few characters who start out mysterious (Phantom Stranger, Black Orchid) benefit by getting a backstory, so I’d vote no. But feel free to use him more often.
I’m not sure that the Council of Nike telling Winged Victory she could only work with female allies would have changed the story much…and of course, Winged Victory’s already working with a lot of women in running her schools. I doubt she’d have considered it an acceptable compromise, either. Part of the reason might be tied up in the fact that no, she didn’t know the Confessor very well. But then, he didn’t ask for an invitation, either. He just showed up and pitched in, and should she really tell him to go away because the Council doesn’t approve of him?
In any case, she chose the response she did, rather than seeking a compromise, and (at least so far) it seems to have worked out all right.
Karnazon wasn’t actually meant to represent the class of social-evil villains—after all, as was pointed out in the story, he didn’t start out that way. He used to do other things, but his ongoing symbolic war with Winged Victory eventually took over his life, and all those other things he used to do fell away. So maybe he could stand as an argument against characters who get too limited over time, I don’t know—when I’m writing the stories, I’m not thinking of them as essays on comics history, or critiques, so I’m mostly concerned with them acting in keeping with their character, and in furthering the story at hand.
In any case, he wasn’t intended to be a reference to anyone in particular, aside from being drawn from the general category of Hulk-sized bruisers—we just cooked up a bunch of villains that seemed appropriate to be part of Winged Victory’s history, and he showed up in my head, along with the rest of them. A big, powerful physical threat seemed like the right kind of character to lead toward.
Sorry the story was only “okay” to you, but hopefully subsequent issues have been more positive on the Resounding scale!
Kurt, I love your stuff! Whether it’s AVENGERS, ARROWSMITH, MARVELS or even going way back to your SHADOWHAWK run I don’t think you’ve ever disappointed. I’ll admit, the first issue of this latest run had a different feel than the older issues but succeeding issues, especially the current arc with Winged Victory, more than made up for it! You don’t just tell stories, you bring your readers to a world that has shape and size and characters that are easy to invest in. You don’t go for the big fights at the expense of story, you delve into emotions and foibles and make us care about what’s happening, reflect on what’s happened and wonder what could happen next.
As I get older I enjoy character interaction more than huge dust-ups and you handle interaction wonderfully. The developing friendship between Winged Victory, Samaritan and the Confessor was great to watch unfold. I really enjoy the Confessor and hope you do more with him in the future!
ASTRO CITY always had a different feel compared to other comics. It always has been and still remains one of the best things I read so thank you! Please keep it up!! Oh and lest I forget, Brent is such a wonderful artist it would be hard to imagine ASTRO CITY without him. I hope you two remain a team for many more years!
Thanks for all the enjoyment!
Our pleasure, Tony.
And I hope you enjoyed this Brentless instalment—but we’re all glad to have him back next month!
I open with an apology—I was a latecomer to ASTRO CITY, and I have no excuse. Obviously, you’ve been doing just fine without me, so you may feel an apology is unnecessary. However, as I have lost sleep tearing through the collected editions (and found myself reading new issues in the parking lot of my comics store—home being too far away to wait), I’ve managed to convince myself that you’ve been creating ASTRO CITY just for me. So, in retrospect, it’s a bit rude of me that I wasn’t there from the beginning.
You see, I’ve been reading comics, lots of comics, many different of kinds of comics, for a long time now. Decades, we’re talking—a childhood obsession I never lost. When I was little, I’d walk with my father down to the news store in our small town. My dad looked at the sci-fi paperbacks, I browsed the small comics section (to reach the top row, I had to climb on the soda cooler when the grumpy owner wasn’t looking). Best of all, in the back in an old cardboard box, were the reduced price comics. They had the price written in marker on the cover, and a key part of the cover was cut out (I only found out later what that meant). I didn’t care, though. I could afford some, and no one seemed to mind too much if I just sat back there reading them (guess the owner wasn’t TOO grumpy). Besides, I was never really a comics collector, just a comics reader who happened to keep them for rereading.
I still love the cheap boxes in comics stores. Of course, I love well-written, beautifully-drawn comics, and treasure the great ones. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like reading bad comics, too. Even when they are lame, they are fun. I love learning about new characters and worlds, powers and personalities, loves and enemies, and triumphs and tragedies. I could note the corny dialog and disproportioned drawings and still want to read the next issue, just to see where it was going and what the creators had dreamed up. I even like reading the handbooks, who’s whos, and wikis.
