Astro City Mail – February 2015

AC_postmark_chesler_2015

Hey! Look at that fancy new 2015 postmark! Shiny!

The nice men delivering and installing the new Busiek family dishwasher have come and gone, so let’s check out the print lettercol for ASTRO CITY 20:

As I write this lettercolumn, I’m peering out of one eye while the other is red, itchy and gummy thanks to losing a fight with one of those vicious pollen street gangs that’s all in the news today. Pseudoephedrine lies in my immediate future. But for the moment, here I am, so who needs binocular vision? Let’s get this page on the road!

And to begin, here’s this month’s Letter of the Month:

Gerrad McConnell

I remember almost 20 years ago picking up ASTRO CITY 1. Superheroes were an escape from my life. I had a pretty good childhood, but superheroes always seemed to offer an escape to a world where even the meek or afraid could be great. In the mid 90’s I was hip deep in my love for comics, where style eclipsed substance on many of the books I read, Then I came across ASTRO CITY upon a friend’s recommendation.  Seeing Samaritan looking for the same escape that I was looking for really hit home. It began to change how I looked at comic books and what they could mean. Suddenly, the substance seemed infinitely more important than the style.

One should not read that as a slight against this book’s style though, Brent and Alex have always brought a quality to this book that perfectly befit the story, bringing an emotional resonance to the art that created real characters, however unreal the environment was. As I’ve grown older and grown up with the title, the three of you have continued to challenge my perceptions on what a super hero comic should be. From your beautiful ASTRO CITY 1/2 story, to the sprawling epic of the Silver Agent, to the most recent relaunch with Vertigo.

This issue, though, has really struck a nerve. In just a few pages, you have managed to infuse more humanity into Crackerjack than most titles can do to a character in years. Watching these heroes that I have ostensibly grown up with, start to age, reminds me of how much time has passed. I too find myself looking to the future, wondering what lies there. Again and again, you show how much the human in the word superhuman matters. Thank you, Kurt, for this title, for the past 20 years, and for hopefully 20 more.  I, along with our heroes, eagerly wonder what lies ahead.

You’re more than welcome, Gerrad. It’s been a blast.

Over the years, we’ve gotten used to the characters, too, to the point that it comes as a surprise when I start writing a story like this and realize that we’ve never actually put it into a story where the character lives, where they came from, how they put food on the table, and so on. And it’s even more of a surprise—a very welcome surprise—when characters like Quarrel and Crackerjack finally get some page time to be themselves, rather than being part of a short incident or a crowd scene…and the dialogue just spills out, relaxed and human and cranky and playful.

I’ve had Quarrel and Crackerjack in my head for so long that it’s a real pleasure to finally get to explore them, and show why they are who they are. I’m glad it’s working for you, and hope you’ll like where it’s going.

And for writing the Letter of the Month, Gerrad, you get a signed copy of this very issue. Just e-mail us your address and we’ll send it winging its way to you.

Now let’s see, what else we got…?

Here’s a note from RICHARD:

I just finished reading ASTRO CITY 17 and 18 back-to-back. Time got away from me or I would have read each of them as soon as I got them. I’ve been with ASTRO CITY issue-by-issue since the beginning and have bought all the collections also. The humanity of the stories continues to impress. The sacrifice of Stormhawk was brought home by all of the humanizing touches. I am also delighted to be learning about Quarrel’s story with all of its deep background. The cover of number 18 really struck me as it reminds me of earlier runs on the title. Alex’s covers are always very good but he excels when depicting relatable, small-scale scenes. If your books are sometimes slightly late I can live with that. The quality always shines through.

Thanks very much! We’ll do our best not to screw that up.

Here’s ANTONIO:

I haven’t been able to read the whole issue of the December issue, but I did get to read a preview. There were many interesting parts in it and new information we’ve learned (mostly about Black Rapier). But even though this issue was focused on Quarrel, the thing that got to me the most was the revelation about what happened to the Crossbreed. Their leader is dead and half of them have gone their ways, like regular people. I thought you were saving up the Crossbreed for a big event, but no, you were just saving up to reveal they’ve retired. Are you ever going to bring them back up or is the throwaway line it. Also, Crackerjack forgot to mention the rock Crossbreed guy, what happened to him? Also, thanks for answering TWO of my questions in the the same letter column, it was like an early Christmas present.

Crackerjack didn’t forget to mention Peter, he just was being casual, rather than being Mr. Exposition. I can’t tell you where Peter is these days, because we haven’t yet established that.

And I wouldn’t say we were either saving the Crossbreed up for something or throwing them away. But time passes, and just like all the other characters, the Crossbreed got older, and their lives changed in the close-to-20-years it’s been since you met them. Were they in some big story between then and now? They were probably in lots, and you may see some of them in time. Are they done? Not for the kind of stories we tell in this book.

