Kurt Busiek is no stranger to writing epic tales, be it superpowered heroes or supernatural villains. The 10-time Eisner Award-winner re-launched "Avengers" for Marvel Comics in the late nineties with superstar artist George Perez. In 2003-04, the two re-teamed for the wildly successful DC/Marvel crossover miniseries "JLA/Avengers." And when Dark Horse wanted to reboot President Obama's favorite Cimmerian, Busiek unleashed a back-to-the-basics Robert E. Howard-style "Conan" for a larger-than-life three-year run from 2003 to 2005.
After a move to DC as an exclusive writer in 2005, Busiek helmed "Superman" and "Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis" for a time before leaving both titles for the massive weekly project "Trinity." For the past 48 weeks, Busiek and artist Mark Bagley have delivered 12-page stories for the weekly series, all the while continuing work on his latest "Astro City" project with co-creator and fellow Eisner Award-winner, artist Brent Anderson.
Launched in 1995, "Astro City" runs as a serialized anthology of volumes, miniseries and specials, focusing on different characters - super-powered and non-superpowered -living in a well-populated urban center somewhere in the western United States. The stories, published first by Image and now DC's Wildstorm imprint, are told from multiple points of view and feature dozens, if not hundreds of characters.
With "Trinity" a mere five issues away from the end of its mammoth run (and Busiek's work basically done) and "Astro City" returning to comic book stores May 6 with the release of "Astro City: Dark Age" Book 3 #1, CBR News caught up with the 48-year old Boston native at his home in Washington State to find out when he's actually sleeping and we picked up some nuggets about "Wednesday Comics," "Marvels: Eye of the Camera," and the long awaited, highly anticipated sequel to "Arrowsmith."
CBR: "Astro City: The Dark Age" is solicited as not only the title's longest and most ambitious epic yet, but a new jumping-on point. For a neophyte to this world, what does a new reader need to know before picking up "Astro City: The Dark Age Book 3" #1 on May 6?
Kurt Busiek: What does a new reader need to know? The answer's "nothing," really. We have a brief recap in the inside front cover that'll bring people up to speed whether they're new to "Astro City" or just need a refresher. There's lots of history to Astro City, lots of stuff that's gone before, but just as with Superman or James Bond or "The Closer," you don't need to know all the backstory in order to understand a new episode -- or shouldn't if it's done right. We're pretty careful about making sure readers have what they need to understand the stories without needing to have read the entire series.
That said, there are things the reader might want to know. Like that Astro City is a major metropolitan American city with rather more than its share of superheroes, super-villains, crimelords, monsters, mad scientists and more, and what we do in the series is tell stories about what it's like to live in a place like that, to live through the kind of thing that goes on there, from a variety of perspectives. We've told stories from the point of view of superheroes, reporters, innocent bystanders, alien spies, criminals, cartoon animals come to life and more.
Right now, we're telling the story of Charles and Royal Williams, two brothers living through a tumultuous time in the 1970s and 1980s. Their parents were killed in the late 1950s, in a superhero battle, and that's affected their view of the world and of the super-powered stuff that goes on around them. Charles was kind of a troublemaker, but as a result of what happened to his family, he became a cop; Royal was more of a straight-arrow type who lost his faith in order and rules and has become a petty criminal. They're still closely bonded, though. In the previous arc of "The Dark Age," Charles wound up nearly-fatally shot by corrupt cops to keep him silent, and Royal saved his life, even though it meant that Royal would go to jail.
And now it's a few years later. Royal's out of jail, Charles is off the police force. But they know who the man who killed their parents is, and they know where to find him. But there's superhero trouble around - there usually is - and they're going to be dragged into the midst of it.
All of this will be covered in the story as well, but it's at least a good starting point.
You mentioned Charles and Royal Williams. Since the start of the "Dark Age" maxiseries, these two non-superheroes have been used as the main characters. What makes these brothers such strong leading men?
I'm not sure it's up to me to judge whether my characters are strong or not. I like to think they are, but it's ultimately up to the reader to decide.
