Thoughtfully Approaching History: A Birthday Tribute to Kurt Busiek
Today is the birthday of Kurt Busiek, one of comics' most storied and influential creators, born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1960.
A thoughtful approach to continuity has long been Busiek's stock-in-trade as. One of his first major contributions to comics was to solve the problem of bringing Jean Grey back to life. As controversial as the resurrection was --- arguably as controversial as her death in the first place --- Busiek's solution was considered and weighted with potential, recasting Jean as a stranger to her own friends and family and carefully making use of established story details with a new spin.
That attentiveness to the details and threads of these fictional worlds became Busiek's hallmark. After many years of short runs here and there at the Big Two, and at places like Eclipse and Harris Comics, he hit it big with Marvels in the mid-90s, the comic that put him and collaborator Alex Ross on the map. The series remains one of the most important Marvel stories ever told.
Marvels shifts the focus of its storytelling away from the protagonists of Marvel Comics --- the misunderstood weirdos, celebrities and mutants --- and focuses on the average human being on the street. Marvels had us consider the perspective of people living in a world so much bigger than themselves, watching life or death struggles they had no control over – and giving rise to the notion that maybe they, and not the heroes, were the ones who deserved our sympathy.
Busiek and Ross took the idea of the unexplored perspectives of a superhero universe and, with artist Brent Anderson, used it as the foundation for Astro City --- a staple of comics for two decades, and an independent success story in a field that can never have enough of those.
Non-Big Two superhero comics are often deservedly considered fools' errands, but Astro City overcomes this by virtue of its thoughtfulness, its robust setting, and the versatility of a storytelling model that can take us to any era and into anyone's life --- and, of course, by being just that good, from people who are just that talented.
Astro City is far from Kurt Busiek's only noteworthy independent comic --- standouts in his oeuvre include Shockrockets with Stuart Immonen, The Autumnlands with Ben Dewey, and Arrowsmith with Carlos Pacheco.
Similarly, bringing back Jean Grey is not his only notable accomplishment in mainstream superheroics. His run on Superman with Carlos Pacheco deserves more attention than it seems to receive, while his four and a half year run on Avengers with George Perez is a high water mark for the book. The pair later collaborated on JLA/Avengers, which packs in all of the fan-pleasing moments that readers wanted, while retaining the care in its construction that Busiek excels at. Busiek also co-created Thunderbolts with Mark Bagley, one of the richest new concepts to emerge from the Marvel Universe in the past twenty years.
There's a good chance Kurt Busiek has many more great ideas left to explore, all showing the same thoughtfulness and understanding of story that has marked his career. Here's to the future, and to a very happy birthday.