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, we return to The Broken Man’s tale with Inside Astro City #45!
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 #45
” ‘WHAT BROKE THE BROKEN MAN?’ part one of two! Astro City’s tangled history of superheroes, music, counterculture, serpents and darkness comes to a head. Heroes are destroyed, minds are shattered… and an unlikely savior rises.”
MAJOR SPOILERS: We add another couple (the last?) missing incarnations of our counterculture champion in these pages, making me wonder about whether The Broken Man is a commentary on the fragmentation of modern media and the on-demand nature of how young people interact with today’s pop culture. Is that something intended in the character?
KURT BUSIEK: I don’t think so, at least not consciously. After all, the counterculture champion (nice description!) has been around and shifting identities starting a century, long before media was fragmenting. But the counterculture changes from generation to generation, as young folks grow up and become something for their kids to rebel against.
So I think, if anything, the shifting identities have more to do with generational cultural change than with modern media — after all, even as of this story, we’re still in the 1970s.
MS: Tom O’Bedlam seems to be a tip of the homburg to Tom Wolfe: Are there any real-world characters who cross-over unchanged into ASTRO CITY? Do you find it preferable to create an analogous fictional character rather than insert a real person ala the notorious Daredevil/Uri Geller crossover?
KB: Real-world characters? We’ve seen Nixon, to pick one, and I’m pretty sure there’ve been others.
But history is history, and while I’ve got no problem interacting with that, I wouldn’t want to rewrite history to the point of saying that Tom Wolfe had a romantic relationship with the avatar of glam rock while living in a fictional city in the 1970s. I’d rather keep Tom Wolfe as Tom Wolfe, and if I need a Wolfe-like character, make up my own, so I’ve got complete freedom in how to portray him and what I can establish about him, without trying to braid it into Wolfe’s actual life.
Not to mention that Wolfe is still alive, and he might not like it either!
When Marvel had Uri Geller show up, they actually got permission from Geller, which is why the story treats Geller as an actual psychic rather than as the fraud he was. I wouldn’t want to give anyone the right to dictate what I can and can’t do with the characters in ASTRO CITY — so just as we’ve never done a crossover with Superman, we wouldn’t do a licensed/approved appearance of some real-world person who’d want approval.
And hey, now we’ve got an established author in ASTRO CITY history, and we can refer to or introduce his work as needed!
MS: The Broken Man’s slight irritation with us is a lot of fun as a reader, especially the “not like readers of some comics I could name.” Is there any author surrogacy going on with those moments or am I projecting again?
KB: I try not to put my thoughts into the character’s mouths. The Broken Man is a character in the story, and even though he’s a character who can see and communicate with the readers, he’s speaking for himself, not me. So I try to be true to what the character would be feeling. He’s exasperated with the audience because of the way the story focus slid away from him in recent chapters, and he feels it’s very important that he communicate with them. He’s probably annoyed at me and Brent for not being able to tell his story monthly, as well.
So I may write the stories, but once I’ve got them worked out and am realizing them, I want to get the characters right. Even if they’re going to be pissed off at me.
MS: Glamorax’s genderfluidity is interesting, given their previous selves seeming firmly male or female. What influences led to this incarnation having this presentation?
KB: Glam rock, pretty much. The New York Dolls, Bowie, Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” and plenty more. Flamboyant rejection of traditional gender roles was a big thing in glam, so of course it had to be reflected in Glamorax.
I mean, if you were creating an avatar of glam rock, how would you approach it?
MS: Also impressive: Brent’s artwork on Glamorax’s “bad trip.” Was there an intentional early-80s Bill Sienkiewicz expressionistic influence going on in those last few pages?
KB: I honestly don’t know. Maybe! It did look great, didn’t it?
MS: What’s coming up in part two? Does to be concluded mean that we’re seeing the resolution to the Oubor arc or just this particular tale?
KB: “To Be Concluded” means it’s the resolution for the whole 6-issue arc that’s seen the Broken Man touring us through the history of our counterculture champion, from Silverstring and Mister Cakewalk up through Glam and whatever comes next.
And we’ll be seeing the chronological debut of the Broken Man, more about the Oubor, guest-shots and cameos by a passel of Astro City heroes, more of Tom O’Bedlam and some key questions about the music industry. And dancing cavemen. No, honest.
Plus, the Broken Man talks to the reader some more. And we get to see Broken Mom again!
Face it, tiger, this one’s got it all…
Astro City #46: “The final chapter in the Broken Man’s century-spanning revelations about Astro City, music, rebellion, heroes and the threat of the Oubor. The Broken Man is mounting a defense—but does it stand a chance, or is it as cracked as he is? Featuring Honor Guard, the First Family and more, in a story that sets the stage for everything that is to come for Astro City…”