Astro City Mail – July 2015

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Hey, I’m only 4 days late this time, assuming I can get the lettercol done this evening. My wife and half my children are out of town, the other half is ensconced-in-bedroom, though we’re going to have to do something about dinner shortly. Let’s see what I can do!

First up, the in-print lettercol to #25:

• • •

And here we are with another gorgeous guest-drawn issue from Jesús Merino, hoping you like it at least as much as you did his first. We made him draw a lot more Astro Citizens this time around, and over the decades, too. “Sorry, Jesús, that was the 1980s N-Forcer! This scene is the 1990s N-Forcer! Yes, that kid sidekick is wicked old now. Whoa, awesome cats!”

I hope we haven’t chased him off, because damn, that’s some pretty art and powerful storytelling.

Anyway, it’s Letter of the Month time—most of you know the drill by now, I pick one letter per month and that letter-writer gets a signed copy of the issue—so this month, who gets to send us his or her mailing address to get the book? Why, it’s repeat winner:

Zack Williams

Woohoo! 15 years later we finally get an ASTRO CITY #23! And the talking gorillas!

And it’s a pretty solid story, continuing the great run over the last year or so. Like anybody else moving away to try and find themselves and their own world, Sticks comes off as very real. Well, as real as a talking ape can be. The irony is there, in that he leaves his home where he’s just seen as ordinary and is treated as such, but he can’t express himself. But with his apeness and abilities he’ll never be able (or so it seems) to blend into a world of humans and play drums like he wishes. I’m curious as to what his future will hold…

And those Reflex 6ers. How often do they change codenames? (Well, I’m assuming The Gorgon and Gorgona are one and the same…) And a minor detail I liked, was that Astra’s uniform features an A instead of the F of the First Family.

Now that we’ve gotten the talking gorillas, we just need the N-Forcer exposé. And why’d Penny Bright disappear? And what about the mysteries of the Old Soldier? Or of Air Ace? And whats the connection between Commando K and Slugger and All American? Or any of the other hundred characters. Or as evidenced in this story, ones we’ve never seen before.

Hopefully, #24 clued you in a bit on why the changing names, Zack—and yes, Gorgona and The Gorgon are the same person. The focus groups didn’t think her name was feminine enough, or something.

As to the rest—well, I’m itching to do that N-Forcer exposé, and I do mean exposé, just as soon as we have enough lead time in the schedule for Brent to handle another 4-parter. In the meantime, we’ll try to thrill you with tales of Samaritan’s dreams, American Chibi’s secret origin, Wolfspider’s favorite TV show and more.

Air Ace and Penny Bright are on the list, too, and the others—well, there are certainly some stories to tell there, and in other cases there are facts that might crop up in someone else’s story. But there are also all those people out there without codenames or masks, and their stories want to be told too.. So we’ll just have to see what comes, and in what order. Thanks for reminding us, though.

Next issue, Brent’s back for a very special story—ASTRO CITY debuted in August 1995, so #26 is our 20th anniversary issue! We’ll be revisiting that first issue and looking to the future as well, so if you want hints on where the series is going, next month is a don’t-miss issue. Of course, they’re all don’t-miss issues, aren’t they?

Here’s hoping.

***

So what else do we have?

Here’s a note from GREG:

Congratulations on your very first issue #23! And one that was such a hoot, no less.

For some reason, I typically have to read an issue of ASTRO CITY twice before really getting jazzed about it (my first read-through is to simply see what happens, my second to truly take it all in), but I loved this story right off the bat. Ending on a spire-climb was a great touch. Looking forward to your very first #24, and beyond.

Thanks for the fun.

You’re more than welcome, sir.

Here’s HARVEY:

I’ve been reading comics since 1953. My mother was a cashier at the Vogue theater in the Bronx, NY, and many Saturdays they would give a comic book as a premium to all the kids who came for the matinee show. After school, I would walk over to the theater to wait for my mother to finish her shift and walk me home. I had free access to the cartons of comics stored near the projection booth. Movies and comics in one place. It was a kid’s dream of paradise. Maybe an adult’s dream, too.

I’ve been collecting comics since 1970, shortly after I graduated from college, when I bought CONAN #1 off the stands.

I told you all that to tell you this: Sticks is the best gorilla comic ever! I can’t wait for the subsequent issue(s?) to reach my local comicbook shop, but I guess I’ll have to. Thanks so much for what you’ve created for the last 20 years and here’s my best wishes for your good health.

Be well.

Thanks. That’s high praise, considering the number of comics gorillas there’ve been since 1953. What, better than Sam Simeon? Better than M’sieu Mallah?! Are you mad?

