Welcome to Inside Astro City, a column focusing on the Vertigo Comics series Astro City from Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross and guest artist Mike Norton! 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: It’s a dog’s life, but that’s okay when you’re the superhero called G-Dog, with Inside Astro City #48!
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 #48
“A tale of redemption and farewell, as G-Dog learns the secrets of his origin, faces personal tragedy and joins a very unlikely superhero team. Featuring the return of Kittyhawk and Rocket Dog, and the debut of Ghost Ferret. Part two of a special two-parter with art by guest artist Mike Norton (Revival, Battlepug).”
MAJOR SPOILERS: I knew from last issue that the Astro City team was going to break our collective hearts this issue, but I was NOT prepared for exactly how heart-breaking Hank’s end was, especially since we just met him and Andy last issue. I don’t want to just ask “How did you do that?”, but… How do you DO that?
KURT BUSIEK: A lot of it — but not the flying around and fighting crime part — comes from having a dog myself, and having been there when our first dog got old, and then sick. I didn’t have a telepathic link or anything, but I know what Andy felt like, so it’s just a matter of making sure that’s on the page. Mike Norton’s got dogs too, so he knows, and that helped him draw it.
If you’re asking about the craft, well, it’s a matter of writing (and drawing) the story you’re trying to tell. Not just the plot of it, or the action of it, but asking what the story’s about, about what’s important, what’s crucial, giving It the space it needs, and then showing it unfold in a way that communicates.
If you show people what matters about a character — not just a superhero’s powers and costume and adventures, but their motivations, their hopes, what they care about, what matters — then the readers can latch into it, because they’ve felt like that too. Maybe not about the same stuff, but about something. And then it doesn’t matter if you’ve just met the character or not, you’ve been given a road in, to identify with the character and feel what they feel.
A character can be around for 60 years and be dull, if readers never get a look inside. Or they can be compelling and involving in less than a page. It’s all about letting the reader in.
MS: You’ve talked before about how Astro City is allowed to feel a little messy with unanswered questions, like real life, but sometimes you just have to ask: Should we read the last pages as Andy giving up his powers and identity? Or since he flew away in costume, could we see more of… I suppose G-Man won’t work, will it?
KB: Yeah, G-Man’s an unlikely name — not for a superhero (Chris Giarusso already does great comics about a superhero named G-Man, check them out at http://chrisgiarrusso.com), but for this one, at least.
Still, Andy still has the powers, though he’s given away the amulet, to be passed on to the next deserving wearer. So sure, we could see more of him, and find out someday whether he came up with a new name and stayed active, or retired, or even if he returned to crime, though I’ll admit I think that’s unlikely.
This was a story about him and Hank. Could there be stories about him after Hank? Sure, could be. Will there be? You never know…
MS: Whom do we have to credit for the ingenious visual of Robo-rilla’s banana nunchakus? Because that’s one of those perfect, joyously memorable “only in Astro City” kind of images.
KB: All praise to Mike Norton. I think all I said in the script was “giant robot gorilla,” or something along those lines.
But Mike Norton is not a man to stop at “giant robot gorilla,” oh no. Mike Norton goes the extra mile.
MS: This issue features a couple of quick thumbnail origins (for Pet Petrol leader Dr. Monkey as well as the Mecha-Nerds), but doesn’t really delve much into Ghost Ferret, which makes me wonder: What decides how much information you dole out in the course of the story?
KB: It’s all about the story being told. Imagine if you were reading a mystery novel, and every time a cop showed up, the story stopped to tell you about his or her childhood, what spurred them to become a cop and where they trained for it. It would kill the story momentum dead.
So you get told about the important characters, you get a little bit on other characters, to give the story texture and character, and beyond that, you keep moving, focused on the story that’s being told. So we know that Ghost Ferret was likely the result of a lab accident and has a quirky sense of humor, but we’re not telling Ghost Ferret’s story, we’re telling Andy and Hank’s. We want enough to feel like there’s a character there, but we don’t want to lose sense of the story at hand.
If we had more pages, then maybe we’d learn more about the Pet Patrol members, but we’ve only got 24 pages an issue, and we need the room for other things.
MS: Looking at our timeline again: Hummingbird said back in #17 that Sorrowsday cakes began appearing in 1991, presumably putting Stormhawk’s death before that. If Hank and Andy were G-Dog for over a fifteen years, assuming that the present-day story takes place in present day, does that mean G-Dog debuted circa 2003 or so?
KB: Well, Hank lived 17 years, and was still a puppy when they first became G-Dog, so we’re back at 2000 for their origin, at least. But we don’t know for sure that the story is fully a present-day story. So… maybe?
MS: What should we expect in #49? And is #50 gonna be another big anniversary shindig?
KB: I’m so late in doing these column responses that #49’s already out (and I’ve already got your 5 questions about it, waiting patiently), and we’re getting #50 off to press. So it probably wouldn’t mean much if I dropped teasing hints about Resistor and #49. I will say, though, that #50 is a big blockbuster normal-sized issue, and after doing our 20th anniversary in #26 and our hundredth issue in #41, we wanted to find a different kind of celebration for #50. So it’s possibly the quietest anniversary story a superhero series has printed. It’s a look back in at what Michael Tenicek, from “The Nearness of You,” our #1/2 issue, is doing now, and it kicks off a three-parter that’ll give readers a very different angle on the superhero action of ASTRO CITY.
And there are donuts! With sprinkles!
Astro City #49: “The story of Resistor, who’s making headlines all across the nation. And one reporter is determined to find out the truth—not simply to report it, but to find her missing father. A story of protest and power, love and loss, and an enigmatic, ever-changing hero.”