Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015, it's no wonder some of the characters of the Eisner Award-winning "Astro City" are starting to retire.
In "Astro City" #22, a one-off illustrated by guest artist JesÃºs Merino released earlier this month by Vertigo Comics, series co-creator and writer Kurt Busiek explores the pending retirement of Duncan Keller, AKA Starfighter, in a story titled "Hero's Reward."
Busiek told CBR News the special solo issue is inspired by the cosmic side of superhero history, from the sword and planet genre in pulp science fiction, and that he repurposed a character beat for Starfighter he originally planned for Carol Danvers from his days writing "Avengers" for Marvel in the 1990s.
And while the days of do-gooding are most likely coming to an end for the former member of the Honor Guard, Busiek teased that the end of "Astro City" is 'years away' and that he and co-creators Brent Anderson and Alex Ross have at least two more uber-plots left to tell -- and possibly more.
CBR News: I will start by lifting a question directly from "Astro City" #22 even though it is, as a character states, very cliche. Your books are full of such constant invention, such fully-realized worlds. Where do you get ideas for all of that?
Kurt Busiek: It gets easier, over the years. You keep exercising those particular creative muscles, and you get better at fleshing out a character or world or villainous conspiracy or family or whatever with the right few telling details that make them come to life.
That said, of course, a lot of "Hero's Reward" is inspired by the cosmic side of superhero history, from the sword and planet genre in pulp science fiction, from stories I wanted to do in the past but never got around to. Starfighter being a novelist was actually something I'd originally planned for Carol Danvers at Marvel, but never got to explore the idea, so I roped it in here.
This issue doesn't happen in a void, so a lot of what goes on with Duncan and Illula and family is steeped in various sets of genre traditions, so I get to play with genre expectations, while subverting them in ways that make Starfighter feel like his own character within the genre rather than like a pastiche.
But it was a lot of fun to get to play with space fantasy. We haven't spent much time in that kind of world, so it was a treat.
Realizing full-well that "Astro City" #23 and #24 have already been solicited, I honestly had this feeling while reading "Astro City" #22 that it could have quite easily been the last "Astro City" story ever told. Starfighter's self-examination of a life lived was emotionally moving and wholeheartedly rewarding. You have been building this world for 20 years and the style of its storytelling lends itself to an infinite number of starts and stops but do you have an endgame in place for "Astro City?"
Not "in place," exactly, but we're beginning to shape some stuff that could get us there. If it does, we're still years away, but we've got two 'uberplots' simmering in the background, that will eventually either be resolved one by one or both at once, and one of them feels like it could be a decent stopping point, if we were ready to stop as we were getting there.
But like I said, it's years off, and it's just as possible we could resolve that stuff and find another uberplot to roll into. But it's something we think about, and something we realize we could already be building toward. We'll have to see how things shape up.
During your award-winning career you've written all of the major comic book icons from Superman and Batman to Captain America and Iron Man but for the most part, Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark (remarkably) never age. Is growing old Duncan Keller's greatest superpower?
I think endings may be "Astro City's" superpower -- we can see superheroes get old, in the big universes, after all. For years, we had Jay Garrick, Alan Scott and crew, and at Marvel characters like the Whizzer represented the old-age experience with superpowers. But they get to be old and then not really get older than that, since time isn't moving forward all that much.
In "Astro City," characters can have endings, because they don't necessarily need to be around next issue. We can focus on someone else. So a story arc can come to a conclusion, which is far more rare in the big superhero universes.
As Duncan looks back on his life, his memories -- like the rest of us -- are filled with highs and lows. By giving a superhero a history of wins and losses, does it allow for a more relatable main character than one that always saves the day?
I hadn't really thought of that. I wasn't making sure he had a particular balance. I was just fleshing out a life. But yes, I'm sure it does. Someone who wins all the time gets dull, and is harder to identify. That said, Starfighter didn't exactly lose much in the way of big fights. He screwed up with Quark, but that's a different kind of conflict.
I did want him to be able to look back with few regrets, since that way the idea that he's earned his retirement feels more solid.
Despite his success and lifetime of service, Starfighter still feels an urge to get in the game. For Duncan Keller, is that an internal pressure or is it real and might we see him again in "Astro City" answering the call of the Honor Guard to face a global threat? Or something bigger like the return of Voidlord?
He's still got his powers and he still feels a responsibility. So yes, we might well see him again, if he's needed. And if he knows about it -- the Cosmic Lorus isn't calling on him any more. So unless that changes, unless a threat comes to Jarranatha, he might not even know about it... unless he was on another beer-and-Cheeto run. [Laughs]
JesÃºs Merino did an excellent job of capturing the very essence of Starfighter in this one-shot issue. And by far, my favorite sequence of panels was the joy and jubilation on Duncan's face as he watched his daughter train as a superhero. You've told a number of stories about the importance of legacy and the validation and continuation of lifelines. As Starfighter contemplates his last days as a warrior, why is it vitally important for him that his journey ultimately continues with a successor, quite possibly his own daughter Trill?
I don't know that it's 'vitally important' -- or if I do, I might not be willing to tell -- but it makes it more personal, so it hits home for him more. He's being moved into the position of spectator, so if he knows someone out there in the fray, then that makes it resonate more, brings through the idea of generational change.
And yeah, JesÃºs did a beautiful job, didn't he?
Do you have plans to tell more stories with Trill? I think a new team of a harmonic-warrior of Jarranatha, a Bazwarz of Serrani, a Secti-swarm from the Cloudmoons, an Antarean Cephalon and a human would fare quite well?
Bazwarzi can be tricky. But maybe!
And what about Charlie Provost? Will we see more of Starfighter's former sidekick Quark, because while he's clearly drunk when he says it, "Damn you, Starfighter. I'll be back!" it definitely sounds like a call arms.
That depends on whether or not Charlie has the capacity for a call to arms. He's certainly upset, but that doesn't mean there's a road out of his dilemma.
This is actually the second time he's come up in a story. He was first mentioned way back in the Looney Leo story in "Astro City" Vol. 2, #13.
The upcoming two-issue arc with a drumming gorilla looks like a ton of fun. And the solicitations for "Astro City" #24 also reveal that Samaritan will be featured. In terms of juxtaposition, Starfighter and Samaritan appear light years apart as far as dealing with what it means to be a hero. Would you agree?
It depends on how you look at it, I guess. Samaritan is a very busy superhero, very much on the go and under pressure, and Starfighter is very retired, so that's a clear difference. But they're both powered by cosmic forces, and they both take their duty very seriously, so there are similarities.
Depends on what kind of point one might want to make, I'd think. But we did just see Samaritan's response to a couple of superhero retirements, back in "Astro City" #21, and that's not something we're going to be forgetting about. So... we'll see what comes!
And finally, what is the deal with Cheeto dust? Is that a universal problem? Could it maybe be addressed in a future issue? Maybe by Augustus Furst?
It may be beyond even Augustus's capabilities.
"Astro City" #22, by Kurt Busiek and special guest artist JesÃºs Merino, is available now from DC/Vertigo Comics.