Any of them could come back (even Noah, this being the kind of world it is), or we could tell stories set in the past (as these past few issues demonstrate). We’ll have to see what comes…

And now, BRIAN:

That is what a superhero comic is supposed to be.
I always enjoy ASTRO CITY. “Sorrowsday” was exceptional.
Thank you for moving me to tears for all the right reasons.

Our pleasure, sir. We always like to make our readership cry. We’re just like that.

On to RICK:

ASTRO CITY #18 was one of the more enjoyable issues I’ve read in this title’s illustrious history. Obviously, that means I am a fan of Crackerjack and Quarrel.

I can see the homages to Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance and there are some moments that remind me of Mike Grell’s THE LONGBOW HUNTERS but it is also at once, quintessential Busiek and Astro City for its longer moments of introspection and depth. And this is quite something—heroes hitting middle age and how they deal with life. Interesting. With the number of heroes in the city, what makes them go on? Is their calling deeper or are they simply adrenaline junkies? I can’t wait for the next when you delve more into Quarrel’s story.

The history and mythology of Astro City is rich and deep and there’s so much you want to know about everyone. I have to resist asking, nay, begging, for another AC spin-off title for fear the quality will drop.

What I’d also like to know if there is a longer arc planned. Is there even a graphic novel planned?

Thanks, Kurt and company for making these monthly visits to Astro City well spent.

So how do I get a postcard?

Ollie and Dinah? Huh. Hadn’t considered them at all, much less any details from THE LONGBOW HUNTERS. I’ll certainly admit that Quarrel embodies a lot of the ideas I had for Hawkeye, back when I was writing him, but Crackerjack isn’t based on any archer or archer-inamorata characters. A lot of him was thunk up in response to characters like the Human Fly, Evel Knieval and the AAU Shuperstar, in anyone remembers him.

Don’t worry about asking for a spinoff. We won’t do one, so it won’t affect the quality one bit!

As for longer arcs, we’ve done some. “Confession” is 6 parts, “The Tarnished Angel” is 7, and “The Dark Age” is 16-plus-a-prologue. But we’re trying to keep things shorter for a while, since it makes it easier to keep the book on schedule. So I’m not looking to go over 4 issues…but if the right idea comes along, maybe!

There is a longer story going on at the moment, but it’s weaving in and out of other, shorter, stories, building up in the background. It’ll take center stage in time, but not for a while.

I don’t even know where the postcards are, if I even have any left. Maybe they’ll turn up…

Here’s ANDREW:

Human interest stories…with superheroes (and villains) as a backdrop. Is that what you’re going for in ASTRO CITY? It isn’t just your standard-fare superhero stuff, is it?

The story of Quarrel was amazing! But I’d honestly never heard of Quarrel, Crackerjack or the Chessmen before this issue. How far they go back really doesn’t matter: Because there are so many, maybe too many, heroes in AC for just one city. Maybe this should be a group series? Although, it would would have to be one heck of a big team, right?

But for right now fascinating and amazing human interest stories have got to be enough, as I don’t see things changing anytime soon. Whats with the name Quarrel, anyhow? Is that a kind of bird, or just a fight?

A quarrel, aside from being an argument, is a short arrow or dart fired from a crossbow; they’re what Quarrel fires from her wrist-launcher.

And I don’t see how making ASTRO CITY a group book would change much—we already have multiple groups in the book, from Honor Guard to the First Family to Reflex 6, the Irregulars, the Crossbreed and more. So even if they were all in one team, that’d make for unwieldy meetings, but it wouldn’t change the kind of stories we do. [And the superhero cast isn’t limited to the city—while the Black Rapier was an Honor Guard member, he was New Orleans-based, for instance. MPH is from Detroit, and so on.]

Human interest stories with superheroes as a backdrop? That’s as good a description as any, I suppose!

And now, ZACK:

Anytime we get stories about or featuring some of the “classic” characters (i.e. the major characters who appeared in the first six issues or shortly thereafter) that haven’t been explored, it adds a little something to the stories for me. Like Winged Victory’s arc last year, “The Dimming of the Day” gives us a look at several of the more marquee characters that were established in those first few issues. And of course it takes me back nostalgically to my 12-14 year old self who wondered about all of those characters and when we’d get in-depth stories on the N-Forcer, Silver Agent, the Old Soldier and so on.

But as the first few pages brilliantly show, that was then and this is now. The Black Rapier is retiring. Noah is gone and the Crossbreed is no more. Butler’s has been closed down. Even though much of the older guard is still around, newer more modern heroes are stepping onto the scene. Heck even Roscoe James and Brian Kinney are in their early 30s!
All of this is a great lead-in to two aging acrobatic heroes who are in the twilight of their careers. I love Quarrel’s reflective nature and what’s still ahead of her, if anything, and Crackerjack’s macho denial. While it would have been nice getting their story 15 years or so ago, I think this setup lets us see another wonderful perspective that isn’t touched upon too often in super hero tales.

