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 take a look at the current issue of the series, and ask series writer Kurt Busiek questions about the book. This time around: RESIST! It’s Inside Astro City #49!
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 #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.”
MAJOR SPOILERS: First off, I love the design of Resistor(s), especially the chest symbol. The entire design feels very Kirby, was this a conscious influence, given the nature of the material?
KURT BUSIEK: I don’t think we were thinking of Kirby, all that much. The chest symbol is actually the symbol for the electrical component — a resistor — and that’s where the character idea came from in the first place. It struck me that a resister was a political activist and a resistor was a power modulator, so what about a political-activist superhero called The Resistor?
The part about the Resistor getting more powerful the more people stood with him (or her) kinda fell into my head from there, and I thought Brent would like the idea a lot. So I called him, he liked it, and we were off to the races.
But as far as the visual goes, Alex and I started out thinking about Ditko characters like Captain Atom and Captain Universe, and Gil Kane designs like the Atom and the Mar-Vell Captain Marvel. At least, I’ve always thought that the Mar-Vell outfit was a Kane design, even though it appeared one issue before he took over the series. It just looks like one of his.
There’s also one of Dave Cockrum’s Imperial Guard designs that I think has some similarity, but I don’t remember which it was…
MS: Astro City always has threads of the real-world in it, but this issue feels particularly timely. I’m never entirely sure how far ahead of publication an issue is written; when did Lu Garneau’s story start to come together?
KB: If I really wanted to, I could pinpoint the conception of the Resistor down to the day, because I posted on Twitter about it — without naming names — the day I came up with the idea. Something about coming up with our most overtly-political character ever. But I don’t want to wade through all those old tweets to find it.
Luisa Garneau, though, came along later — and, well, I could figure that out the same way, because I remember making a tweet about breaking a story structure, but again, I don’t want to look. But I knew Resistor’s origin, and the story, as I tried to frame it out, kept feeling like it was just an origin story, that for all the character is politically-motivated, it was still just a superhero origin story, and I wanted it to be more, to engage with humanity in some way beyond the superhero adventure structure.
But then I read something — maybe a Thomas Mullen novel, or a Peter Straub — that had me thinking about family, and I realized that if the story was about a daughter’s search for her father, whose political motivations had driven him to create this hero, but separated him from his family, that bam, I had a very different and richer story.
Anyway, that was all in 2017 sometime, so while some Astro City stories percolate for years, the Resistor story was all coming together in my head much closer to when it got written.
MS: Anyone who knows your social media presence knows that you’re not afraid to express your viewpoint and sociopolitical views. I know that you’ve said that you’re not putting your words in the character’s mouths, but was it difficult about having your own views (seemingly) crossing over into the story with Dr. Garneau?
KB: It probably would have been if Garneau was the hero of the story — I’d have felt much more self-conscious — but once it became about Luisa, it was much simpler. For all that I’d conceived the character as a political superhero, and as a progressive at that, the story isn’t about him being right, or even all that nice a guy. He’s a lousy father and an absent husband, and he might mean well, but he left wreckage in his wake.
The story doesn’t endorse his politics, it simply presents them, and makes the real story about Luisa trying to find him, to find a way to reconcile what he was to her with what he became. So he’s a big honking liberal, and when it comes to the various political standoffs in the issue, he’s taking the side I’d sympathize with, but the story’s not about “He’s right!” It’s about “Where’d he go?” It’s a character motivation, not the story’s point.
Other stories we’ve done, like the Starbright story, are much more progressive in terms of theme, of the story we’re telling. With this one, we were telling a story about a guy who has strong political beliefs, but they motivated him more than they motivated the story. So in the end, it was about writing a character, more than anything else. That’s just who he is.
MS: Our point-of-view character and her relationship to her father makes me think of Tillie Armstrong and The Gentleman, though the relationships are quite different. Will we be seeing a collection of Astro City stories with a family/fatherhood theme, or is it just a strong universal hook on which to hang a story?
KB: I hadn’t thought about Luisa and Tillie like that. That’s interesting, and I should probably think about whether there are other stories in ASTRO CITY history that do that, too.
But no, Tillie’s story is part of the big Broken Man history tour, and will be collected with those stories, and this one will be collected with the G-Dog story and the Michael Tenicek story that’s coming out now.
MS: Okay, I often ask if I’m overthinking things in Astro City, but I swear that Lu’s contact on Page 13, in the second panel, is Dr. Bunsen Honeydew from The Muppets. This one is just me, isn’t it?
KB: Hah! No, I mentioned in the script that I was imagining a Bunsen Honeydew type, but as a real person, and Brent was inspired. Inspired, I tell you!
MS: Number fifty is up next. Any hints as to what we can expect?
KB: And as with the last one of these, I’m running late enough that #50’s already out — a look at what Michael Tenicek, from “The Nearness of You,” is doing today. But #51-52 continue that story, so we’ll be seeing superhero action and character drama and more about Michael, both how he met Miranda and what he did after she was erased from reality.
And we’ll see other survivors, and dig into their feelings, and their relationship to Michael, and more….
Astro City #50: “Our 50th issue begins a special new story: Michael Tenicek lost his wife, years ago, to a chronal cataclysm. But he’s not the only one in Astro City whose life has been upended by life among the superheroes. Today, we’ll meet others, learn their stories and see how Michael—and friends—cope with their trauma. A sequel to the Eisner-nominated “The Nearness of You,” considered by many to be ASTRO CITY’s best story ever.”