Yesterday, comic readers got their first chance in three years to walk the streets of "Astro City." The creator-owned series by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, with covers and character contributions by painter Alex Ross, has been on a long and winding road to its new incarnation as a Vertigo title, but the series has finally returned with an all-new #1. Behind fans are the "Dark Age" stories focusing on the past of the titular metropolis of superheroes, and for his part, Ross couldn't be happier to be coming home.
"I'm very much looking forward to having 'Astro City' as part of my regular schedule again," Ross told CBR News. "It's the thing I have the longest professional relationship with over all this time, and it hopefully proves a point that I can work with people," he laughed. "Kurt has always had a very clear, linear vision of how to present this universe. In all the 18 years we've been working together on this stuff, there's a lot of trust with where Kurt wants to go. So I was happy taking my marching orders. I have contributed to stories over the years, and there's always a chance for me to pop in and design a new character. Like with this new series, I added a character that came to mind. But generally, the big picture direction I lay no claim to having. And this is a little removed from some of the bigger stories we were telling with 'Dark Age' and some of the prior stuff. It's focused on trying to bring people in."
Aside from drafting an inviting cover to the first issue that tells readers the new "Astro City" comes as a clean starting point for the world, Ross also took a hand in deciding how long its been since readers have interacted with the characters and how much their lives have changed. "Where I got to make a slightly greater contribution was in the second and third issue where we spend more time with that Justice League-style group called the Honor Guard," he said. "We have a double connecting cover there where the composition links up and shows how I wanted to mature these characters lives. The aspect of this universe I find interesting is that it's moving in real time. The characters have gotten older, and in some places, people get replaced. So in this cover, the expansion of the team should reveal new things you've never seen before.
"We'd never had a diminutive character in the group, so we batted around ideas and came up with this character called Wolf Spider who's kind of our Ant-Man du jour in this grouping. And there was no thought behind that except to say a lot of time has past since we've checked in with these guys in the modern day as opposed to flashbacks like with 'Dark Age.' What is the membership roster now? The Gentleman is more of a regular character, and I wanted to push forward the relationship we first established 18 years ago between Samaritan and Winged Victory. We have them dating. They're together. And when you see the two covers together, they're walking hand-in-hand."
There are new faces on hand in the series as well, including the anime-influenced American Chibi whose giant eyes stand out in nearly every cover she appears on. "We all played a hand in this one because we were trying to correspond it to the kind of character she should be from that form of art," Ross said. "Like, we knew we wanted to have the pigtails and that the eyes should not only be a certain size but a certain shape. I think the initial versions we did had more of an angularity to them, and we pushed it towards a rounder shape to match the art style."
And of course, the other big -- literally big -- addition to the world in this series is The Ambassador – a Jack Kirby-inspired god who arrives in Astro City in #1. "I see it physically as a crossing between Silver Surfer and Galactus in one figure. It's the herald character, but he's not heralding a giant god/monster who's coming to destroy the earth. It's definitely a Kirby concept given form in our storytelling, but the way Kurt writes it, he'll be performing a different function than the kind of pepped up energy you get from a Kirby original."
Ross revealed that the new character was not in fact inspired by he and Busiek's recent work on Dynamite's "Kirby: Genesis" series using the King of Comics creator-owned heroes. "The ironic thing about this is that since we've been in development with this new monthly 'Astro City' book for three years. So we actually designed that character, and I executed the final version and most of these covers before Dynamite had gotten the Kirby project. Due to choices Kurt was making with his work schedule and his own health, he got the work done on Kirby to come out when it came out where as 'Astro City' had to go on the back burner for three years. So The Ambassador has been waiting a long time for this day.
"We've been stockpiling issues in the meantime," he concluded. "There's at least ten issues of finished work by Brent Anderson, now. It was done as a safety measure to say that by the time this roles out, we'll have a year's worth of publishing to roll out."
"Astro City" #1 is on sale now from DC/Vertigo.