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 we have a sequel to one of the most beloved Astro City tales of them all… It’s Inside Astro City #50!
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 #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.”
MAJOR SPOILERS: Congratulations on Fifty and/or One Hundred Nine issues of Astro City! The news is out that Astro City will compete its run as a monthly series with #52, part three of this story. Was it by design that Michael’s return would be the swan song for monthly format, or just coincidence?
KURT BUSIEK: A mixture of both, really. We had this story planned already when Mark Doyle started talking to us about the possible format shift. Once we decided to go ahead and do it, we had to decide where to end the monthly series — which was mostly about how things would fit neatly into book collections. We’d been collecting the guest-artist issues separately from the Brent issues, so if we’d kept doing that, we’d wrap up with #58. Or we could collect them together for this volume and go with #52.
Since this story felt like a nice coda to the series, we made the choice to end with #52.
MS: I just suddenly realized that we still haven’t heard the end of The Broken Man’s story… or even the middle, really. Are there yet any details on how and when Astro City will be returning in the new format? And will our purple pal be returning any time soon?
KB: Hey, think about how long it took for the Silver Agent thread to be resolved — that started back in our sending issue. We’ll definitely get there, but — as always — not necessarily in a conventional way. We try to shy away from conventional adventure structures. And hey, nothing’s been conventional about the Broken Man so far. So it’s not really about whether you’ll see the beginning, middle and end of his battle with the Our as a big old adventure story, so much as how it affects things that cause stories about other stuff. What will happen on stage and what’ll happen off-stage? It depends on how the stories work that incorporate that information, and whether that conflict is a foreground thing or a background thing or what.
As for when ASTRO CITY: N-FORCEMENT will hit, we haven’t worked that out yet, partly because we’re still finishing up this run. But we’ll roll right into it after we’re done with #52, and when we’re ready to schedule it, we won’t be shy.
MS: ‘The Nearness Of You’ is, as far as I can tell, universally adored. For me, it’s one of the finest comic stories I’ve ever read and one that can give me goosebumps just thinking about those final pages. Did you have any idea how well it would be received during the writing process?
KB: No, I just thought it was a good story. It was one of those scripts that just fell out of my brain and onto the paper — I wrote the whole thing in a day, and didn’t have any trouble outlining it. It just kind of manifested itself, fully-formed. And it felt good to me, but what feels good to me and what works for the readers aren’t necessarily the same thing. That first story about Marta and Shadow Hill felt like pushing rocks uphill, and I was rewriting it over and over trying to make it feel right. And we won a Best Single Issue award for it. Conversely, when Erik Larsen and I finished the first issue of DEFENDERS #1, I thought everything clicked, that it was exactly the kind of fun, energetic comics we’d set out to make. And fans didn’t like it.
So I never know, ahead of time.
MS: This story shows us something we don’t usually find in Astro City stories, the terrible price of all the superhumans and aliens and star-spanning stuff. You don’t shy away from downsides (The Astro-Naut, Mister Manta and G-Dog’s recent tales all had bittersweet or downbeat elements to them), but was it difficult to create an arc that shows the hellish side of your creation?
KB: I was a little surprised, while writing it, that we hadn’t seen more of it, over the years, but I guess we’ve been busy on other things.
But no, it wasn’t hard to write — it’s just a matter of being true to the characters and the ideas, and letting them come to life honestly on the page. I think the hardest part was realizing how many silent pages there were going to be, and committing to that. But I knew Brent would have a blast with those pages and the silence and ordinariness of Mike Tenicek’s life would be powerful in a way that we’d lose if I cluttered up the scenes with inner monologue.
It felt like I was exercising a different kind of writing muscle on this one, and that always feels good.
MS: I keep feeling like I should recognize the woman in Arachnos’ web on the final page, but can’t quite put it together. Is she someone I should recognize? I worry that this is a key part of the story that I’m simply not getting…
KB: No, she’s new. You’ll learn more about her next issue.
MS: Any hints about Part II?
KB: More about that woman on the last page! More about Michael! The mundane story of how Michael and Miranda met! And how they didn’t! More tragedy! More silence (but not as much)! Plus: a fair amount of shouting and confusion!
Astro City #51: “Our three-part look into the lives of Astro City “survivors” continues. A woman coping with a devastating loss joins the support group Michael Tenicek has been running for years. But will Michael help her, or will she tear the group apart? For those damaged by life in Astro City, hope and wonder are elusive things. Featuring Honor Guard, the Hanged Man and more..”