In any case, I hope the second half delivered what you were looking for.

Who’s this peeping around the corner? Come on out, JEFF:

ASTRO CITY is always one of the best comics I read every month. To be honest, I can’t really figure out why, but it just is. Every month I pick up an issue and look at the amazing cover, and I know I am going to love what’s coming. Every story, whether it be a one-shot or a multiple issue arc, is so perfectly crafted and beautifully drawn, I never put it down disappointed. I admit that I only got into ASTRO CITY very late in the game (hey I was only 3 when it originally launched). But when it was relaunched with Vertigo, I pretty much bought it on a whim, and I am so glad I did. I went back and picked up all the trades so that I could get the full ASTRO CITY experience and I have loved every issue. CONFESSION, in particular, is one of my favorite comic stories ever.

And now you had to go and throw in a talking gorilla…well, that is just icing on the cake. Sticks is a totally awesome character and though we only got a few pages of his origin I love it.

Anyway, keep up the terrific stories every month, they always blow me away.

PS: Maybe it is just a soft spot for talking animals, but I am also a huge fan of AUTUMNLANDS.

Glad to have you as a fan of both books, Jeff, whenever you arrived. And glad you’ve liked what we’re doing so much.

Next up, we have, lessee, who’s next…ah yes, JARED:

Kurt, first let me say that I enjoyed the Quarrel story immensely. I liked the banter with Crackerjack, the mediation on aging, all of it. I also enjoyed how the Stormhawk and Starfighter stories offered alternative depictions of death and aging to what Quarrel and Crackerjack were going through. Will they be the bookends to the collection?

I have two somewhat large questions for you. While the quality of the fill in artists has been very high, I’ve noticed they are becoming more frequent, about four issues of Brent with a guest artist after. Is this about the speed of production going forward? I don’t want to sound greedy, and Brent’s art is as good as ever, but I’m curious on the production end.

Second, I noticed when I went back and re-read the longer Astro City stories that you have included a return visit to a parent as either a climax point or an ending. Brian goes to his father’s grave, the last we see of Steeljack is him tending his mother’s grave, Winged Victory and Quarrel both visit a parent at the end of their story, and Charles and Royal’s journey was defined by the lack of parents to return to. Is this a conscious choice on your part? The context for each visit is different, but it has happened enough that it seems like a motif for you.

Past that, I an happy you are finally getting your talking gorilla story out there. Part one was great, and Brent’s depiction of Sticks is now my third-favorite talking Gorilla, behind Justice League Unlimited’s Gorilla Grodd and Bruno Permiani’s Monsieur Mallah.

Now that’s more like it. Third-favorite gorilla. Let’s not get crazy here. But Grodd? Not Solovar? Aw, man!

Anyway, on to your questions:

1. No, as we go forward with the collections, we’ve decided at least for now to collect all the Brent issues together, and to collect the non-Brent issues in separate volumes, and the Stormhawk, Starfighter and Hummingbird stories will be the first half of the first of those.

2. Four issues of Brent with a guest artist afterward would be a fine schedule, I’d think. We didn’t need guest artists for about the first year back, since we had a nice backlog of material. But the thing about backlogs is, they get used up. Going forward, based on twenty years of observing his ASTRO CITY output, Brent’s aiming for about 8 issues per year. This year, he’s doing a little less, because he had some schedule stuff happen, and we’ve lined up the best visiting dignitaries we can—we’ve got a couple of very cool issues coming up after #26, and after that we’re hoping to have Jesús Merino join us as much as possible when Brent’s not available. If Brent gets to a point where he can manage more issues, he’ll do more issues, but for now this looks like a workable path.

3. I had not noticed that! In fact, I wasn’t even thinking about Quarrel visiting her father until Brent told me he couldn’t wait to find out what happened when she visited him. As soon as he said that, I realized she definitely had to, and reworked the story. But it wasn’t even on my radar. Now I’ll have to see how the next long story shakes out, and see if there are any parents in it…

4. Glad you liked Sticks!

Now let’s hear from MARCO:

I want to thank you for issue 22.

Setting aside your ability to write a complete story in 20 or so pages, one of the greatest skills lost in today comics, “Hero’s Reward” is one story that really needed to be written and drawn.

When a story works for me, I usually find myself thinking of it one or two days after the reading, and issue 22 made me think of my dad.

He’s not a comic hero or a daring firefighter or soldier. He is the average guy with the average work, but he does everything he can for his family and no one can ask more from a dad like him.

Now I can see he feels happy and satisfied just watching my daughter play and sing. He enjoys the day, like Dunc.

