Astro City Mail – August 2014

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Welcome back! Sorry to have skipped last month on you, but the fine folks at Vertigo wanted to make sure we’re dependably there on the stands when we promise to be, so we skipped July to buy us more time on the schedule. We’re taking steps to see that it doesn’t happen again (or not soon, at least), working hard to gain on the schedule, slating our next guest-artist issue for #17, that sort of thing.
But we’re glad to be back, with this two-part tale. And for our Letter of the Month, let’s get a comment on our first guest-artist issue.

Take it away, REED:

Fred Glosman has a fascination with being a villain, particularly the Big Bad Wolf of fable and story. I can empathize because when I read some of your poignant explorations of villains in ASTRO CITY, I find myself empathizing with these criminal characters. It’s not that I have a desire to commit felonies or break the law, it’s just that your villain characters seem so real with their heartbreaking stories of bad choices, misplaced ambition, and wasted opportunities that my heart just breaks when I read their stories.
To this day, Steeljack is one of my favorite comics characters, and The Tarnished Angel is one of my favorite ASTRO CITY trade collections. I’m amazed at how you are able to showcase and humanize these broken felons like Glosman, Steeljack, and the Mock Turtle. Their struggles to find dignity in disgrace are truly moving.

Although I missed Brent Anderson’s artwork, I thought Graham Nolan’s art was perfect for the story, and I hope to see more of his work, either in ASTRO CITY or other comics. I also hope that you will continue the fine ASTRO CITY tradition of showing super-villains at their most human moments.

I’ll freely admit, as I think I have before, that I’m a complete sucker for villain stories, from being a rabid fan of ALIAS SMITH AND JONES as a teenager to following the adventures of crooks—whether wry, ruthless or rueful—in such books as Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series or Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels (written as Richard Stark) or his Dortmunder novels. And I’ve enthusiastically dived in to the field from my first creator-owned series, THE LIBERTY PROJECT, to REGULATORS, THUNDERBOLTS and more. Heroes are fine, but you can usually trust them to do the right thing. Criminals, though…you never know where they’re going to go next, because their motivations and
faults tend to drag them off in all kinds of interesting directions. “Struggles to find dignity in disgrace” is a great way to put it—and it’s a big part of why I’m driven to tell stories about the other players in superhero stories, the players who don’t have a clear mission or a goal they’ve devoted their lives to.

So I’m glad you like Fred Glosman’s story, and there’ll be more villain stories coming. Too many good ideas fall into my head for characters who are weak, tarnished, battered and bruised by life—or driven to make their stamp on the world in the worst possible ways.

And hey: you wrote the Letter of the Month, so you get a signed copy of this very issue. Send in an e-mail with your mailing address, and it’ll be in your hands as fast as the Post Office can crawl.

Now let’s see what else we’ve got, this time around…

Here’s STEVE:

That was not an ASTRO CITY book.

Despite the logo and the Alex Ross cover, this story was not an ASTRO CITY story. This issue read like a page-filling back-up origin story from the late 80s or early 90s. Traumatizing childhood incident—check. Decision to give in to rage—check. Squandered shot at redemption—check. Last page twist in the narration—check. Yet I think if you had done this story from the wife’s point of view, it could have been a classic. In my opinion, Ned was too one-dimensional for an ASTRO CITY lead.

Graham Crackers Comics gave it a 10 out of 10 review, so I will be curious to read the comments and letters on the issue.

Sorry you didn’t care for it, Steve! I will note that the reviews and response we’ve seen has been largely positive, but that doesn’t matter—if you didn’t like it, you didn’t like it.

So it goes, and I hope you liked the next issue better!

For an opposing view, let’s check in with STAN:

I just put down my copy of the Deep Dark Woods and felt compelled to send you my first ever fan letter.

This issue embodies what I love about comics and ASTRO CITY in general. A self-contained story that touches both my 35-year-old mind and the 10-year-old kid that lives in my heart.