It all (good and bad) settled into my bones (and I don’t mean in a Wertham kind of way). It turns out that, brick by brick; street by street; character by character, a place very like Astro City had been built inside of me. Reading ASTRO CITY is like coming home. That is not to say that I find ASTRO CITY boring or unoriginal. It’s more like Mr. Busiek knows more about my hometown than I do. He points out things I missed, interesting stories behind things I strolled by without a second look, and the importance of people I took for granted. I’ve walked around Astro City many times over the years, but the right tour guide can make your hometown a new place. I know I’m not alone in this, nor is this a fresh take; you can read this in the forwards to the collected editions (better stated, of course).
Still, I sometimes smell stale smoke when reading ASTRO CITY, or can almost hear the creak the rack made when my dad rotated the paperbacks. So, when I read ASTRO CITY I’m the kid reading by the cardboard box in the news shop. I’m also a tired adult. So “Victory” resonated with me. Causes are important, and the people who tirelessly dedicate themselves to an ideal are some of the best people on the planet. Yet “causes” can also sometimes awaken the worst in us. Embracing a cause, a position, can make us feel right. Life is scary and unpredictable, and feeling right can give you a sense of control and comfort. Yet that feeling of control can be addictive, and to protect it zealotry for your cause/position can grow. Which can result in you herding with people who reassure you that you are right, and developing contempt/anger for those who disagree. We switch off our brains, and lose what drew us to our position in order to protect that sense of right. Remember when the great Internet dream was a worldwide exchange of ideas and positions? Seems it just made our herding/hating happen faster and more anonymously.
Inscribing your rightness in stone isn’t a solution for scary/unpredictable life, it’s just closing your eyes to it. Life demands you keep your eyes open, mind open, and brains on. Because sometimes the problem you are expecting isn’t there, nor is the person in the black hat the bad guy. So keep your cause in your heart, but remain true to yourself and surround yourself with good people you love and can trust. Simple, but not easy. I think Winged Victory found the path, and I doubt I’m doing as well.
Congrats for reaching for reading this far into my prattle. I know the letter above is reaching for more pathos and profundity than I can actually manage. But, maybe you feel about letters what I feel about comics. Maybe you can glean some enjoyment from even the bad ones.
So let me end by saying thank you for creating ASTRO CITY just for me. Of course, given how I’ve just explained how I don’t always have the most discerning tastes, I’d understand if you think you are creating ASTRO CITY for some other reason. At least you’ll be getting some of my money.
And you know I’ll be paying full price, because ASTRO CITY will never make it to the reduced price box.
Glad you made it, Jason. We’re happy you got here, whenever you arrive.
Well, I just got to the end of the Winged Victory story arc. Really enjoyed it and it closed out well. I then look at the letters page, and imagine my astonishment to see my letter there! Thak you very much for printing and I will gladly take up the kind offer of a signed copy please.
As for the Hanged Man story. I was pretty certain you had already mapped out the backstory (I think you have for pretty much everyone, haven’t you?). I do see the point. Will it diminsh the character if we do find out who or what he is? I will leave it you and the fans to decide. I am in for the long haul, come what may.
Anyway my thanks again and I look forward to the very generous gift.
We don’t have backstories mapped out for absolutely everybody, no—but we do have at least a rough background in mind for the significant characters, and sometimes lots more. And then sometimes details will just crop up in a story and surprise us all!
This letter is long overdue. It should have been sent nearly two decades ago, when I put down issue number one of ASTRO CITY. But I am not a letter writer. Chris Claremont received my only other fan mail thirty years ago when he gave us a stirring character portrait of a major villain that brought tears to my eyes. Yet, how many times have you done the same for me, story after story, with no thanks or praise?
Worlds destroyed, twenty page fist fights, seductive poses, inconsequential deaths and gruff tough guys with ambiguous morals; this is the empty feast we’re force fed by the major comic companies. But from the beginning, you have offered stories that raise the bar. I’m not certain why I picked up the first issue; perhaps it was the names, you had both already moved me, Kurt with MARVELS and Brent with X-MEN: GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS. Or maybe it was Alex’s cover. But in any case, I have never regretted doing so. This series has always maintained its integrity and sincerity, and should be the paragon that all other comics strive to emulate.
I have always argued with the DC detractors, that Superman and Wonder Woman are not boring because they’re to powerful and too moral, they’re just written that way. With ultra powerful characters like the Samaritan and Winged Victory, Kurt, you have proven that a talented writer, employing strong characterization, can make any superhero exciting and relatable. Your latest Winged Victory storyline once again belies the cynics. No matter how powerful the hero, how can she fight a smear campaign? Like all your stories it was clever, touching and topical. If I had the influence to get the Hollywood suits to hire you to write the Wonder Woman movie, would you do it? Please? Never mind, if I ever find myself with such power, I’ll produce an ASTRO CITY movie, giving you and Brent full creative control.
Well, I can dream. Until then, please keep bringing us wonderful stories with colorful characters. Perhaps a return engagement for Jack-in-the-Box, or Charles and Royal? I promise I won’t wait another twenty years to express my gratitude.