The only thing I can say is that my dad’s rest is not less earned than Duncan’s.

Please excuse my English, I learned it from comics!

Your English is just fine, sir. The only thing I learned from European comics was how to say “These Romans are crazy!” in multiple languages…

And your dad sounds like a great guy.

Here’s MICHAEL:

I don’t know why you aren’t getting enough letters, though it reminds me of the Yogi Berra quote: If people don’t want to, you can’t stop them.

Well, here’s my letter. Long ago, I was in a fun group playing Champions, a superhero RPG. Our characters respected the established comic book norms, but we talked like regular people who happened to find ourselves in such bizarre adventures. ASTRO CITY reminds me most of those interactions, and I’m always very grateful to read it.

Now a question: How are professional sports handled in ASTRO CITY’s world? Are powered people ineligible? What tests would be necessary to distinguish between an abnormally good athlete from the slightly superhuman?

Thanks again for everything. This letter is okay for you to print. If I made any typos, feel free to fix them and make me look better.

I fixed ’em all, Michael! Unless I missed one. And you looked great anyway.

I used to play Champions myself, after a fashion, but I think I’ve only used one character I ever came up with as a game character in actual comics: A character called Palomino, who made it into THE LIBERTY PROJECT as Cimarron.

We haven’t explored professional sports, other than to name a few pro sports teams. I assume that bringing superhuman into it would be seen as against the rules, but until and unless an actual story suggests itself, I’m not sure when or if it’ll come up. But you never know.

On to ANTONIO:

Questions:

1. Do you know that a lot of people think that The Bouncing Beatnik is Mister Cakewalk, the Halcyon Hippie and The Broken Man?

2. I know a lot of the heroes live in and around Astro City, but will we find out soon if each state has a hero, ’cause I’m dying to know if Connecticut has any heroes other than Starbright?

3. You said before how the Atlanta REAL THING can’t appear in your comic because of Coca-Cola brand, but I’ve seen brands of soda in a lot of other comics and thinking that they wouldn’t sue you if he appears because, I just really want to see him.

4. Since the Challenger didn’t explode in your series, can you give me tips on how you factor in all the possibilities of alternate history fiction with powers?

Answers:

1. I don’t know whether a lot of people think it, but it’s a guess some people have made, sure.

2. I doubt every state has a hero, but many of them probably do. I doubt we’ll ever find out if each and every state does, though.

3. I’m not sure “Antonio really wanted to see him” is a sound legal defense, but I dunno. DC’s lawyers take this kind of thing very seriously, what with being owned by Warner Bros. and all, so if I even wanted to have The Real Thing make a visual cameo, we’d have to clear it with them six ways from Sunday, and I don’t think I want to shape my stories with lawyers looking over my shoulder. But you never know.

4. I don’t factor in all the possibilities. I just pick the ones I think will make for good stories. As I mentioned in the intro to LIFE IN THE BIG CITY, the world of ASTRO CITY isn’t meant to be rigorously realistic; it’s meant to be emotionally credible. So if there’s some bit of alternate history, or science that should have repercussions but doesn’t, I’m not that worried about it. Something else probably happened that prevented that reaction—I’m more interested in the human side of things than in the minutiae of alternate history.

Yo, KENDAL! You’re up:

I love this book a lot. I’ve been reading the collected editions a long time—my local library had TARNISHED ANGEL, LOCAL HEROES and CONFESSION (one of which has “The Nearness of You” in the back, and that is much more than a teenager with no budget could ask for), and I’ve been buying the book at the LCS since the SAMARITAN special.
You’ve made me cry. A lot. Thank you.

(You’ve also made me laugh, like when five years later I finally noticed why Noah and friends are called the Crossbreed. Or just names like “Luftwaffle” and “Joey ‘The Platypus’ Platapopolous. You’re great at lots of things.)

Recently I’ve been rereading a lot of old stories and noticing just how much work you’ve put into tying it all together and making a strong tapestry. Like when Uncle Josh (secretly the Blue Knight) from LOCAL HEROES #4-5 is also in Book One of the Dark Age as Charles’s cop buddy, and when he reappears after the Blue Knight fights Simon Magus, he has a broken arm.

I wanted to ask about one of those, actually. In TARNISHED ANGEL, the robotics genius that El Hombre mentions contacting at his lowest point is called the Assemblyman, and looks almost like Duke Nukem in a lab coat—a brightly colored plastic macho man action figure. In issues 2 and 3 of the new series, one of the heroes working with Honor Guard is also called the Assemblyman, and is a young black guy with an outfit that looks more like the Black Badge. I noticed the newscaster in the latter story refer to “the heroic Assemblyman”—do they have anything to do with each other, or was it just too good a name to throw away?

