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, a face from Astro City’s past returns… It’s Inside Astro City #32!
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 #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.”
MAJOR SPOILERS: This issue reacquaints us with Steeljack, star of the excellent ‘Tarnished Angel’ arc, 18 or so years down the line, and Carl’s still pretty much the same down-on-his-luck fellow we first met back in 1998. Is it difficult to recapture the voice of a character you haven’t written in that long?
KURT BUSIEK: Not really. He’s got a pretty clear voice. I didn’t have any real trouble writing it back then, and it was pretty easy to slip back into today.
That might not hold for all characters, but “rueful” is an outlook I have a lot of sympathy for, so Steeljack may be closer to my heart than a lot of others. Not that I’m admitting to robbing any banks or anything. But I’ve been having a blast writing him, and there are scenes that are rather more conversational than I usually get, just because I enjoy writing in his voice. It’s fun.
MS: My belief has been that Astro City takes place more or less in real-time, but Goldenglove appears in these pages, and doesn’t seem to be nearly 20 years older than she was in her earlier appearances. Am I wrong about the timeline, or has she just aged really well?
KB: She was pretty young when she appeared in TARNISHED ANGEL. So yes, she’s that much older now. I guess clean living and plenty of hydration has been key for her. But mostly, it may be because I’m in my 50s, but I see actors and actresses in their early-to-mid-thirties playing high school students more or less credibly, so I don’t have a problem that she still looks fairly young.
MS: The Astro City landmarks that bear the names of writers/artists usually make sense to me (Biro Island especially, but also Mount Kirby) but occasionally one slips past. Why name Steeljack’s building after, presumably, Pete Morisi?
KB: Pete Morisi’s best known for PETER CANNON: THUNDERBOLT, but his career involved writing and/or drawing a lot of crime comics, including PI strip JOHNNY DYNAMITE and security-for-hire group VENGEANCE SQUAD. Also, when he wasn’t doing comics, he was a New York City cop.
He seemed like a good choice to have his name on something in the Kiefer Square neighborhood, particularly something close to a PI who has a foot in the superhero world.
MS: We’ve been seeing several quasi-sequels and character returns in recent issues of Astro City with Quarrel’s arc, the return of the Living Nightmare, and others. Is this an intentional theme in the 20th anniversary year?
KB: Not intentional, but there’s certainly more coming. After this story, we’re going to see a Jack-In-The-Box story that brings back a number of older characters and sheds light on a mystery or two. Maybe I should start doing it on purpose, now…
MS: The noir influences in this issue make for a fun read, especially the first-person Raymond Chandler-style dialogue. Given how elastic Astro City can be to experimental storytelling (#13 still sticks with me), are there any other narrative styles/devices that you’d like to try making work in comic book form?
KB: I keep thinking about doing a story that’s prose fiction with full-page illustrations, or narrating a story purely through police reports. No plans yet for making those happen, but I’m always thinking about them, to one degree or another.
MS: Any hints at what’s upcoming in Part 2?
KB: Beer! Supervillains in trouble! Old technology and older technologists. Theme restaurants! More beer! Punching and hitting. Bad appetizers! Hints and clues about upcoming stuff! Sad parts. Funny parts. At least one Stephen King reference. Dreams of avarice, a little bit of conversation and at least one precocious talent. Death, pulp hero stuff and souvenirs.
And some other stuff.
Astro City #33: :”Steeljack and Cutlass rekindle old memories, and more, as they plumb the depths of Astro City’s demimonde to try to clear her name. And, more ex-villains are getting in trouble. Plus: Introducing the Fix-It Man-and the indescribable threat of Retro Rocky’s Superbistro.”