Astro City Mail – September 2014


As I write this, Brent is burning the midnight oil, racing to finish an issue of ASTRO CITY, Tom Grummett’s working on one as well, Alex is toiling away at a couple of upcoming covers and I’m framing out the second issue of the Quarrel-Crackerjack 4-parter. Lots to do, lots going on. And hey, ASTRO CITY 15 is about to hit the stands.

So let’s see. What do we have for a Letter of the Month? Ah, here we go…


I just read ASTRO CITY 12 and wanted to let you know that I feel it’s the best yet of the current volume! I enjoyed it to such a degree that I finally got around to checking out your online letter columns as I’d been intending to for so long.

First, I simply loved seeing a new Graham Nolan-drawn story—it’s been toooo long! Everything I loved from Graham, especially from his hugely under-rated run on DETECTIVE COMICS with Chuck Dixon, was there: his polished, clean style, his heavier inking style, his knack for expressions and his impeccable storytelling. I’ve missed Graham’s style more than I knew, and if there’s anything of his upcoming to plug on your site, I would be grateful for the heads up! (None of this should be taken as an indictment of Brent—he is the ASTRO CITY interior artist!) More Graham when Brent needs another break would be great, or if you want to consider other guests, how about some other artists we don’t see enough of these days? Kerry Gammill, Tom Mandrake (Ooh! On a Hanged Man story!) and Jerry Ordway come immediately to mind!

Second, the story itself just hit the spot. Relatable “bad guy” stories are something I have a vulnerability for. And the story of ‘Nick’ hit a note for me similar to Steeljack’s, many years ago. Both characters strove to change their ways for different reasons and with different results. Though we didn’t get to know Nick as well as we did Steeljack over the latter’s starring role in (what I think is) the best AC epic ever, we got to know the conflict within him and sympathize to a degree.

I like the last page, too, though it puzzles me. I’m not sure if it was some kind of psychotic break or if Nick was simply surrendering to a compulsion he knew he wouldn’t be able to resist for long. That last panel and the look on Nick’s face portends the former, but the ambiguity intrigues me.

So, thanks, for this issue, Kurt (and Graham), and thanks for giving us a regular dose of AC for the past year or so. I, and many other AC fans out there, really appreciate it!

Delighted you liked it, Anthony. I agree with you about Graham’s considerable strengths as an artist, and thought he brought Fred/Nick to life beautifully.

If you’re hungry for new stuff coming up from him (as you clearly are), keep an eye out for JOE FRANKENSTEIN, coming next year from IDW, written by Graham’s longtime DETECTIVE and AIRBOY collaborator, Chuck Dixon.

As for other guest artists, I like all of your suggestions (Jerry Ordway? Kerry Gammill? Tom Mandrake drawing a Hanged Man story? Hold me back!). With the caveat that we’ll be doing our best to make sure we need as few non-Brent issues as possible, we’ll be doing our best to make sure any guest-artist is a welcome treat. On that note, I can tell you that #17 will be a cosmic Honor Guard adventure (of sorts) drawn by the great Tom Grummett.  I’m thrilled to work with Tom again, and it’s going to look great.

The usual: You write the Letter of the Month, you get a signed copy of the comic. E-mail us with your address, and we’ll send it right off.

So what else do we have in the mailbox?

Here’s one from STEFAN:

Just read the beginning of the letter “No, don’t tell the backstory of the Hanged Man,” and I was going here to write the same letter. Tell the story if you want, but the great thing about ASTRO CITY is that there are all these assumed backgrounds that I don’t know about. One of the things that made comics so cool as a kid was I never got the whole story because I didn’t have the continuous issues…and I made up in my head all sorts of things that might be happening. And it was great. So, keep the mystery unless you’re really excited to tell the story.

Will do!

Another one from STEFAN (same Stefan):

ASTRO CITY 11 had me laughing on about every page. What fun! Thanks.

You’re more than welcome, sir.


I remember the first time I ever laid my eyes on the comic. They were sitting in old shelves of my local town library. Each cover to each collection was beautiful, it looked as if a grand epic were concealed within the pages of each trade. The part when I knew that I was in for the long haul was the “Sideliners” story. The concept of regular people gaining powers is constantly fluctuating through my brain. In all, I wanted to know if you’d ever do an issue dealing with the building of a metahuman school.

No current plans for that, Antonio, but if the right idea ever hits, I’ve got nothing against it. Just don’t have a story to tell in that setting, at least not yet. And a lot of other stories to get to first…!

A letter from STEVEN:

First, I’d like to talk about Graham Nolan’s visit to our fair city. Before I do, though, I should tell you a bit more about myself. I really can’t stand change in some things—when my wife changes her hairstyle or gets new glasses, I won’t comment on it for a month, because it takes me that long to get over my dislike for the change enough to give an honest assessment.

