Exclusive Interview: Kurt Busiek Returns To ‘Astro City’

“’Astro City’ isn’t being rebooted or anything. We’re still who we are, just older, crankier and with a back pocket full of weirder ideas.”

Kurt Busiek left “Astro City” in 2010 following the shuttering of Wildstrom. Well, he never really left his superhero universe, it completed its arc and lost its home. As I learned from my chat with the respected writer below, he and the rest of the “Astro City” team never stopped working on the next series that’s set to hit shelves June 5 as part of DC proper, the process just slowed to a crawl due to number of health issues for Busiek. But now, “Astro City” is set to return, and with it, many of its famous characters, along with lots of new ones. I spoke with Busiek over email about the future of the series, the gall bladder problems that plagued the progress of “Astro City”, his thoughts on the current comics climate, and his upcoming Batman-centric follow-up to “Secret Identity.”

MTV Geek: “Astro City” ended in 2010 when WildStorm shut down. What led to the decision to bring it back?

KURT BUSIEK: It didn’t really end, not as a series. We just finished the latest arc — the Silver Agent two-parter that served as an epilogue to THE DARK AGE — and the intention was always to go on to the next step, which was to bring it back as an ongoing series. It just took us far longer than we expected it to. But we’ve been working on it the whole time, albeit slowly — ASTRO CITY has never been off my desktop as an active assignment.

Geek: Back in 2010, you spoke to Newsarama about the future of the series, saying that it would come out under DC proper and that you and Brent Anderson were working on new issues. Why did it take until June of 2013?

KB: Mainly, I got sick.

After finishing TRINITY in 2009, I thought I was just tired after an unrelenting year of multiple weekly deadlines, and all I needed was a few weeks off to get back into the swing of things. But I just kept getting more and more tired, and slower and slower in getting writing done, which is why that gap between the end of the Silver Agent two-parter and the return of ASTRO CITY as an ongoing series just kept getting wider and wider. And then eventually, I started winding up in the emergency room with crippling gut pain. I spent months on painkillers, getting tested every which way, vomiting blood, learning to love a constant diet of plain hamburger, sauteed spinach and other things that would get a more-or-less polite reaction from my insides, and stuff like that.

Eventually, having ruled out everything else they could think of, they figured what I was having was an unusual presentation of gall bladder disease, and I got my gall bladder taken out — that’s right, my gall is unmitigated these days. That didn’t stop the pain outright, but it backed off a whole lot, and I seem to have been slowly healing since then from whatever damage was done to my guts while things were getting worse and worse. I started getting more productive late last year, and we finally reached the combination of (a) having enough finished issues in the drawer and (b) producing new stuff on a steady basis that we all felt secure in putting the book on the schedule.

We’ve got a whole bunch of material done, and Brent and Alex have been doing stunning stuff — so I’m eager to get it out into the hands of readers and see what they think.

Geek: Will it be integrated into the main DC “New 52” universe as other books have been?

KB: No, not at all. “Astro City” takes place in its own reality, not part of anyone else’s universe, same as it has been from the start. As I like to say, if I want to do a crossover, the Astro City crew can always make up both sides of it. So while we’ll be under the DC imprint, we won’t be part of the DC Universe.

Geek: What are the long-term plans for “Astro City”?

KG: It’ll be an ongoing monthly, open-ended series. Since there isn’t a single ongoing lead character or team, it’s not really a case of the series following a particular set of adventures — we’ll be exploring the people of the city and the superhero genre, as before, and seeing what kind of stories we can tell that you just can’t get anywhere else, stories ranging from a day in the life of a sorcerer’s assistant to the ongoing relationship between Samaritan and Winged Victory, and more. We have plans to visit other planets, to reveal more about Astro City’s past, to explore the life of super-powered people who never chose to become heroes or villains, and lots more. I even intend to finally get to my talking gorilla story, and the one about the group of former kid sidekicks who get an old crime-mobile from the 40s working and head out on a road trip as they try to figure out what to do with their adult careers.

So in some ways it’s “more of the same,” but since we never really did repeat ourselves, what that means is new cool ideas you haven’t seen in comics before. Told through stories that range from slice-of-life to cosmic epics, and everything in-between.

Geek: Which characters will be returning in the new issues?

KG: Lots of ’em. On the hero front, you’ll be seeing Samaritan, Winged Victory, the Confessor, Honor Guard, Jack-in-the-Box and lots more — I’m just now finishing up a story involving the origin of Winged Victory, guest-starring Samaritan and the Confessor, for example. But we’ll also be checking in on some of the human-level cast we’ve built up over the years — there’s a story about Ben Pullam, the single father from “Welcome to Astro City,” what he’s doing now that his daughters have grown up and moved out, and the big cosmic brouhaha he finds himself in the middle of. We’ll be seeing Mattie Sullivan from the Crimson Cougar issue, and finding out what her life’s like when she’s not using her telekinetic powers to supply special effects and stunt work for TV and movies. We’ve been talking about checking in on Steeljack, and I’d like to see how the new generation of the First Family is growing up.

