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 out, we examine the final monthly issue… It’s Inside Astro City #52!
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 #52
“It’s the final issue of ASTRO CITY… for now. Michael Tenicek lost his world years ago. Now he may lose another, as ordinary life among the extraordinary takes a shattering turn. A character-focused finale to the ongoing Vertigo ASTRO CITY series, and a launch point for its new form. Guest-starring the Hanged Man, Honor Guard and more.”
MAJOR SPOILERS: I really love the way this issue opens and how the big explosiony drama left in the aftermath of an Honor Guard mission ends up taking a back seat to Michael’s personal turmoil. I know you’ve talked about how writing Astro City is different than writing Avengers or Arrowsmith, but is is more difficult to tell a story like Michael’s than a more traditional comic book?
KURT BUSIEK: It can be, yes. Because a more traditional comic book is about the adventure — the big driving question is almost always “What’s going to happen next?” ASTRO CITY is about how people react to things, how events affect them and what they think of what’s happened. So it’s more internal, which isn’t necessarily visual, and the “adventure” content isn’t what drives things, it’s the context for the character story.
So the big PYRAMID fight is there to give Michael something to react to, something to bring out his personal issues — and in this case, it doesn’t even need to be seen. We announced it on the news at the end of #51, and then by the start of #52 it’s already over.
The question of the issue is still “What’s he going to do?” — but he’s not fighting a bad guy, he’s figuring out what to do with his life. And balancing that right, making it visual, bringing out the right emotional beats and all, it’s more complicated than if Immortus and Kang are having a war and the Avengers are caught in the middle. That’s right out there on the surface, all splashy and energetic.
MS: The Hanged Man’s interaction with Michael raises a question for me: Are there more people out there under his care and influence? Is that what he does when he’s not hovering over Shadow Hill?
KB: Well, we’ve seen one other story where the Hanged Man is in a position of looking after an ordinary human — or a family, in that particular case, as payment of a favor from centuries ago. So we can assume that there are various entanglements he’s made over the years, but whether there are a lot of them or what he’s doing with his time when he isn’t called to action, we don’t really know much about. He’s a mysterious guy.
MS: The Broken Man’s appearance seems to imply that Michael may be part of whatever he’s trying to stop with the Oubor. Should we read that as Michael being a part of the solution, and thus that we may see him again when The Broken Man returns to the spotlight?
KB: We may. We haven’t seen the last of Michael, I’ll tell you that much.
But whether he’s part of the Broken Man’s plans, or whether he’s simply drawn the Broken Man’s attention, and the Broken Man’s interested in him…I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
MS: My grandfather always used to rail against “those rotten Rod Serling endings” and how ambiguous endings weren’t to his liking, but I love that Michael’s story ends where it does. What led you to choose an ambiguous ending?
KB: You’re the second person to call it an ambiguous ending, and I’ll admit, I didn’t think it was ambiguous. Underplayed, perhaps, but it’s the kind of story that wouldn’t work as well if we made a big statement about Michael’s choices. But I think they’re clear, if you read the story carefully.
Actually, the other guy to tell me he thought it was an ambiguous ending was our letterer and design wizard, John Roshell, which made me think that maybe it seems ambiguous because Michael’s choice isn’t in the lettering. But it’s in the story. It’s on the page.
On the other hand, maybe it’s more ambiguous than I think. I can work with that, when Michael comes to the front of the stage again.
MS: I really liked how the setup for the next phase of Astro City was folded right into the end of Astro City #52. With no next issue in the works, what should we look forward to in the first Astro City OGN? And when can we expect to see that story?
KB: You’ll get a lot of information about the N-Forcer — where he comes from, how he’s been around this long, what goes on behind the scenes, plus a book tour, super-villains, industrial jiggery-pokery, character issues, corporate issues, secrets and lies, a big new villain, a new costume for at least one of Astro City’s heroes, and probably some motel food. Brent’s already drawn a secret prison on the polar icecap and a South Seas cruise under siege by alien tripods.
You know… the usual!
But longer and roomier this time, like getting six issues at once. And then again, different. It’s a very interesting adjustment, not least because of all the stuff you asked about in the first question here. I think it’s going to be pretty cool, all told.
MS: As always, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Good luck with the next phase of Astro City. I look forward to finally finding out something about the N-Forcer.
KB:My pleasure. And you’ll find out plenty, you bet.