Still, I find Charles and Royal pretty compelling. They've been through a lot of trauma, and they deal with it in different ways. Charles tends to want to try to make the world better, and Royal tends to try to get away from things, and their bond as brothers and their very different natures makes for some dramatic character clash. Plus, they're interesting eyes to see Astro City through. We hadn't seen things from a cop's perspective before, and we haven't seen things from the perspective Charles is in now. We've seen a few things from the point of view of a costumed villain, but what Royal is, essentially, is a low-level hireling, so that's a different perspective, too.
And they're pretty strongly driven to avenge their parents' murder, and that makes things lively, too, I think.
The First Family, Apollo Eleven, PYRAMID, the names of these super-powered teams alone is enough to draw you in. While many of the characters in "Astro City" play small roles and even cameos, how deep have you built their backstories in your own mind? Do you have "bibles" or notebooks active on all of the characters of "Astro City/"
I've got a scattering of notes all over the place, but it's not organized into a formal "bible." Some characters I know an enormous amount about, and I have extensive backstories in mind that we'll get to as we tell more stories. Beautie, for instance, who was the star of a recent Special, was a character whose origin and backstory I knew from the very start, and it simply took more than a decade to get to it. There are a lot of characters like that, including the Old Soldier, the Hanged Man and others. And other characters I have general ideas on and flesh them out as needed. We knew who the Apollo Eleven were early on, for instance, and what their rough story would be, but I didn't actually name the characters until this arc. I had to sit down and make up names and character relationships for all of them, because it was time to flesh them out.
That's part of what makes the series fun. I have a big sweep of history and a huge cast to deal with, and I have lots of stuff established and worked out that I can use when it's needed, but there's also a lot of freedom to add new stuff or flesh things out as needed, too. So it never gets boring.
Along that line of thought, the stories that can be told within this world appear endless. Do you have an endpoint (and date) in mind for "Astro City?"
No, I don't. "Astro City" isn't a big long meta-story with a planned finale, like "Sandman" or "Y: The Last Man." It's an open-ended series. We're telling the stories we're telling, and will keep going as long as we feel we have stories we want to tell and the audience is supporting us.
At some point, I'm sure, the series will end, and we'll try to do an appropriate finale, but I don't know when that'll be, so I haven't made plans for it.
What comes after "Astro City: Dark Age Book 3?" There's a Book 4, correct? And beyond that?
After each "book" of "Dark Age," we've done a character-spotlight story. After Book 1, we did a Samaritan special, after Book 2, we did the Beautie special and Books 3 and 4 are no exception. After Book 3, we're doing a two-parter showcasing Astra of the First Family. The last time she had a turn in the spotlight she was 10 years old, and now she's graduating from college, so we're checking in to see what she's up to and how she's dealing with it. That was originally planned to be a single 40-page special, like the other two, but while I was plotting it I discovered I needed more room, and there was a real nice break point in the middle, so we made it a two-part story instead: 48 pages total.
After that, we'll do Book 4, which is the big finale to "Dark Age" and then we'll do a Silver Agent spotlight. His death, back in Book 1, kind of kicked everything off, but there were some mysteries around it, and this story will clear that up, so we start and finish up with him. I don't know yet if that'll be an extra-length special or two normal-sized issues. We'll figure that out when we get there.
And after that, we have some pretty cool things planned that'll make a lot of readers very, very happy - and will surprise a lot of people too, I think. But we're just now getting all our ducks in a row for that, so it's not ready to be announced yet.
You have been cranking out an epic tale featuring icons you didn't create in "Trinity" over the past 52 weeks. And for that alone you should be congratulated. So first off, well done. Were you able to work on "Astro City" during the last 12 to 15 months?
Yes, we kept working on it the whole time. All of Book 4 is drawn and ready to go, and the first issue of the Astra two-parter is drawn as well. Brent's well into the second part as we speak. We wanted to make sure we had a lot of stuff done and in the drawer, since we've been plagued with lateness in the past and don't want to be in that position again.
Is it nice getting back to your own creations?
It'll be nice to focus on them more. Like I said, we've been working on the book the whole time, but "Trinity" took up an enormous amount of time and energy, so being able to kind of stretch out and immerse myself in "Astro City" again will be a treat.
Obviously, "Trinity" was an experience like none other. As it winds down over the next four or five weeks, have you had a chance to sit down and think about what a mammoth exercise it was? Any parting thoughts?
