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 get up close and personal with The Living Nightmare, with Inside Astro City #31!
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 #31: “A monster’s-eye-view of heroes, fear, battle and more, as the Living Nightmare-the embodiment of fear itself-goes up against the Honor Guard, and all its secrets come to light. A story that could change the team forever. And half of them just got new costumes, too. Featuring the work of guest-artist Jesus Merino!”
MAJOR SPOILERS: Maybe it’s the Hulk-speak talking, but this issue really endeared The Living Nightmare to me. TLN dates back to the very first published issue of Astro City, finally getting a spotlight 20 years later. Is this a story that you’ve had in mind all along?
KURT BUSIEK: Not at all. When we were cooking up the Living Nightmare for #1, I wanted him to feel like he had a history, so I threw in enough details to make him feel like a character with a storied past, but I honestly didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.
But then, having established that history, it was fun to play off it — showing Living Nightmare toys in a sequence involving Honor Guard licensing, or flashing back to times he was on the team. That kept him in our thoughts, so when we were looking for a way to trouble Samaritan’s dreams in #26, he seemed like a great callback to #1, and then Alex suggested we bring him back to Honor Guard as a hero again. So it kinda happened organically, but we had the pieces out there to build on.
MS: I really like this issue’s narrative device, having the citizens of Astro City who composed the Living Nightmare recount the events of their ‘weird dream.’ Were there any specific influences that led to that perspective?
KB: Originally, I figured we’d need to give him a new human “pilot,” but Alex suggested it’d be better to have him be sentient on his own, and I liked that thought. So at first, I was trying to figure out a way to have him narrate the story, even though he didn’t really have much command of the language. But then it hit me that hey, he’s powered by people’s fears, so he could be drawing on their dreams, their nightmares, and that’d give us a way to have other people, random people, feeling his thoughts. So the idea of the shared dream built out of that.
MS: With new looks for The Living Nightmare, N-Forcer and The Assemblyman (who really needed one, so thank you for that), this issue is full of costume changes. Did this issue’s guest penciller Jesús Merino come up with those, or is their appearance here a coincidence?
KB: It’s a little bit of a coincidence, but the new costumes are Alex’s designs, with an added touch here and there by Brent. Alex was telling me that he thought the N-Forcer needed a new design, and he had an idea for one that would play into some story possibilities. So I asked if he thought any other characters needed a touch-up, and we picked a few. There’s at least one more new costume coming, but this came about as the next Honor Guard story we saw after we had the designs, so here’s where they showed up.
MS: One of my long-term Astro City favorites, The N-Forcer, has actual dialogue in this issue! With a new N-Forcer armor in play, is there any chance of finding out what his deal is in the near future?
KB: We’ve got a big N-Forcer story coming. It’s a little tricky, because it needs to be a 4-parter, and given our schedule pressure, it’s hard to find the time for Brent to draw four issues in a row without bringing in a guest artist. So we need to build up a little lead time, to give Brent the schedule room, which falls to me to be faster, and that’s not as easy as I’d like. But it’s coming. We’ll make it happen.
MS: On a similar note, are there any characters whose stories you’re really dying to tell, but just haven’t hammered out yet?
KB: There are all kinds of characters whose stories I want to get to — and not all those characters are superheroes, of course — but there’s only one issue a month, which means I have to pick and choose.
MS: What have you got coming up for issue #32?
KB: The return of Steeljack. A woman from his past. A nefarious operation that puts friends of his in trouble. The Butthead Brothers. Underwater salvage. And lots more!
Astro City #32: A look in at Steeljack, and how he’s been getting by the last few years. When he’s hired by a femme fatale from his past, he’ll wind up in deep trouble, with no one to turn to. Part 1 of a 3-part sequel to “The Tarnished Angel,” one of ASTRO CITY’s most popular stories.