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 look at an unseen side of superheroics in a tale of The First Family, 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 #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”?
MAJOR SPOILERS: This issue feels like textbook Astro City, taking a bit of comics lore (The Alien Invasion) that we’ve seen many times and turning it on its head. How difficult was it to create such a fully realized alien society in the space of a few pages?
KURT BUSIEK: Not all that difficult — on the one hand, this is a story I’ve been thinking about for a long time, so the ideas for Zirran society accreted over the years rather than me needing to come up with them all at once. And on the other, I’ve had a lot of practice introducing a new setting or concept at the beginning of a story. But it was a lot of fun, playing out this martial, alien world almost like FATHER KNOWS BEST or LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, dropping in just enough references and bits of information to flesh out the world on Zozat’s trip home from school.
MS: The designs of the Zirrans are fascinating, and I’m impressed how much range of emotion Brent and Alex are able to impart to their faces. Was the similarity to Kirby’s Infant Terrible part of the creation process or just a subtle visual continuity nod for those in the know?
KB: It may well have been part of Alex’s process — I know he wanted to give them a Kirbyesque feel without duplicating any of the existing Kirby alien races, and those eyes are certainly familiar. In describing the Zirr to Alex, I think I used the word “muppetty” a lot, because I wanted them to look simple and cartoony enough for the reader to project a lot of sympathy into. If they look as much like cartoon people as they do like aliens, it’s easier to be empathic than if they have extremely inhuman faces. Which is, in part, why the emperor and the other warlords of Zirran history don’t have such simple, cartoony faces.
For Zozat’s father, I also mentioned H.R. Pufnstuf as a useful influence, and I think that worked out well, too.
MS: As always, it’s hard for me to read Astro City without relating it to real-world events. How much (if at all) were this issue’s themes of loyalty and obedience influenced by real-world geo-politics?
KB: None at all, at least not consciously. I may be a fervent liberal on Twitter, but when it comes to stories, I just don’t feel terribly driven by politics or the news, I’m lost in a world of character and emotion — I want to make my character’s life and world and conflicts come alive way more than I want to use their story to argue politics. So whatever issues come through in the story are going to be subconscious, deep-seated stuff about morality or ethics or something that’s rooted in the thinking and reading and feeling I’ve done over my lief more than my reaction to whatever’s recent. Human issues, for me, tend toward the universal, not the topical. Plus, as I noted, this story’s been in the works a long time, so whatever was going on in the news when I originally roughed it out in my mind, it was probably different from what’s going on now.
MS: Did I miss the reveal of Nick and Darcy’s children? For the life of me, I don’t remember them…
KB: They first appeared, if I remember correctly, in the 2-part ASTRA special, and turned up again in the story about the roadside robot museum. So they’ve been around, but not really explored, at least not so far.
MS: Zozat is clearly something special, and I found myself sympathizing with him, even against a team of known good-guy super-types that I’ve been reading about for years. My brain immediately made the connection to Rod Serling’s script for the Twilight Zone episode, ‘The Invaders.’ What stories might have influenced you in this portrayal of ‘humans as the alien monsters?’
KB: I can’t think of any specifically. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any — everything I read or watch or whatever, it all goes into my head and gets churned up and cooked down and becomes part of the mass of stuff my imagination works with, along with whatever new ideas come along. There are certainly influences from SF prose stories and comics, but they’re mostly surface stuff, I think, while the story itself is spurred on by the idea “What’s it like to be an ordinary citizen on a badguy homeworld?” and I found most of that by just thinking about how a world like that, where everyone grows up into a fierce, victory-or-death warrior, would work. It was more because we don’t see that sort of thing in stories of the Skrulls or the Kree or the Khunds or whatever that spurred the story, so the inspiration was in the absence of material more than anything else, I think.
MS: Any coming attractions for next month’s part two?
KB: More action, more alien society, more Grum, lots of difficult decisions for Zozat, military action for Ziriza, a look at how things went on Earth, and more. Plus, Zozat’s family finally gets to have dessert.
Astro City #30: “The Menace from Earth” part 2. Trapped behind enemy lines on an alien planet, young Karl Furst has only one chance-an alien child who has been raised all his life to hate the First Family and anyone connected with them. Plus: All-out battle against the Unisaur, Zirros’s mightiest weapon.[signoff predefined=”PayPal Donation” icon=”icon-cog”][/signoff]