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 time around, things get cosmic with Inside Astro City #40!
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 #40: “Life on Shadow Hill gets a bit more complicated when Marta has to handle a contract matter between the Silver Adept and an extradimensional demigod! On the other hand, she gets to watch baseball with ghosts. Also featuring the Hanged Man.”
MAJOR SPOILERS: There is a lot of really fascinating background in this issue about the sources of magical power in the Astro City cosmos. How long has this been in the works? Did it all come about during the plotting of this issue?
KURT BUSIEK: Well, I’ve known for years that there was a cosmos like this is the ASTRO CITY universe, and that it involved cosmic beings as sources of various kinds of magic. But we haven’t done all that many magic-focused stories, so we haven’t had a chance to explore it.
The various Foundationals were all finally named and shown this issue for the first time — I knew they existed, but hadn’t worked them all out until we needed to.
MS: This was an immensely satisfying issue to read, seeing Marta step up and use her skills to literally save the day.. From the very beginning, the non-costumed characters are as important as the supers when it comes to Astro City. Is it more fun to write about the Marta Dobrescus, Ned Carroways and Martha Sullivans from a creative standpoint?
KB: It’s fun, that’s for sure. I love getting into the heads of characters who have different concerns, different aims, than what we normally see in superhero comics. If I can do that with a costumed character, great — technically, Ned Carroway falls into that category, but we showed a different angle on his life than you’d get in a more straightforward adventure series, for instance. So it’s not so much about a clear division between costumed characters and non-costumed characters, it’s more about whether the viewpoint is interesting and different.
It’s also, to some degree, about how clear their voice is in my head. With Marta and Steeljack, I had a very, very clear sense of who they are and how they think, and as I was writing those issues I kept thinking, “Man, I could write a whole novel in this voice!” So that’s a lot of fun, too.
MS: The various Foundationals and Tzzamath cultists are a wild and diverse group, full of interesting alien types. Did you have an idea of how you wanted them all to look, or were those contributions by Carmen?
KB: The Tzammath cultists are mostly Alex’s work, I think. He did the cover before Carmen drew the story, so she based the cultists on what he did there, extrapolating as needed. For the Foundationals, I described them in the script, loosely, and Carmen did a great job of realizing them. To give you a closer look behind the curtain, as it were, here’s the script descriptions:
MS: This issue’s letters page featured some really fascinating investigative work by reader Helena Nash, including a number of links that I had never even considered. I don’t suppose you’re willing to confirm or deny any of the information she has assembled?
KB: Oh, I couldn’t possibly. I will say that some of the connections Helena made surprised even me…but that doesn’t mean they won’t turn up as important, now that they’ve been pointed out to me!
Doesn’t mean they will, either. You never know.
MS: I suddenly realized in this issue that Silver Adept’s headgear (very cool and very Kirby, which is a nice touch) gives the impression of a star on her forehead, calling to mind the Silver Agent’s helmet. Portentous or merely noteworthy?
KB: As with Helena’s detective work, maybe it will me now! I hadn’t noticed — in my crappy design sketches, I don’t think I’d included that, so I think that’s a Brent contribution. But there is definitely a connection between the Silver Agent and the Silver Adept, so is that a sign of it? Well, sure, why not?
MS: Any hints at what we’ll be seeing in next issue’s milestone 100th issue?
KB: Sweeping history. The Great Depression. The rise of Astro City’s most-beloved hero, and the politician that put him on the map! Far-flung galaxies, the battlefields of World War II, homefront heroics…and Zootsuit! An unusual appearance by the Broken Man, some oddball heroes you’ve never seen before, and others you have. Secrets, betrayals and lamps!
Yes, lamps! Well, lamp. But it’s an important lamp.
And did I mention Johnny Homicide?
Astro City #41: “It’s our 100th issue celebration! This 40-page extravaganza introduces Astro City’s most revered hero-the Astro-Naut! Learn his secrets! See him in action! And in the heat of World War II, see the stunning sacrifice that inspired a grateful populace to rename a city after its greatest hero. Also featuring the All-American, the Lamplighter, Zootsuit and the debut of the Gentleman, as our tour through Astro City’s history continues!
This amazing anniversary issue features two covers: one by regular cover artist Alex Ross, and the other by the great Alex Ross!”