Welcome to Inside Astro City, a column focusing on the Vertigo Comics series Astro City from Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross, this month featuring guest-artist Gary Chaloner! 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 Australia’s contribution to the Honor Guard, the man called Wolfspider, with Inside Astro City #28!
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 #28: A look into the life of Wolfspider, the Australian Honor Guard member. When Queenslaw, a cartoon super hero team from Wolfspider’s youth, suddenly turns up as real heroes, he has to deal with his origin, his childhood dreams, and deadly danger. Guest art by Australian comics star Gary Chaloner (Jackaroo, Red Kelso, John Law). Plus: a fistful of Australian super-villains, too! It’s a whole theme thing!
MAJOR SPOILERS: Wolfspider is an interesting take on the ‘shrinking hero’ motif, with a few ingenious improvements to make him stand out among the Atoms and Ant-Men of the world. Can you share a little bit of the thought process that brought him to life?
KURT BUSIEK: I know where we started was that it had been a while since we saw Honor Guard, and surely they’d have gotten some new members during that time. I think it was Alex who pointed out that we didn’t have a shrinking guy. I wanted some international flavor, so I think it was me who wanted an Australian member. Combine “shrinking guy” and “Australian” and I think that’s what led us to dangerous venomous spiders. I looked for lists of spider names that were native to Australia, and thought Wolfspider was a good strong name.
From there, it was a matter of designing a good-looking character who had design elements built on the look of real wolf spiders. The tufts of fur, the multiple eye-domes, etc. The robot arms and the flying ship came up during conversation with Alex, too — I don’t remember who suggested them, but it added up to a nice-looking character.
MS: As a child of the 1970s, I immediately related the animated adventures of Queenslaw to the Superfriends cartoons of my youth. Was there any attempt to reference specific cartoons of the past on your part?
KB: Not really. I’m sure I was influenced by SUPER FRIENDS and G.I. JOE and so on, but there was a certain amount of influence from, say, ALPHA FLIGHT as well, the idea of one team member from each state or territory, who’d be built around some simple idea that represented where they came from.
Making that feel like an Eighties cartoon (being re-run in the 90s) was largely Gary’s headache…
MS: Two issues in a row, we’ve spent some one-on-one story time with characters new to Astro City, or at least this volume of Astro City. Add in the “fictional characters come to life” motif and we’ve got a lot of thematic parallels over the last couple of issues. Was this intentional on your part?
KB: Not the “fictional characters come to life” part, at least. That was total coincidence — just something that worked out with each character’s origin.
The fact that we were doing stories about fairly recently established characters, that’s at least partly deliberate. I realized, after the Stormhawk issue and the Starfighter issue, that we’d done two stories about little-explored Honor Guard members, so I decided to keep going with it — do six guest-artist issues of Honor Guard focus stories that we could collect in a book of their own. So then I started thinking about which characters we really didn’t know that much about. The new Hummingbird had been around since the BEAUTIE special, but we knew very little about her, and of course American Chibi and Wolfspider were new to the current series. So they seemed like good choices.
MS: You’ve said that guest-artist Gary Chaloner’s influence helped with the Australian setting and dialect in the issue, was the creation of Queenslaw and the Australian villains a collaborative effort as well?
KB: Very much so. I didn’t want Queenslaw to feel like some dumb American’s idea of cliché Australian stuff, so at first I was trying to avoid clichés. But then I realized that it was supposed to be a dopey kids’ cartoon that some animation company probably came up with in a tearing hurry, so clichés were exactly what we wanted. We just wanted them to seem like some dumb Australian’s idea of regional Australian clichés.
So Gary and I got on Skype, and I started looking at information about the various Australian states on Wikipedia, and throwing ideas at him. He embraced some, rejected other, made his own suggestions…we were bouncing off state nicknames, state flowers and animals, history, stuff like that. At one point I wanted one of them — the New South Wales member, I think — to be called Black Opal, and Gary pointed out he already has a character of that name. In the end, he suggested Cap’n Cookaburra, as a mashup of Captain James Cook and a kookaburra, and making him a kind of washed-up wrestler of a hero.
I suggested Goldrush for Victoria, but it was Gary who gave her that freaky-Eighties Olivia-Newton-John costume. Actually, I thought it was too much, at first, and Alex had to tell me no, it really cemented the era and we had to keep it.
But that’s pretty much how we did it. Grabbing shallow, surface ideas about each part of Australia and building a character around each. In the end, I like the team, and kinda hope we haven’t seen the last of them…
MS: Do you have plans for more international stories or stories outside of Astro City proper that we can look forward to?
KB: Well, the next two issues both take place on a whole ‘nother planet. Does that count?
MS: Any coming attractions you can share for next time around?
KB: Well, Brent’s back, which is great — and we’ll be meeting an alien race, the Zirr, hereditary enemies of the First Family, and seeing what the conflict between them looks like to a kid in the suburbs. But in this case it’s an alien kid in the alien suburbs, so we’re seeing Zirran society very much from the inside. Normally, all we see in clashes like this is soldiers and rulers. So I wanted to take a look from another angle, see what we could see that would make it different…
Astro City #29: An ordinary suburban family deals with an alien invasion of their world by powerful monsters from outer space—only this family lives on Zirros, throneworld of the Zirr Empire, and the invaders are those violent superhumans, the First Family. Bullets won’t stop them. The army can’t stop them. Who can stop “The Menace from Earth”?[signoff predefined=”PayPal Donation” icon=”icon-cog”][/signoff]