Now, that being said, I thought Mr. Nolan’s guest stint was…tolerable. That’s much higher praise than it sounds. There wasn’t anything in it that I actively disliked, and though the style seemed more suited to an issue of ARCHIE than ASTRO CITY, really enjoyed the art on the first page, the costume designs, and Ned’s facial expressions. This I can say for certain: you certainly could have done far worse, and if I had a month or so (and a few more issues), I could probably get used to it and enjoy it. And hey, didn’t Captain America and Nighthawk visit that same giant typewriter?

As for the story, well, I don’t know if my opinion was more influenced by the change in art or the timing (I read it after a particularly challenging bedtime with my kids, hoping it would cheer me up. It didn’t work), but it left me a little flat. It was an interesting concept, to see what would drive somebody to wear a series of such interesting (and stylish) costumes for their criminal career, and while I’d previously thought of a low-level lackey bouncing among various criminal bosses, I hadn’t imagined someone who is a bit of a headliner constantly recreating himself instead of building a reputation. Ned’s love for Alice and Jill touched me, but when I finished with the issue, I wondered where I missed the “wow” moment and the little bits of humor that sneak in. Oh, well, they can’t all be classics.

Issue 13, on the other hand, had me from the cover—the psychedelic 70s pop art background, contrasted by the realistic, painted Jack-In-The-Box and Gundog is such a great visual—and kept me hooked throughout. I probably stared at the first page for five minutes, taking it all in, trying to figure out what was going on. For a while, I thought that maybe time had stopped. I guess I wasn’t too far off.

It was a fun, wild ride, full of surprises (I guess we never did meet Laura’s ex, did we?), fun pseudo-science (“Mandelbrot probes”), and more interesting, fleshed-out characters than there are veli-bugs on rotten moonfruit. I loved the evolution in the Dancing Master’s design, from something I’d expect to see on an opera program or the Sistine Chapel, to pop art to graphitti. What a trip! I can’t wait to read it again a few times, next in chronological order (after I’ve had some more sleep). Who knows what treasures are hiding in there.

Still, something inside was nagging me that something wasn’t quite right with the issue. I flipped around, back and forth, to try to figure it out. And eventually I figured it out—that ad for “Falling Skies” with the decapitated alien. Yeah, not your fault, but I’m glad we won’t have to see that in the next collection!

So in short, if #12 was a bit flat, #13 more than made up for it. And though rough bedtime I had before reading #12 was nothing compared to the entire rough day I had with my kids before reading #13 (definitely not one of my better days), reading this issue had the effect I was looking for—if the rest of my Father’s Day stunk, at least my friends at ASTRO CITY had a fun present for me. Thank you, all!

Finally, a side note with a question. Vertigo’s website shows no issue for July. Is everything okay? Or did you figure our minds would be so blown from this issue that we’d need an extra month to process it?


As we mentioned last time, the good folks at Vertigo elected to schedule a skip-month to buy us a little more breathing room, so that’s why no July-shipping issue. We’ll try to get far enough ahead to make sure it doesn’t happen again (or, if it does, won’t happen often).

A few more answers:

I guess we don’t know if we ever met Laura’s ex—he could have been one of the characters caught up in the Dancing Master’s spell, or even the late-for-work Jim, or someone else in the story. But Laura’s gone on to other (hopefully-better, certainly more lobster-rich) things, so he may have missed his chance.

There’ve been a lot of giant typewriters in comics, over the years. That particular one was last seen in ASTRO CITY: LOCAL HEROES #1, some years ago.

I can’t say I agree with you about Graham style (ARCHIE?!), and I doubt his legion of fans from his days drawing Batman, Airboy, the X-Men and others would agree, either—unless you’re thinking of the more-realistic experiments Archie Comics have been doing of late. But hey, to each his own.

[And now I’m imagining how cool (if un-possible) it would be to have an issue of ASTRO CITY drawn by the late great Dan deCarlo, or Harry Lucey…]

Here’s a previous Letter of the Month alumni, ROBERT:

I wanted to let you know my signed copy of issue 13 arrived and to thank you.

Also, noting your comments to my letter, you mulled over the notion of the IRS investigating a hero’s income. If I might be bold enough to make a suggestion, what if a villain found enough loopholes in the tax code to actually be tax compliant, thus avoiding Al Capone’s fate and driving the IRS nuts trying to figure out how he or she is doing it?

I’m not sure even ASTRO CITY fans are up for a senses-shattering story about manipulating the tax code. I know that I’d be at a loss as to where to start. But you never know where inspiration might comes from, so I’d never say never.

Here’s ALAN:

I haven’t written for awhile, but don’t let that oversight make you imagine that I haven’t been enjoying ASTRO CITY.

I think the quality of the book has been great! So far, to me, nothing has matched the wonder and excitement I felt upon reading the Confessor and Altar Boy story (second series, issues 4 through 9). I even reread that one every so often, and in trade so as not to destroy the single issues by wear and tear. On the other hand, there seems to be new mysteries a-brewing in this new series, too. Everything has me quite curious. However, like Morgan Blackwood, I really wouldn’t want to know too much more about the backstory of the Hanged Man. I like the way he just shows up in situations akin to when the Watcher (oh, too early?) used to show up in Marvel Comics. Now, I think Marvel’s Watcher is currently being a bit overexposed so I hope it doesn’t happen to the Hanged Man.