A Wonder Woman movie? That could be fun to write…
Jack-In-The-Box is seen at least briefly this month (and next), but I’m sure we’ll see more of him in time. The Williams brothers? They’re happy in Baja, still, but I suppose you never know.
re: Hanged Man and his back story
I love it when he can be used in a story. As the vehicle for unwinding the main action (Nearness…), the definitive closer (Confession), or the prop providing extra texture to the narrative (Safeguards). No Way and No How do I want to know more about the specefics of this colorful stage dressing. I’m not too wild about having him talking too much. It would make a great closure story perhaps. Something to tell when all the other Astro City tales are told out and there is nothing new to say. But until then, dark, wailing, and mysterious works best!
On we go to CHRIS:
Given the choice between mystery and revelation…why choose?
This might mean a bit more work for you, but I’d suggest following in the spirit of the Phantom Stranger’s origin story in the 1980s SECRET ORIGINS series. Present the actual origin of the Hanged Man that exists in your mind alongside two or more “false” origins, equally plausible. Then you can say that you have told the story of the Hanged Man, while at the same time preserving the ambiguity of the character.
I dunno, Chris.
That’s not a bad idea, but it’s been done. It worked just fine in that SECRET ORIGINS special, but I wouldn’t want to just do it again with the Hanged Man. Unless there was a way for it to say something new, something different, instead of just replicating the same gimmick, I’d rather not. But there are other ways to use that kind of setup, other characters who could benefit from having a set of contradictory origins…
Hopefully, this four issue arc was cathartic for those complaining that you guys are telling too many stories that don’t have anything happen and don’t focus on heroes enough. But truth be told I might like the hero-focused, or from-the-hero-point-of-view, more accurately, a little better.
The first issue felt like a part of the vintage ASTRO CITY of volume two, which drew me into the series. Even if it was a lot of talking and little action…
Winged Victory has always seemed the ultimate Feminazi throughout her appearances over the years. But with the revealing of her origin, we see the why behind it. And more importantly, Kurt you managed to make us feel and understand her. She was powered by the collective of women, so she felt her primary goal was to empower women or else she would lose all she had. And without her being Winged Victory she felt had nothing.
That’s where putting her fighting off the dual challenges from the woman-hating Karnazon manipulating the world against her and the challenge from her allies of not being pure enough by having men aide her and even joining Honor Guard, worked beautifully.
She learned more importantly to stand up for herself even to the Council of Nike, ready to accept whatever fate they determined. Like all of us she gets by with a little help, even if they are men. Or teenage boys. Courage comes in different forms. And in the end Winged Victory found hers and as well as finding Lauren Freed again.
Another touch I enjoyed was the interaction between The Confessor and Samaritan, that played well with and against the tropes and superhero archetypes we’ve come to know in 70 years of superhero interactions.
Bravo on a nice arc.
Glad you liked it!
I don’t think “Feminazi” is the right term for Winged Victory—she’s a feminist, yes, but “Nazi?” Then again, Rush Limbaugh coined the term, and he might well choose to apply it to WV, since she certainly disagrees with him on quite a few issues.
Her mission is indeed to protect and inspire women. She’s saved a lot of men, too, along the way (and doing so must be fairly inspiring, as well), but her primary goal is woman-focused. Not because she feels she has no choice, but because that was the gig she signed up for, and she did so willingly. She’s since had some disagreements with the Council, but they’re about how to accomplish the mission, not about the need for the mission itself.
And there’ll be more hero-focused stuff coming…
Now for TIMOTHY:
As I write this, I am terribly annoyed. Not with you, but with the vagarities of fate. I’ve been following ASTRO CITY since the Confession story arc. A friend introduced it to me via the LIFE IN THE BIG CITY trade, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I love your approach, and I love the stories. “The Nearness of You” is one of the greatest single issue comics I have ever read.
I have been in the United States Navy for 15 years now, and am currently serving on a deployed warship. As you can imagine, space is at a premium. One thing I did bring with me was my ASTRO CITY trades, and all the individual issues I had on hand when I left. That’s how great I think it is, and how eager I was to reread everything and then start the new issues, and play catch up.
To my annoyance, the last issue I have is #8, the middle of the Winged Victory story. And I absolutely love it. I remember way back in volume 1, #6 when she said something about not wanting to go back to being the “weak, pathetic thing” she used to be. It’s great to finally see where she comes from, and why she fights so hard the way she does, to empower women. Perhaps that’s why she spends so much time in her superhero identity. She can’t be that strong woman when she’s her normal self. Or she’s afraid to be her normal self.
