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.  This month, we spotlight the Honor Guard and their new young member, The Hummingbird, in Astro City #25!

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 25

 

 

Astro City #25: It’s an Honor Guard spotlight with guest artist Jesus Merino: Blessed from birth by powerful forces, Hummingbird’s young life has practically been a fairy tale. But charmed lives come with hidden curses – and her curse may just prove fatal. Luckily, she’s not fighting it alone. Guest-starring Cleopatra, Starwoman, Mermaid, Greymalkin and the other women of Honor Guard.

 

 

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1. In this issue, we get our first real focus on a character who I *think* first appeared waaaay back in ’98.  (Or, at least, her mother did.)  When you’re putting together a new character for Astro City, where does that process start:  A cool name; a particular archetype; a particular design element?

Kurt Busiek: The original Hummingbird did indeed debut in 1998, in vol. 2 #13. And her daughter, the current Hummingbird, showed up ten years later, in the ASTRO CITY: BEAUTIE special.

There isn’t any one place that putting together a character begins; we’ve never had a formula for it. It could be a bit of design, it could be a name, a personality, a set of powers, anything. Whatever gets us going, and provides a kernel to build around.
In the case of Hummingbird, I think the initial starting point was fishnet stockings.

We were telling a story that involved the 1960s Honor Guard, and we needed some more members to fill it out. We created Mermaid because it made sense to have an aquatic hero, but aquatic heroes are usually male, so why not make Astro City’s a woman? As for another, I was thinking about costumes of the mid-Sixties, and how Zatanna and Black Canary both wore fishnet stockings — Black Canary had been wearing them since the late 40s, as it happens, but still, the two of them represented a particular look to me. The sexy gal in the fishnets who kicked ass alongside the boys, but who had a look that was about allure more than action, because it was a different time. I figured Honor Guard could easily have a character like that, and Hummingbird was the result. A bird — particularly a small bird — seemed like something that fit that more sexist era, and I couldn’t recall any time “Hummingbird” had been used.

Then later on, we needed new Honor Guard members to make it seem like the team’s roster changed and shifted, and the idea of seeing the child of a previous hero, someone who’d grown up in the superhero world and was entirely at ease in it, well, that seemed like a good idea, too. But no more fishnets, because it wasn’t the Sixties any more…

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2. With the mother to daughter legacy (and maybe Babs’ fishnets), I feel like there’s a bit of the Black Canary archetype in the Hummingbirds.  Intentional or just me?

KB: I’m not sure Black Canary is an archetype all by herself — if she is, she’s the “good bad girl,” since she was a jewel thief who eventually went straight, and helped Johnny Thunder solve crimes, eventually taking over his strip, if I remember correctly.

But she’s certainly one of the inspirations for the original Hummingbird, along with Zatanna, Fly Girl (The Fly had a “buzz gun,” and we came Hummingbird something like that, to start), and even Bumblebee of the Teen Titans. In fact, I think it was thinking about Bumblebee that led me to the name Hummingbird, because of the similar sounds and rhythms to the name.
The mother-daughter legacy is a stronger tie to Black Canary, but I’m not sure I was consciously thinking about it at the time. Just thinking about the 60s Honor Guard and who might have a daughter. Mermaid could, but that wouldn’t likely be someone steeped in the modern world. Leopardman already had Kitkat, who isn’t his daughter, and who I had other plans for. So I thought about possibilities, and the idea of a modern-day Hummingbird appealed to me. Someone in a sleeker costume, with actual wings, a bubbly, sunny personality and a newcomer’s enthusiasm. I was probably thinking about the Wasp and Mary Marvel as much or more than Black Canary, since we never got to see the second Black Canary as a newcomer — we thought she was the original until she was retconned into being her own daughter, by which time she was already an experienced and fairly world-weary heroine.
So I don’t think it started out intentional, but it’s certainly there in the result! Probably some Silk Spectre influence too, though not consciously…
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3. In this issue, we get a nice look at some of the female heroes of the Honor Guard, past and present.  Can we have much, much more of them, please?

KB: No promises! But I expect we’ll see more of everyone, over time…

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4. One of the many joys of reading KBAC is the vast and varied ways the characters find themselves empowered.  Many modern comics seem to want to give every single character a central origination point, i.e. the Ultimate Universe super soldier project as the source of nearly everyone’s abilities.  Do you prefer one over the other, or is multiple, variegated power sources just a better fit for Astro City in general?

KB: I think the whole “common origin” thing is something that’s movie/TV-driven. It makes it easier to explain the origins to newcomers, so tying together as much as possible works for that kind of story, whether it’s a matter of having Spider-Man and his villains all connect to Oscorp, or the Flash TV show have everything tied to that one big science bang. The Ultimate Universe was intended to be movie-friendly, so even though that was comics, they were thinking ahead.

But we don’t need to do that in ASTRO CITY. We want to be able to explore the genre in its fully crazy variety. So characters who got their powers due to scientific accidents, gifts from the gods, weird genetics…we want access to all of it, rather than narrowing it down to one thing for simplicity’s sake. If I wanted simplicity, I’d have done a different book. I like the madness of it all.

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5. Has Greymalkin appeared as Greymalkin before?  I swear I’ve seen her referenced or cameoed at least once, but I can’t for the life of me find it…  (Also: I literally gasped at the page with her reveal…  Great work from everyone involved!)
Jesús really knocked that page out of the park, didn’t he?
Anyway, that’s the first time she’s shown up as Elderly Greymalkin. She turned up as Adult Greymalkin during the DARK AGE stories, though I can’t recall offhand if we ever named her. But she — in a variety of differently-colored costumes — turns up in Dark Age Book Three #234Dark Age Book Four #4 and vol. 3 #17, as well as this issue.
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Can we get a hint of what to expect in #26?

KB: It’s our 20th anniversary issue, so we’re checking into Samaritan’s dreams, as we did way back in our first issue, to see how things have changed, and what his dreams say about Astro City today, and looking toward the future. So you’ll see Samaritan, Winged Victory, the First Family, a host of other heroes, the return of a villain from long ago (actually, more than one) and a pile of hints and portents that’ll shape the book as we go forward.

Plus, it’s got a dandy cover, and interior excellence from Brent, Sinc, JG and crew. Ne pas de miss it!

NEXT TIMEAstro City 25

 

Astro City #26: It’s the big 20th anniversary issue! It all began in 1995 with a look at Samaritan’s dreams of flight. But what’s Samaritan dreaming about now-and how will it affect Astro City’s future? This self-contained issue features a host of Astro City characters, setting the stage for major developments to come. Whether you’re new to the book or you’ve been reading all along, this issue is not to be missed.

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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