You prove once again you don’t have to eliminate the magical essence of the genre (a magic that awakens a specific youthful excitement which so rarely shows itself during adulthood) in order to tell an intelligent and emotional story.

Too many creators abandon that magic in favor of an attempt to capture a grim realism. When the magic is taken out of the books we end up with essentially an overly earnest cop show featuring men and women in spandex as opposed to police uniforms…no thanks. You can tell a powerful story without eliminating all of the fun and wonder.

ASTRO CITY proves you can have it all…the magic, the heart and the brains.

I can go on all day about how your work on this book should be a template for all other comic writers.

Your ability to tell self contained stories that, while only a single issue in length, come off feeling epic. Your ability to take a minor character and make him more interesting and fleshed out than characters who have been published for a lifetime…I can go on and on telling you how great you are on this book, but for both are sakes I am stopping.

Please keep them coming, if there is any justice in this world, you sir should be rich!

PS: So you don’t think I am simply a blind fan of your work I want you to know, while I also really enjoyed your AVENGERS and THUNDERBOLTS runs, I didn’t dig your SUPERMAN stuff…I imagine you’d want to save your best Supes ideas for Samaritan anyway. I know if I were you I would 😉

I can’t actually save my best Superman ideas for Samaritan, Stan—despite them having some similarities, they’re different characters, and a story that works for one of them won’t work for the other. So I just tell the best stories I can about the character at hand, and leave it at that.

But hey, even if you didn’t go for my Superman run, I’m glad you’re enjoying ASTRO CITY! [And if you’re an ASTRO CITY fan, I’d recommend checking out SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY, if you haven’t already.]

On to MORGAN:

First I really have to say “thank you!” for choosing and publishing my letter. I’ve been reading comics off and on, but mostly ON, since about 1976. I worked part-time at Taco Bell in Denver while I was in high school, and the comics shop was my very first stop after each payday. That, or the record store…but usually Mile High Comics came first. I’m honored, and flattered, that you chose my opinion to share with your readership.

I noticed that my name was spelled “Blackwynd” in the issue, and I just smiled at that. It’s either mispelled a lot because it’s an unusual combination of simple words, or people assume it’s an alias. You see, I’ve always had an affinity for ravens and crows, especially in their affiliation with the Morrigan. When you have a murder of crows in flight, you have a… black wind. And that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.

Thanks again!

You’re more than welcome, and sorry for spelling your name wrong, Morgan. I’m going to put it down to a typo—either that, or I subconsciously decided you must be a member of Youngblood. It is a pretty cool name.

Here’s STEVEN:

Instant classic. I don’t remember how far into #11 I was before I knew it, but it was well before the end. And this despite me starting with a negative impression from Kim’s (in my opinion) unnecessarily skimpy outfit and underwear scene. Put some more clothes on this woman, and this issue would be perfect!

This story epitomizes so many things that I love about ASTRO CITY. First, we didn’t know a ding dong thing about any of these characters before now—but we don’t need to! The main characters go from being complete strangers to fully-characterized individuals over the course of two dozen pages, and while we know relatively little about the background characters, we know everything we need to enjoy the story. And that character design! So many new faces, but each one is a masterpiece (except for Kim’s costume…), with great costumes and fantastic facial expressions (I love Lord Colquhoun’s panicked look, and who else but Brent could get such great expressions out of a blob like Tumorr?). The cover, which I initially found rather chaotic and confusing (why so many insects around everybody?) makes perfect sense after reading the issue.

Second, it has lots of little treasures in there that are fun for long-time readers, but totally unnecessary for newbies—Samaritan’s brief cameo, the references to Grimoire and the Hanged Man (and who are the Collegium???), and the subtle nod to the Silver Agent (“silver harmonic”). Not to mention other little details, like the stuffed elephant and “You Suck” by Moore on the bookcase

And let’s not forget the humor—I’ll only mention what I think was the best laugh-out-loud comic book moment this year—Mr. Malefic’s curses of short toenails and chapped lips had the guy next to me on the plane wondering what was wrong with me. This issue shows how much fun the not-so-subtly-alluded-to Dr. Strange could be if he wasn’t such a sourpuss. (For some reason I’m imagining Bugs Bunny-style smooches between Impossible Man and Silver Surfer, or Roger Rabbit and Eddie Valiant, telling them to lighten up.) This issue was downright fun to read, and is going to be one of the first ones I suggest to a new reader.