On ASTRO CITY 12: I really, really thought at one point that Edward James Carroway was gonna turn out to be The Gentleman! Aw, man. I blew that one. I thought he would just shave off his mustache, put on a bit of make-up to cover the scar, and turn his life around. It doesn’t look like that will happen now. However, now I’m curious about what kind of wolf-character will he become? Is it some character that we’ve seen before and this is a sort of flashback? I guess I’m confused…by the way, the artist change was noticeable, but not jarring. The artist (Nolan?) draws faces well and I think that is also a thing that Anderson has been doing throughout the series to convey the emotion and the mood the writer probably wants.

On ASTRO CITY 13: Whoa, the time element had my head spinning there for a bit. Still, I enjoyed the story over-all. The Dancing Master weaving his love spell over the populace made me feel like I should’ve been there. I sometimes think back upon women that I could’ve gotten together with, but there was no luck, no timing, no assertiveness from either party, and no catalyst to bring us together. I also thought it was interesting that Jack-In-The-Box could be so simply contained by the villain in a little time sphere. It made me feel a little disappointed. Jack is one of my favorites that you’ve created. Yet, even The Hanged Man experienced some difficulty, so I guess that evened out things a bit in my mind. Anyway, at the end of issue 12 you warned us that the content of issue 13 would be the strangest story ever and indeed it was. It was so strange, in fact, that I don’t think I really understood what was going on. I’m hoping next issue or future issues will fill-in-the-gaps, but perhaps not overmuch.

Keep in mind, Alan, that that “little time sphere” was a pretty powerful thing. It slowed time to a crawl within it, so while Jack mustered up the strength to break free in probably under a minute his time, hours had gone by outside the sphere.

The wolf-character Ned “became” is kind of a metaphor—he doesn’t literally become a wolf (though he’s worn a wolf-mask as a member of the Menagerie Gang), but he thinks of himself as a prowling beast, preying on others, in his various criminal roles. Much of the issue did take place in the past, as well, so you have seen him before (at least, if you read the aforementioned LOCAL HEROES #1). As for where his compulsions will lead him in the future, well…time may tell. We’ll have to see.

And if I’d been thinking, I wouldn’t have used “The Gentleman Bandit” as the name the press hung on him, because it’s too close to The Gentleman. I’d thought of that as a name he abandoned once he started taking on costumed roles, but since he never had one consistent name in those various roles, reader think of him as The Gentleman Bandit. I should have picked something else. The Natty Bandit? The Stylish Rogue? I dunno. Too late now.

And that’s it for this month—shorter than usual, but then, I can only run what you folks send. So send me more letters, and I’ll babble on longer!

With that…see you next month!

2 thoughts on “Astro City Mail – September 2014

  1. Astro City founders (it was taking me forever to decide between Kurt, or Mr. Busiek) This my first letter to any comic, and I’ve been reading comics for 54 years, so you should be honored (I guess). But seriously the honor and the pleasure are all mine. AC is one of the best series I’ve ever read, only Planetary stands as a rival.
    AC #15 was up to the usual high standards. I’ll admit I was bummed when Ellie was arrested at the end of #14, and afraid of how this nice little old lady would fare in the hands of the law. And then she shines! Adversity only reveals her charming, yet indomitable Spirit. Her memory loss turns out to be caused, not by some dark deed from her past(as I had feared)but by a dark deed done to her in the past. She triumphs and forgives, in fact her real victory is in her absence of malice.
    Frankly at 59 and 1/2 years of age I’ve been thinking of giving up comics. I mean, how many times can one watch continuity being rewritten, characters dying only to be reborn, and everything just getting darker and darker before one says enough, I’ve seen the best all that’s left is the rest? But I want you to know I’ll never give up Astro City. You compress a whole universe(and what a Universe!) into one comic, and spin intriguing, beautiful, heart-felt stories every month. If it gets to the point where I only buy one comic each month, sir, that comic will be Astro City.
    Well that’s pretty much what I wanted to say, not too bad for a first letter I think. Maybe I’ll do it again and praise the artwork and all the other impressive aspects of this book, but if I can say one thing before I sign off: More N-Forcer! He’s always a bridesmaid, never a bride–metaphorically speaking. He’s been around since before the Honor Guard, I’m sure he’s got a story. But then that’s the problem/wonder of Astro City, all the characters, the headliners, the second bananas, the innocent bystanders, even the “bad guys”, they all have stories. And you only have one book a month to tell them so well.
    So Keep ‘Em Flying, and I’ll keep on buying!
    Faithfully, Van Sadler

    • There are lots of comics out there that aren’t part of big sprawling universes and are in no danger of having the continuity rewritten — VELVET, FABLES, HELLBOY, EAST OF WEST and plenty more.

      And we do have an N-Forcer story planned. Then again, it’s been planned for the last 20 years at least. But we should actually get to it soon…


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