I haven't had the chance to sit down and look back yet. I'm sure there'll be parting thoughts, but I'm about a week away from parting, so right now it's more a case of head-down; we're in the final sprint and don't let up than looking back on the achievement and reflecting. But it's definitely starting to feel like it's all coming to an end for us. Last week, Scott McDaniel turned in his last pages, and a couple days ago Mike Norton turned in his, and the last pages from Tom Derenick came in today. Mark [Bagley's] halfway through his part of #52, and Fabian [Nicieza] is scripting his last bits, so it feels like guys are crossing the finish line left and right. And the emails going back and forth are celebratory and a little bit like writing in each other's high school yearbooks. We've been all working closely together on this book for a year, and now we're going our separate ways, so it's triumph at finishing and a little sadness at parting.
But it's been an amazing crew to work with at every level, and everyone's gone above and beyond the call of duty, from all the artists to Pat Brosseau on the lettering to Allen and Pete on the coloring, to Mike and Rachel in the editors' chairs. I'd be delighted to work with any of these guys again, and I'm a little staggered that we're here at the end of the process without having to call in extra guys to deal with schedule disasters. It's been a very, very dedicated team, and it's been a thrill to work with this group.
But I'm not done yet, so I can't let up and let it all sink in just yet.
What are you most proud of, besides meeting that seven-day deadline every week?
Four deadlines a week, actually - two plot, two dialogue jobs. I'm very happy with he story we told and how it's come together. We've added some things to the DC Universe, we've brought in some new characters, dusted off some old ones and given them an interesting turn in the spotlight, and I think we've dug into the underpinnings of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman in a way that hasn't really been done before. It's a big, sprawling, 1155-page novel of the DCU, going from back alleys to cosmic godheads and back, using a huge amount of the DCU. I'm eager to see it all collected, in three big honking volumes.
Always. There isn't a project I've worked on that I wouldn't do at least a little bit differently if I did it over again. But then, if I'd done it that way to start with, maybe today I'd been wishing I did it some other way. Writing's like that. If you're ever fully satisfied, you're not trying hard enough.
I do wish we didn't keep screwing up that Wonder Woman works for the DMA, not the DEO, though.
Would you like to do an "Astro City" weekly series for a year?
Dear God, no. I'd die.
I think I'm happy having done one weekly, but not in a hurry to tackle that kind of schedule again. At least not in that form.
Ah, but your next project is another weekly series, "Wednesday Comics." Can you share any details on your Green Lantern story for that project?
The funny thing is, I'll be done with my part of "Wednesday Comics" before I'm done with "Trinity," but that's how it goes when you're writing 12 oversized one-page chapters instead of writing 52 12-page chapters and co-writing 52 more 10-page co-features.
It's a Green Lantern story, set in the classic Jet Age, the era Hal Jordan was first created in. It's drawn by Joe Quinones, a terrific "new find" of sorts, who's doing lovely, beautifully rendered color artwork that's ideal for the period and the character. We're not in continuity with what's going on in the modern DCU, so this is our spin on a classic GL. I'm having a great time, and it looks wonderful. I don't want to say too much about the story, since I hate to give stuff away, but I will say that we find out what happened when Hal was a NASA astronaut trainee, and the adventure comes from what happened during that period of his life and how it comes back to make trouble during his early years as Green Lantern.
Will you be returning to DC for another ongoing series later this year?
For at least the near future, the stuff I'm going to be doing for DC proper will be short-run. After 52 weekly issues, I need a rest. But I will be doing some DC-related stuff, though I can't yet announce what it is. And I'll be doing another creator-owned series, as well, but I can't announce that yet, either. DC wanted to have all this set up by the time "Trinity" finished, but the deadlines didn't leave me much time to talk about new projects, so we started working things out a little later than we might have wanted. But it's all coming together nicely, and I'm very happy with what's coming up.
Are you working on anything else?
Other than "Wednesday Comics," "Astro City" and the stuff I can't announce? Sure. I've got a few finishing touches to put on "Marvels: Eye of the Camera," and I'm working on a sequel to "Arrowsmith," which will be a prose novel called "Arrowsmith: Far From The Fields We Know." Carlos Pacheco will be doing lots of illustrations for it. Between those and the unnamed projects, I'll be staying pretty busy. But after I take my family on vacation next month.