Astro City Supervillains

Astro City Supervillains

(pop culture)
Created by writer Kurt Busiek, penciler Brent Anderson, and cover artist Alex Ross, Astro City is a fictional metropolis as full of superheroes— and supervillains—as Marvel Comics' version of New York. Its saga began in Image Comics' Kurt Busiek's Astro City vol. 1 #1 (1995) and continues to be published by DC Comics. In 2002 Busiek told the comics website Newsarama that Astro City was “about what it would be like if that kind of world was real.” He pointed out that “we don't follow any one particular character or even a team. We tell stories from a variety of viewpoints.” A story could be told from the perspective of the hero, or “an innocent bystander” or even “a villain wanting to prove himself.” In Astro City Busiek intentionally fashions new heroes and villains upon familiar archetypes in the superhero genre. The Astro City story arc that most focuses on supervillains is “The Tarnished Angel” (Kurt Busiek's Astro City vol. 2 #14–#20, 1998–2000). Its protagonist is Carl Donewicz, alias Steeljack, a former supervillain with metallic skin (like that of the X-Men's Colossus), portrayed as a look-alike of actor Robert Mitchum. Like a modern film noir, Busiek's storyline presents Steeljack as an exconvict attempting to go straight, who investigates the murders of other supercriminals by the “Black Mask Killer.” The culprit is the Conquistador, who was formerly El Hombre, a costumed hero (reminiscent of Zorro) who fell from grace and was out to discredit other superheroes. A continual stream of new villains has poured from Busiek's imagination. The Brass Monkey (vol. 1 #3, 1995), a living statue with human intelli-gence, and the Gorilla Swarm (vol. 2 #2, 1996) are in the tradition of such super-simians as Grodd (The Flash) and Monsieur Mallah (of Doom Patrol's Brotherhood of Evil). The Chessmen (vol. 1 #3, 1995) model their criminal personas after chess pieces as the Royal Flush Gang (in Justice League) do after playing cards. The Deacon (vol. 1 #3, 1995), who dresses like a clergyman, is the head of Astro City's largest criminal organization, yet he has never been convicted. Hence, he not only resembles villains like the Kingpin (Daredevil), who pose as honest businessmen, but also fits the archetype of the religious hypocrite. Dr. Saturday (vol. 1 #1, 1995), who devises giant robots resembling Saturday morning cartoon characters, is another of the villains who turn childhood playthings to lethal ends, like the Toyman (Superman). The Junkman (vol. 2 #10, 1997), one of Busiek's “viewpoint” characters, is Hiram Potterstone, an elderly villain (like Spider-Man's Vulture) who believes that society discards the old; hence he builds his weaponry out of discarded junk. The Living Nightmare (vol. 1 #1, 1995) was created by a psychiatrist in a Jekyll-like experiment to eradicate fear. Instead he gave fear a physical form, which lashes out in mindless rage at whoever threatens it (rather like the Hulk). Lord Volcanus (vol. 2 #3, 1996) rules a subterranean race, much like Marvel's Mole Man and Tyrannus. The Middleman (vol. 1 #3, 1995), who gets hold of villains' weaponry and sells it to other criminals, provides Astro City's example of supervillains' underground “criminal economy.” The Mock Turtle (vol. 2 #17, 1999), another “viewpoint” character, was once Dr. Martin Chefwick, an Englishman who invented an armored battlesuit, and borrowed his alias from Lewis Carroll, like Batman's Mad Hatter. The Mock Turtle naively got in over his head as a criminal and was finally murdered by the Black Mask Killer. PYRAMID (vol. 1 #1, 1995), a global subversive organization seeking world domination, is Busiek's answer to similar cabals like Hydra, which themselves were inspired by SPECTRE from the James Bond canon. PYRAMID's claim to date back to ancient Egypt suggests similarities with the Illuminati and even the Freemasons. The Silver Brain (vol. 2 #2, 1996) is Sergei Vlataroff, a scientist who became “pure brain” and seeks world conquest, evokes villains who exist as bodiless brains, including the Brain (Doom Patrol) and Dr. Sun (Tomb of Dracula). The Time-Keeper (vol. 2 #1/2, 1996) is Busiek's counterpart to the various villains who seek to master time, like Kang (Avengers) and Per Degaton (from Justice Society stories). The Unholy Alliance (vol. 1 #4, 1995) is a supervillain team like Marvel's Masters of Evil. It includes Demolitia (who carries a wrecking ball), Flamethrower, Glowworm, the monstrous Slamburger, and Spice. In 2005 Busiek launched his longest Astro City story arc to date with Astro City: The Dark Age #1, which began with another villain, the L. S. Deviant, creating worldwide panic by using his powers to alter reality all over the planet.