Another concept I really liked was the Apollo Eleven, and how their transformation can be seen very differently from different perspectives. I doubt that either they or their benefactors intended to create the “great human achievement gets hijacked by aliens” narrative, and it’s easy to see how they thought they were rewarding the achievement with an invitation to the stars, but—the other face is there, nonetheless, and it’s easy to see from the right angle…One question: Charles says the Eleven went to the moon without powers. Does that mean real people from our world’s history like Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are counted among their number? Or is a different Apollo flight pool just part of Astro City’s different world history, like Demonica’s monsters eating Donald Trump?

Either way- keep up the good work! I hope to keep reading for a long time to come.

It’s good to make readers cry.

Whether the current heroic Assemblyman and the criminal Assemblyman of the 1970s have anything to do with one another aide from the name, we haven’t explored yet. I don’t actually think it’s all that great a name, myself—I just think that it’s only natural for names to get re-used, so we re-used it. There’ve been two characters named Stray in ASTRO CITY history, too, as well as legacy heroes like Hummingbird and Cleopatra.

I think we managed to name and/or see the real faces of Apollo Eleven in the story, and none of them were Armstrong, Aldrin or Collins. So that particular piece of history, which includes getting eleven astronauts on the moon at once, is obviously variant.

[By the way, that Demonica/Trump thing is not part of ASTRO CITY history. We ran the story “Clash of Titans” in the back of the #1/2 issue, but it doesn’t fit into ASTRO CITY continuity at all.]

On to DENNIS:

Yep, you never go wrong with talking gorillas. I just read part one of STICKS and I’m pleased to report that I still have a smile on my face a day later. A talking gorilla who just wants play drums? I’ve been an ASTRO CITY fan since 1996 and in these days of comic book companies pointlessly rebooting their titles every few years, instead of simply telling good stories with good art, it’s comics like this that keep me interested in reading them. My thanks to you, sir!

You’re more than welcome, from all of us here at Astro Central.

And now, a thoughtful critique from JOHN:

I’ve loved your work for a long time, especially ASTRO CITY. I love how consistently it manages to be both grounded and optimistic. It’s refreshing in a world—and a genre—that so often confuses grimness and maturity. I think and hope that trend is starting to change in superhero comics, actually—and I thank you for your role in that!

However, I’m afraid I was rather disappointed by ASTRO CITY volume 10: Victory. (I love the series, but I’ve also fallen behind, so I’ve just gotten to this one!) When the Council of Nike berated Winged Victory for allowing men to come to her aid, for failing to prove that a woman can stand alone, and the heroine argued back that “there is a time to stand alone and a time to stand together,” it felt very much like a strawman argument, like the idea of feminism held by people who don’t actually consider themselves to be feminist or understand what the term really means.

The idea of feminists as actively avoiding or excluding men is a distortion that in my experience most often comes from men who feel their privilege threatened. It’s sometimes described by women as well, women who don’t perceive the systems of privilege and inequality that feminists argue against, but I can’t see such people creating a hero like Winged Victory in the first place, or believing in the need for her. I could possibly see an argument to be made that Winged Victory was created by the Council in a more radical time, and the world and feminism have moved on from the purest form of the ideal she represented, but if so, that argument needed to be more directly on display in the story itself.

And the more I thought about it, the less the crux of the story made sense to me. Winged Victory has fought alongside the Honor Guard for a while—so how come she hasn’t made female friends there? Why couldn’t Cleopatra have come to her aid? Even among radical feminists, I don’t think I’ve heard many argue that a woman shouldn’t be able to lean on her sisters.

The resolution of Joey’s plotline bothered me as well. From the moment Joey made his request, I had a feeling Winged Victory would take him in. I hoped I was wrong, because it undermines an important part of Winged Victory’s message: that all other factors being equal, it’s okay to focus on women, because there are already so many resources out there for men. We have so many advantages, and so many places where our lives and stories are given far more space than our share (not least the pages of comics!).

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Joey should have been sent back to his dad, that he deserved anything less than a hopeful ending. But if an abused teen boy showed up at a women’s domestic violence shelter in our world, the only place he could think to go, because it had done so much for his aunt (all of this backstory was excellent), I don’t believe they’d change the rules and give him a bed. I’m pretty sure they’d make some calls and get him a placement in a shelter for young men. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The existence of safe spaces for women is vital. It would have made far more sense for Winged Victory to have made arrangements for Joey to be taken in by the Confessor and join the Choirboys, or for Samaritan to have taken Joey to a shelter he works with. We don’t need to convert every women’s space to a place for men too. That’s not equality, not in a world still so full of boys’ clubs.

