Welcome to Inside Astro City, a column focusing on the Vertigo Comics series Astro City from Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross. Each month, we’ll take a look at the current issue of the series, and ask series writer Kurt Busiek questions about the book. Let’s jump into issue 18!
This is a spoiler-filled column, so if you have not yet read the issue you might want to come back later. You can find the issue at your local comic book shop or you can download it from Comixology here.
Astro City #18: A spotlight on Quarrel and Crackerjack begins as they face a real crisis: what does an aging crimefighter do when time starts to take its toll?
1. Quarrel first appeared back in ASTRO CITY vol. 1 #1. How much of her origin had you developed back then?
Kurt Busiek: Not a whole lot, actually. I had general ideas—I knew her father had been a supervillain, and she’d grown up dirt poor, but I knew we’d be able to flesh out the details when we needed to, so I didn’t work up a complicated set of biography notes on her or anything. I doubt we even knew her real name, at that point.
But then, as we went along, things started to get fleshed out, starting with Mr. Bridwell’s alien spy-files and later with the Steeljack story. It’s just a real treat.
2. What are the inherent challenges when developing a superhero origin like Quarrel’s? What steps do you take to make it original and different? Or do you not worry about that, and let the character’s dictate their origin?
I don’t think there’s any formula to it, so there isn’t any specific path we follow on a recurring basis.
In Quarrel’s case, what we started with was mostly personality, attitude and drive. So that became the core, and we built around that. The idea isn’t to make it different, per se, it’s to make it feel like something that’s emotionally true. If it does, it’ll feel unique, because it’ll feel like an individual person’s backstory, not like a generic “origin story” that was pasted onto a character.
Quarrel’s family, her history, her reasons for doing what she does are specific to her, so even if there’s another character out there who shares one or more of those elements, they’ll do it in their own way, and it won’t feel like we spun the pointer to the same place on the origin wheel. It’ll just feel like, well, human experience overlaps.
At least, I hope so.
3. Where did the idea of the Chessmen come from?
Going from memory, we first saw them back in THE TARNISHED ANGEL, and they were henchmen of the Red Queen. Since she (thanks to the Mock Turtle) was taking her inspiration from ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, that’s the proximate source of the idea—the world in LOOKING GLASS is a giant chessboard, and chess and its rules come up in fantastic ways throughout the book.
So we figured it made sense to give the Red Queen some Chessmen as underlings. But of course, as comics history goes, just because a character starts out for one reason doesn’t mean they won’t grow into something else. So this iteration of the Chessmen is from years later, and their appearances and powers have been retooled, and they’re acting on their own, not henchmen any more.
It was a way to show the passage of time, that the characters don’t stay in stasis, but have grown and changed, even though we haven’t seen all their adventures.
4. In this issue, we learn about The Terrifying Three, the original Quarrel, The Steel Jacketed Man, and Cutlass. Will we ever learn more about Cutlass as we have with Quarrel and Steeljack?
We also met them back in THE TARNISHED ANGEL, of course, which was the first place we met the villainous Quarrel.
Will we learn more about Cutlass? Well, we don’t have to. If she’s just a background character, that’s fine. But if I ever have a story to tell about her — and honestly, you asking the question made me start getting ideas toward something — then why not?
So I guess the answer is: No actual plans, at the moment, but you never know. Anything’s possible.
5. Are their any difficulties in writing an interesting superhero couple like Crackerjack and Quarrel?
I’m having a blast writing them. You wonder why Quarrel would stay with a jerk like Crackerjack, and I want this story to answer that question, getting under their skin and showing readers why they work well together even though they’re not the usual sort of romantic couple.
But on the surface, it’s just so much fun, writing them bantering back and forth with familiarity and affection, but getting to be sarcastic and cutting at the same time. Neither of them are starry-eyed about the other, but they’re comfortable. And that gives them a lot of interesting texture. How can you be comfortable with a jerk? What do they see in each other? How can we bring it out casually?
It’s just fun.
BONUS! 6. Can you give us a quick tease of what we have to expect in the next issue?
Kurt Busiek: Blueprints, flirting, time travel, robots, history, romance, wild sex, money, injuries, family, Glue-Gun, the Street Angel, Honor Guard, the Steel Devil, a retired hero named Tenspeed who looks strangely familiar. And more.
And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed this special look inside Astro City #18! A special thank you to Kurt Busiek for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. If you haven’t had a chance to read Astro City, I highly recommend running down to your local shop and picking it up.
Astro City #19 – As her career may be ending, Quarrel looks back at her earliest days as a super hero, including the roots of her on-again/off-again romance with Crackerjack. Plus: Honor Guard and the Omega Rangers!