At any rate, I wanted to write to tell you how much I enjoy the book, and how much I’m looking forward to coming home later this year, and having a pile of ASTRO CITY to catch up on. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to look forward to seeing my letter printed.
You guys keep putting them out and I’ll keep reading them. Thank you.
Thank you, sir, for your service!
I don’t know if you’ll be able to see this online letter column, but I’ve sent you an e-mail—get us an APO address (or whatever will work) and we’ll send you the issues you’re missing!
For me, very nearly every ‘origin story’ is, if not a bore, then predictable in structure, so to answer: Keep the Hanged Man an unknown or reveal his mortal past? There’s a way to do both and that’s to reveal a moment, now and then, as he appears. Someone says something that triggers a memory for him, or a situation is similar and he remarks, [e.g.] ‘This, as it was at Jericho.’ And that’s all—just a little bit more of him whenever he appears in your story. ‘Judith has crossed my mind not once in thirteen years, til now.’
The more human bits we get on the Big Players the better for me. Jack-in-the-Box looks up at the Gentleman, smirks, “Remember New Orleans?” The Gentleman smiles, from pleasure to wry amusement across two panels. And that’s enough, for the moment, and might well resonate later on.
Concluding issue ten’s four-parter, while I feel the story ran an issue extra long, it’s a strong ending, good for her (and us!) that she “goes home,” takes her life back, in full. I particularly like Asa’s quandary throughout, worrying constantly how much help is too much, that too little help would be unwarranted abandonment.
Ah well, ‘just’ another nice job, another story out of Astro City.
I’ve been reading comics on and off for the past forty years, and there have been many peaks and valleys in the industry for me, but ASTRO CITY, when in publication, has always been my ray of sunshine. It seems today most mainstream comics are written as flavor of the month story lines that have no continuity whatsoever and I find them to be highly disposable and lazily written.
ASTRO CITY is a comic that embodies that Golden/Silver Age era of storytelling that seems to have disappeared. This comic is so welcoming to new readers of any age without insulting the old ones, which is so very rare in comics these days. Brent’s art style adds so much to the atmosphere of the comic I can imagine no one else illustrating it. I was lucky enough to meet him at a WonderCon in ’98 in which he signed a Loony Leo for me.
You’ve asked if the Hanged Man’s origin should be told? I was on the fence about this, then you alluded to the greatness of such a story. So please do it! He and the Bouncing Beatnik, are two characters that I’ve always been interested in seeing fleshed out. You also mentioned something about an ASTRO CITY movie in development—any progress on this?
ASTRO CITY is leaps and bounds much better than any other superhero comic out there, it stands high on Kirby Mountain looking down.
While it looks like we won’t be revealing the Hanged Man’s origin, Robert (or at least not all of it), the Bouncing Beatnik we will return to, and you’ll learn his story. In time.
As for an ASTRO CITY movie, that particular option lapsed, so the movie they were hoping to make didn’t become a reality—which is the fate of the vast majority of movie options. But there’s another deal in the works now (and there were more in-between), so maybe someday, ASTRO CITY will hit the big (or small) screen in style.
But this is why I don’t talk about these deals much—there’s almost always something going on, but “going on” just doesn’t mean it’ll make it all the way to selling the tickets and buying the popcorn. When and if we get something like that happening, we’ll make plenty of noise about it—but in the meantime, we’ll just let thing bubble and simmer behind the scenes, and save the announcements for when there’s something more concrete to announce.
And to play us out, here’s DAN:
I just finished reading issue #10, and despite already having e-mailed you after I read issue #8, I thought I’d write you again now to note briefly that:
1. To my eye, Karnazon’s face resembled Harry Knowles;
2. In response to your question on the letters page, I agree with your hesitation to reveal the details of the Hanged Man’s origins. That being said, I thought Barry Windsor Smith’s “Weapon X” succeeded in this regard because it raised as many new questions about Wolverine’s background as it answered.
3. A monthly comic book circulation table posted recently on ICv2 indicated that ASTRO CITY sells just under 15,000 copies each month. I’m so glad that this series has been revived. That figure surprised and disappointed me, and, assuming that it’s accurate, made me wonder a little bit about its future.
Responding in reverse order…
3. I don’t see those estimates, but they’re estimates, and don’t take into account all avenues of sales. Nobody’s suggested to me that ASTRO CITY’s in any jeopardy, and indeed, our latest royalty check was the biggest we’ve gotten in a while. So I wouldn’t worry.
2. I liked “Weapon X,” too, but I’m not sure that’d be a fruitful approach for the Hanged Man.
1. Harry Knowles? You’d have to ask Brent about that. It’s not a name that ever came up when we were talking about the guy. I guess Harry would have to do some intense working out…
And with that, we’re done with another letter column. See you next time, when Brent returns, time fractures, and the Dancing Master takes the stage!