Yeah, if I’d told the story earlier, you’d have gotten Quarrel’s origin, but it’d have gone in some other direction, in terms of what she was dealing with in the present day. All in all, I think it worked out pretty well—her beginnings contrasted with their jointly facing a possible ending gave the story a nice structure and interesting material to deal with.

Very glad you liked it.

Next up, STEVEN:

Well, it’s early Christmas morning, a horrible chest cold has me coughing my lungs out, and I can’t sleep—but at least I can catch up on some issues of AC and online lettercolumns! I’ll try to keep my feedback brief for once.

While I saw Fred’s screw-up coming a mile away, I quite enjoyed #14-15. I got an extra kick from them taking place in and near Los Alamos, because I’ve traveled there a few times on business, and I’m originally from Albuquerque. I was going to look up the street names to see if they’re authentic, but got lazy, but I noticed one thing that’s clearly off base—it’s far too green to be Los Alamos 😉 I also finally noticed the name of the TV station, and wonder how long you’ve been using it and I haven’t noticed it.

#17 (“Wish I May”) was fantastic, and reminded me of last Christmas, when a friend suggested some book series to my older daughter, who replied that they were “too girly.” Around that time, she was telling us that she didn’t want to be a girl because she didn’t like pink and dresses, and prefers superheroes over princesses. I taught her to say that things were “too stereotypically girly” instead. It took a while, and I’m sure it’s a battle we’ll continue to fight, but for now at least, she’s more comfortable with the idea that she can be herself and like whatever she wants, and she doesn’t have to fit the pink mold.

On a side note, you very coincidentally used a couple of story beats I had in mind for my AC-inspired comic story that I hope to (some year) eventually get around to writing. I guess I’ll have to re-write it a bit.

I also had to smile when I saw the football game being interrupted, because just a few days before I cracked the issue open the first time (and only got about 4 pages into it), I was thinking about how sports would be affected by super powers. Of course, the X-Men have their occasional baseball game, but has anybody ever done a super-powered professional sports league besides Marvel’s Unlimited Class Wrestling?

And reading the online letter column is dangerous. I really need to do it with my collection next to me, so I can look up the little inside gags that other people noticed but I missed (the holder’s name at the football game, your cameo appearance years ago…)

Well, I’m going to attempt to sleep again, though it’s really tempting to keep reading, because I’ve been looking forward to Tom Grummett’s visit since I heard about it. (That reminds me—I already put in a plug for George Pérez in a future guest-stint if needed; how about Mark Bagley?) But I’ve clearly already failed at keeping this brief, so I’ll stop for now.

(P.S. Hmmmm, have we seen any Astro City Christmas stories yet?)

Not that I recall, Steven.

I will say that our Los Alamos scenes were photo-referenced via Google…maybe it was wintertime, or whatever their greenest season is?

I’m sure there have been other superhuman sports organizations, but nothing’s coming to mind right now. And I’d be happy to work with George or Bags any time.

Now we shift from Steven to STEFAN:

So, I just noticed that I was missing ASTRO CITY 16. I went off to Comixology to correct this problem, and I read the issue. Great as usual! Thanks for a trans villain/hero! And I liked the whole birthday party business.

And…to my surprise, my letter below was the letter of the month!

We were wondering when you were going to contact us! Signed comic sent off!

And from Stefan to…well, to STEFAN again!

OK, I made it over to Bergen St. Comics, and am now up-to date with my ASTRO CITY reading…until next week I guess.

I see you apologizing for lateness in the letter column again. I guess I’m closer to the demographic of the protagonists in this issue, because I don’t care if you’re a week or two or six late. I’m sure your publisher cares, but I say—relax, take your time, and keep putting out the great thoughtful issues that you do. I’ll eventually find them.

I really liked the wistful feeling throughout this issue, and it does make me realize I’m not so young anymore either, despite still seeing myself as 25 years old.

Don’t we all, pal, don’t we all. Used to be flying dogs in this town…

And with that, we’re done for another month. Have a great February, and we’ll see you all next time, I trust!

2 thoughts on “Astro City Mail – February 2015

  1. “Reconnaissance”, from the very first series, looked and felt very much like a Christmas story to me. I don’t think Christmas or even the holidays were explicitly mentioned, but a story in the middle of winter about a grumpy old man all alone, watching other people live their lives without understanding their happiness… beginning with “Once upon a time”, and focusing on a guy who dresses in red, green, and white… Definitely hit all the right notes for me, anyway.

    Update: I was wrong. Crackerjack, to Steel Devil: “Don’t tell me- they let you out to buy Christmas cards!” But that’s it.

    • Yeah, it came out in December, so we wanted the issue to feel like it was happening in December.

      We’re not always able to do that, but we can manage it sometimes — we have a back-to-school scene in the issue coming up in September, for instance…

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