Now to be picky, I won’t mention Kim’s attire again, but “the Silver Adept” just falls flat as a name for me. I just can’t imagine people actually calling her that. Despite those quibbles, I had a blast with her, and appreciated the fact that all of her magical power didn’t keep her from using technology like the internet. Though of course, the issue wasn’t about her, it was about Raitha, who is an absolute gem. I would love to read more about any of the characters in this issue, and would probably somehow find a way to add it to my pull list (which consists solely of ASTRO CITY and HEROBEAR).

My only other quibble relates to the question you asked about the Hanged Man’s origin—whether or not you should ever tell it, at the risk of demystifying him. However, I think that the idea that Kim could “push emergencies” onto him already burst that bubble. If even one person (even the greatest magician in the worlds) knows him enough to send problems to him, he’s far less mysterious than if he somehow shows up whenever he is needed. That reinforces what I was already going to suggest—I don’t think the character’s mystique would be damaged at all by telling a great origin story, so go ahead and plan on telling it—just maybe push it down the line for a long time, and get to it eventually (after the other million stories you have in mind).

This issue also happened to be a perfect answer to some of Eric’s LOTM suggestions. At first, I agreed with his idea of editor’s notes on characters, but this issue showed that they are completely unnecessary for a new or casual reader. Sure, it would be nice for long-term readers trying to pick up on little hints, but if we really want to dig, we’ll re-read and scour Herocopia anyway, and I’m sure you wouldn’t reveal any big surprises in the footnotes.

Also regarding his suggestion that we don’t know the villains well enough, yes, it would be nice, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The focus is on the point-of-view of a few people at a time, often “normal” people—and the vast majority of them won’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the heroes and villains. Yes, you’ll have some obsessed fans and Herocopia to catalog what people know, but I think that most of the really powerful villains would be largely mysterious (or completely unknown) to most people.

You don’t need to know Galactus’ full history to know that it’s a bad day when he shows up—and you can convey that with a simple “oh, crap” look from a powerful hero who is otherwise always unfazed. Criminals don’t need to know much about Batman to know that they should be afraid of him showing up, so we don’t need to know what makes the Deacon so scary, or how he got that way, to know that he’s a force to be reckoned with. And quite often, the boogeyman that you don’t know is much scarier than the one that you do. Hmmm, I guess I’m shooting myself in the foot on wanting to see the Hanged Man’s origin. I won’t object to learning more about these major villains—but it has to happen for the sake of a good story, and not for its own sake.

Finally, I’d like to comment briefly (“too late”) on the conclusion to the Winged Victory saga. I previously mentioned that I thought it had a slow start, but I thought it had a great finish. I’ll start with my few quibbles with 9 & 10. First was a rare misstep in Brent’s art—I’m not sure that Maisie’s pose in the relocation camp (“…to take my dignity…”) is anatomically possible, without breaking bones. Maybe that’s what you were trying to imply, and if so, you did it well, because it made me cringe. And on a smaller note, I thought that the friendship between Samaritan and Confessor seemed really rushed. In particular, I don’t think that Brian would take anybody, even Samaritan, into his main headquarters that soon after getting to know them. But it was almost worth it to see him tell Samaritan to stop breaking his stuff (which, to be fair, also seemed a bit uncharacteristic…).

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the conclusion to the arc—not as much as #11, but very solid. I thought Maisie’s was fantastic, I finally noticed WV’s “boomerang” sword, and I thought that the concept behind Karnazon was really interesting (though I thought he looked a bit too cartoony—his face reminded me of Syndrome from the Incredibles). And I really liked WV’s message at the end and her willingness to give up everything to stay true to what she thought was right. And those last few pages had me fighting tears. Well done.

