Writer Top Five: Kurt Busiek

The latest in my posts about the writers who have the most comics in my collection, and my favourite books of theirs, is about Kurt Busiek (pronounced BYOO-sik), the prolific and multi-award-winning writer who redefined the approach to writing superhero comic books that are about superhero comic books.

I’m probably similar to many comic book fans with respect to how they discovered Busiek: the publication of Marvels in 1993, with beautiful painted art by Alex Ross (this book would kick-start the boom in comic books with fully painted art), a book that was a true phenomenon in the industry. It came as quite a shock to me that Busiek had been working in the comic book industry since 1983; for example, he’d written a short run on Power Man and Iron Fist. It didn’t lead to a full-time career at the time, and he had to do various other jobs while developing his writing career.

Marvels changed all that, launching Busiek into the upper levels of comic book writers almost instantly. He would use that to launch his creator-owned series for which he is most well known, Astro City, in 1995, as well as launching Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which consisted of the tales behind the Ditko/Lee Spider-Man stories. He made another splash at Marvel with Thunderbolts – the reveal at the end of the first issue was best kept secret before it was published and made for a very entertaining book.

Although he would write non-superhero books, such as A Wizard’s Tale in 1997, it was superheroes that Busiek knew best and wrote best: he relaunched Avengers and Iron Man in 1997 after the ‘Heroes Reborn’ year, as well as the limited series Avengers Forever at the end of 1998. He would also write The Defenders (which became The Order) at Marvel, while writing the creator-owned Shockrockets at Dark Horse in 2000 and The Power Company at DC in 2002, of note because the book and characters were created by Busiek and Tom Grummett but which existed within the DC universe.

The creator-owned book Arrowsmith would appear in 2003, as well as launching a new Conan title for Dark Horse in the same year; however, Busiek would spend a lot of time at DC after that, writing Superman: Secret Identity, the main Superman title, the 52-issue weekly title Trinity, with the JLA/Avengers crossover in the middle of that. Bear in mind that this is only a small selection of big titles that Busiek has written across the decades – he is certainly prolific (across everything – he is similarly prolific on Twitter user).

He would work at other companies (such as Kirby: Genesis for Dynamite), all the time writing Astro City with the same creative team (while schedules and health allowed), which was relaunched in 2013 as part of the Vertigo line at DC; the book has recently been optioned as a television series, and the title will itself be converting from a monthly title to graphic novel instalments. He’s also working on his other creator-owned title, The Autumnlands, as well as a Batman story in a similar vein to Superman: Secret Identity. I hope he finds time to sleep …

On to my five favourite titles written by Kurt Busiek:

5. Marvels
There had to be a place for the big one:  was a landmark in superhero comic books, a book that was a love letter to the Marvel universe, viewed through the eyes of an ordinary news photographer as he reports on the history of the events in the Marvel universe. The book spawned many imitators but the original is still the best, with beautiful art and beautiful characterisation.

4. Avengers Forever
I was never a big fan of the Avengers, so it’s surprising that a book that is steeped in Avengers history and characters is such a favourite, but it’s a cracking tale of various avengers pulled from various timelines travelling across different eras of the Marvel universe doing battle against time-travelling villains and saving the universe. A rollicking tale with lovely art from Carlos Pacheco.

3. Superman: Secret Identity
What a charming and thoughtful mini-series: a man called Clark Kent lives in a world where the only superheroes are in comic books, who develops the powers of Superman … This brief overview doesn’t encapsulate the beauty in this book, helped by the beautiful art from Stuart Immonen, which takes on ideas of power, family, heritage and what it means to be a hero.

2. Arrowsmith
How I wish that there was more of this book. Busiek and co-creator Pacheco created a wonderful alternate history where magic is real and the First World War is fought with spells and dragons and other magical beings. The book is rich in detail and excitement and characters and it perfectly holds the balance between world-building and telling an engaging story without ever losing the reader. The six issues of the mini-series are not enough and the two creators should be forced to make more.

1. Astro City
Of course Astro City is my favourite title of his – it is the distillation of his entire output. It’s a book set in Astro City, about the denizens of the city that is home to many superheroes who populate it, but telling stories through the eyes of the witnesses instead of the heroes, although there are plenty of those as well. Drawn by Brent Anderson for nearly all of its time at various publishers, with covers by Alex Ross, it is a loving look at the many crazy aspects of superhero comic books so that we can see them through a slightly different prism and view them afresh. There are many different sorts of stories and characters, the only constants being the city itself and the excellence of the creative team behind it.

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