All of that being said, I still can’t wait to get my hands on the next volume of ASTRO CITY. Thanks for so many great stories, and plenty to think about, even when I think you could have done so much better.

Good points, John, and very well made.

I would say that Winged Victory was created in an earlier time—whether or not it was more radical is certainly open to argument—and the Council of Nike isn’t of one mind on how to handle things. Some of them want Winged Victory to serve as a symbol of women’s strength by standing alone, some don’t—you’ll note that they didn’t take her powers away, so those that don’t obviously won that particular argument.

And sure, she could presumably have worked with Cleopatra or other female heroes, but she felt that working with Samaritan was fine, so she was glad to do so. [The Confessor kind of inserted himself into proceedings.] We weren’t trying to make Winged Victory choose what was right for all women, just to act as she would as the person she is in this situation. There were certainly other ways to go that wouldn’t have occasioned the Council (or at least some of them) getting annoyed, and maybe a different Winged Victory would have made one of them, and succeeded, or failed. But this is what Lauren Freed chose.

[Which has me thinking that someday we’ll have to do a story about a time someone else was Winged Victory for a while…]

As for Joey, I think he’d earned more than a shelter, but the Choirboys aren’t a shelter or a training organization, and neither is Samaritan. I don’t expect Joey stayed at Samothrace One long, for the reasons you suggest, and I expect his living and training arrangements were not anywhere near the same as the others’ there. But he needed at least a temporary solution, and that’s the one Winged Victory chose. Whether it was a good idea or not, well, maybe we’ll find out. We’ll definitely be seeing Joey again.

In any case, thanks for the comments; there’s plenty to think about in them.

Here’s KEVIN:

So it took about twenty years to get to your talking gorilla story? I’d say it was worth the wait. I like Sticks. I really love that while he has super-ish training and talents, he didn’t come to the big city to be a hero. He just wants to play the drums! That’s awesome.

I also thought the world he ran from was well thought out and interesting. I had a weird vision of an all gorilla 80’s sitcom starring Sticks in the Knight Rider/Renegade vein (He faked his death to leave the band…and join a new one! STICKS, 9:30, Wednesdays on Spike) but I do wonder how long it’ll take for them to come looking for Sticks, if they have access to satellite TV and the internet. But maybe that’s the next issue. In the meantime, I bet we’ll get a great story about aspirations, fitting in, and paying the rent however you can.

This issue’s cover was easily the most joyous in ages. Good work all around. I can’t wait for part 2.

“I wish the ape a lot of success. I’m sorry my apartment’s a mess. Most of all I’m sorry if I made you blue. I’m betting the gorilla will too.”

Will the apes of Gorilla Mountain come looking for Sticks? Good question. If he had a regular book, I bet you’d definitely see that. Here? Hard to say, even if it happens.

Very glad you liked it, though, and I hope you liked the second half.

And now, to play us out, here’s ROB, with some thoughts about John Hiatt:

I loved the choice of Sticks and the band playing John Hiatt’s “Pink Bedroom” in the most recent issue of ASTRO CITY. I actually think you and Hiatt have a similar eye for detail in your storytelling—his line in “Ethylene,” “I miss my feet on your cold linoleum floor,” seems like the sort of detail you’d include in a narration box. Anyway, I was wondering how you chose this song for inclusion in the book. And are there any John Hiatt songs you think might be different with super-powered people in the world?

P.S. ASTRO CITY has been one of my favorite books ever since its debut. Thanks for so many years of incredible entertainment! I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Broken Man, and hope we can check in on Steeljack again sometime.

We’ll be checking in on Steeljack again as of, oh, somewhere around #32, unless plans change. It’s outlined and everything.

As for John Hiatt, I only wish I could drop that key telling detail as well as Hiatt can, and it’s an honor to even be compared. I picked “Pink Bedroom” just because I love it, and it made that particular group of musicians a little bit more specific, gave them something to bond over, than if they’d played something more well-known or generic.

And are there any John Hiatt songs that’d be different in a superhero world? I’m sure there would. Either existing songs that would play out differently, or whole new songs. But the way Hiatt plays with metaphor, the guy who wrote “The Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari” or “Child of the Wild Blue Yonder” wouldn’t be able to resist using superhero imagery in a world in which they were real.

I’m not going to try to rewrite any Hiatt on the fly, mind you. But I’m sure he’d have plenty of interesting images to play with in a world like that.

And on that note, my eldest wants either Mexican or Chinese food tonight, so we’re going to go figure that out. See you next time! Maybe even on time!

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