I’m looking forward to reading #12, which has been out a few days now (though I haven’t made it to my FLCS yet…), but I think I’ve rambled enough. But while I haven’t seen Graham Nolan’s art yet, I’ll put in my plug for a potential fill-in artist for sometime when Brent needs a hand and Graham isn’t available—I’d love to see you and George Perez together again. If not for a full issue, how about one of his famous group-shots as a centerfold or pull-out?

Thanks, as always, for a fantastic comic!

And you’re more than welcome too, Steven!

I won’t apologize for the Silver Adept’s costume—it was a deliberate choice to go against type. She’s not a stuffy, reserved uber-wizard type, and we figured that she’d choose to dress that way. I don’t think all characters should, but some characters will, and it’s right for her. [And introducing her by showing that she passed out half-dressed after an exhausting night of both magic and socializing is one of the ways we can introduce you to a character quickly so that you feel you know them. Cover her up, and it would take a lot more to get across her personality and general approach to life.]

All credit to letterer and design wizard John Roshell for Mister Malefic’s curses—I asked him for type too tiny to read, and he filled it in with stuff too good not to make (barely) readable. Everyone on this book goes the extra mile.

The Hanged Man, I’ll point out, was introduced while doing his regular morning patrol, so he’s not someone who only shows up when needed. He’s just not someone most people get to see much of, since he largely sticks to Shadow Hill. But the Adept, and others in the know, can certainly contact him.

I’m not sure why you don’t think Brian wouldn’t bring someone like Samaritan into his HQ—this story was literally our first look at the mature Brian-as-Confessor, so we didn’t have any prior information that’d say whether he’d do that or not. It turns out he would. As it was, writing Brian was fun, because he felt a lot more relaxed than his predecessor. And Samaritan’s been a hero since Brian was very young. He’s pretty clearly trustworthy—although perhaps not around lab equipment when he’s frustrated, another situation we only saw for the first time here.

I’d love to work with George Peréz again on just about anything, but for the moment he’s tied up elsewhere, and enjoying himself there. Maybe someday.

Hope you enjoyed #12!

And now, RAUL:

Didn’t know you had franchises here in Mexico City 😉

AstroCityHealthClub

Whoa!

That’s really cool. I suppose I should sic lawyers on them in order to protect our trademarks, but hey, y’know…that’s pretty cool. Thanks for sending it!

Here’s MARK:

Hello, I only discovered ASTRO CITY a year ago, and since then I’ve scrambled to own every single one. I’ve sung its praises to my friends who will listen and convinced them to read it too, and so far I have 100% positive results.

I admit, I came into this series expecting cynical, post-modern irony about how little sense aspects of superhero comics make and I was so happy to be wrong. It takes a little bit of cleverness to say that practicing law would be hard when “my evil twin did it” is a valid defense, but it takes genius to work out how it would work anyway. I would like to ask though, is there any chance of seeing a story starring The Old Soldier? I love the idea that seems to be behind him, though I can understand wanting to keep him in the sidelines since that story could easily get very controversial (he stood against the US in Saigon after all).

I love what you’re doing now too, the recent Winged Victory storyline was great and I fell in love with the whole idea of the Sideliners, who seem like they could easily support their own series.

Do you ever get the urge to expand ASTRO CITY into its own full setting a la the big publishers? I would welcome it but I can also understand why you wouldn’t want to, since that would necessarily change the focus of the series and could easily miss the whole point of examining superheroes from the outside.

Looking forward to whatever you do next.

I think is ASTRO CITY expanded into a whole line of comics it’d just be another superhero universe, Mark. It’s the viewpoint and attitude (and the fact that I get to write all the stories) that keeps it unique. As a big sprawling line of adventure books, I think we’d lose that. So yeah, I don’t really get that urge. I wish we could get more issues done faster, but I don’t feel the need to expand.