And some characters will be returning that readers had no idea would be important at all. Dame Progress, who’s so far appeared for a whole panel. One of the Menagerie Gang from our very first issue gets a story to himself, as we explore just what makes some people want to dress up in sharp suits and masks and go out to commit crimes in style. And then there’s the Broken Man…

Geek: Which new characters will we meet?

KG: Right off the bat, you’ll be meeting American Chibi, who is as odd a hero as her name suggests. We’ll see the Silver Adept, and some new members of Honor Guard. But as is often the case with ASTRO CITY, the focus isn’t steadily on the heroes at all. You’ll meet a new villain, the Ore-Master; an ongoing intergalactic presence in the city named The Ambassador; an extradimensional race who’ll go to any lengths to protect themselves from one of Honor Guard’s longtime recurring enemies; a young woman who works the phones at Honor Guard’s crisis lines; a mid-level criminal who happens on an artifact of great power and the usual much much more. Ad then there’s the Broken Man…

GEEK: The central mystery of the new series will center on discovering “Who is the Broken Man?” What can you tell us about that?

KG: Hmm. How can I answer that without giving anything away?

All of what we’ve done in “Astro City” so far, while it sprawled all over the place, explored the world around a slowly developing background story about the Silver Agent, one that started in #2 and culminated 15 years later with the final answers about his origin and his sacrifice. And of course, that set up a few new things to explore.

But as we start the new ongoing series, we’re starting a new background story, one about the Broken Man, who he is, what he’s up to, and what it means for the city as a whole. In some ways, it goes back to those very early issues of the series, too, and there have been hints and portents in the series so far, but now that the Silver Agent uber-arc is wrapped up, it’s the Broken Man’s turn to be in the spotlight. You’ll meet him on page one of our new first issue, but while this’ll be your first time meeting him as the Broken Man, that doesn’t mean you haven’t met him before. So in some ways he’s a new character and in some ways he’s a returning character. And he’s got a very, very unusual and complex history, and an even more unusual heroic quest. One the readers will actually get to be a part of as something more than passive observers. But ah-ah, I don’t want to give away too much.

I will say that the Broken Man’s story involves, in one way or another, virtually everyone who’s anyone in “Astro City”, and just as the Silver Agent’s story got at some central tenets of why Astro City is the way it is, the Broken Man’s will give us a different angle on it all, one that’ll go deeper in some ways than the Agent’s, and involve some of the mysteries left behind at his passing.

But the first questions will be: Why is he broken? And what — or who — broke him?

Geek: Is “Astro City” still considered creator-owned now that it’s rolled into DC?

KG: Sure. All that’s really happened is that we’ll have a different company logo on the book — DC was still the publisher the last time it was coming out, even though it said WildStorm on the cover. It’s very much the same book — still me, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross, still John Roshell and Comicraft and still Alex Sinclair. It’s still edited out of the West Coast offices, which may have moved from La Jolla to Burbank, but we’re still working with Kristy Quinn, who was our longtime assistant editor and is now the editor. It’s still owned by the creators. DC may have restarted everything with the New 52, but “Astro City” isn’t being rebooted or anything. We’re still who we are, just older, crankier and with a back pocket full of weirder ideas.

Geek: What are your thoughts on creator-owned comics in general these days? You’ve worked with Chris Roberson’s Monkeybrain and Mark Waid’s Thrillbent, will we be seeing more mainstream work from you?

KG: I love creator-owned comics. Most of my favorite books these days are creator-owned, from stuff DC publishes like “Fables”, to books like “Saga”, “Fatale”, “Hellboy” and “Courtney Crumrin”.

And while I’ve done a ton of mainstream, big-universe books, I’ve been doing creator-owned stuff one way or another since the 1980s as well. These days, much as I like the superhero universes I grew up with, I feel like, at least for now, I’ve kinda scratched that itch pretty good. Between “Avengers”, “JLA/Avengers” and “Trinity”, I’ve gotten down and dirty in the big universes and had a hell of a time playing in those sandboxes. No guarantees that in a year or two, I won’t start to feel the call of the big-name universes and all their storied heroes, but for the moment I’m more drawn to doing stuff I create (or co-create) from the ground up, books where I can build the world and set the tone, and explore things that couldn’t happen in a communal universe like Marvel’s or DC’s.

I do have at least one more company-icon project, though, in that I’m working on a follow-up to the “Superman: Secret Identity” project I did with Stuart Immonen. It’s called “Batman: Creature of the Night”, and John Paul Leon is doing the art, and it looks astounding. But like “Secret Identity”, it’s not set in the “main” DCU — it’s a story that uses the Batman concepts and history to tell a very different kind of story. That’s been a project we’re working on pretty slowly, so I wouldn’t expect to see it hit the shelves anytime soon, but when it comes, it’ll be worth it. 

Geek: Now that “Astro City” is back, what’s the status of “The Witchlands”?

KG: We’ve talked about it a little recently, but for the moment, it’s still on the back burner. Getting “Astro City” back on an ongoing basis, and off exploring new mysteries and new perspectives on a world of superheroes — that’s a big enough achievement for now, I think.

Geek: Thanks, Kurt!

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