Regarding the Old Soldier, I do have a story in mind. Brent and I talked through the Soldier’s backstory years ago, at a Charlotte comicon, over breakfast. Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes, and don’t remember all the details—but when the time is right, we’ll talk it through again, and probably find a whole new set of ideas.

As for what I’m doing next, it’s called TOOTH & CLAW, and I hope you’ll check it out this November.

Here’s CHRIS, with a few more belated comments about “Victory”:

Best. Wonder Woman. Story. Ever.

Yes, I realize that the Astro City characters aren’t direct analogues, but…woah!!! Winged Victory, Samaritan and the Confessor??? Together again for the first time!

Best. Justice League. Story. Ever. Throw out all that crap about the characters not being deliberate rip-offs of established superheroes. It’s not relevant. Winged Victory proves herself a better alpha female superhero than Wonder Woman has ever been, and although strictly relegated to supporting cast, the Confessor and Samaritan are icing on the cake. I would pay for twenty pages of the three of them bantering (drawn by Brent of course) without a supervillain in sight. Bats, Supe and WW have never been so interesting or exciting, and the climatic splash page where they burst in on the villains, it reminds me of why I still love superheroes. It’s Vic’s story, but Brian and Sam had important roles to play.

I’ve been ambivalent about ASTRO CITY since the earliest issues, because the good stories always evened out the bad stories, but there were enough bad stories to make me doubt the strength of the overall concept. The publishing schedule didn’t help. I assume you wanted five years worth of stories before the Confessor reared his head again, but that’s not what happened, so now we have characters we learned about twenty years ago who exist in real-time and are still valid.

But I don’t care. As long as they’re as great as Vic, Brian and Sam are in this story, I’ll put up with the schedule and the weak stories, because the great ones will always stand out. I’ve been re-reading THE DARK AGE regularly, and still cite “The Nearness of You” as one of the greatest comics I’ve ever read. Rip off Marvel and DC characters all you want, just give us more. And have Brent draw it.

Uh, thanks?

I don’t want to rip off anyone’s characters. But I’m glad you liked the story so much. Hope you’ve enjoyed the Silver Adept and subsequent characters just as much.

And to wrap up, here’s MARK, with a familiar question:

I recently became a fan of ASTRO CITY and purchased the first hardcover of the new editions (LIFE IN THE BIG CITY). Is there a set date for the second volume (CONFESSION) to be available in hardcover? Since these are being published by DC Comics, I know that they are going through a big move to the West Coast, so I imagine that might have taken their minds off of reprints. I recently e-mailed Tom Scioli about reprinting his GØDLAND Celestial Editions and within a month of two a reprint was solicited, so I thought if nothing else e-mailing may be a trigger for some kind of cosmic movement among publishers and creators. Just as likely is that it was already in the works but sometimes it’s easier to imagine we have a greater impact than we do. Thank you for your time and for information you can provide—I greatly appreciate it.

I was in New York a month or so ago, and I talked with the DC Collected Editions guys about getting the books back into print. I expect the demands of the move have some effect, but the number of books they put out with a fairly small department does too, and they haven’t been able to get the books onto the schedule yet. But hopefully soon.

And that’s it for another online lettercol. Be here again next time, for the conclusion of Ellie’s unexpected turn in the spotlight!

One thought on “Astro City Mail – August 2014

  1. Okay, so I’m a couple of months behind (and I don’t know if anybody will see this), but a follow-up on my comment to Confessor bringing Samaritan and WV into his HQ: Yes, Samaritan’s been a hero for years, but they were just fighting an issue ago! That, and there’s also issues of possible mind-control, imposters, etc. Yeah, a trip to the HQ is a good gesture to build trust, considering how much of his operation is based on secrecy, I can see Brian bringing Samaritan and WV into a secondary location, but taking them to his main HQ seems a bit risky. Just my two cents.

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