Switching perspective in ‘Astro City’ comic series
Kurt Busiek’s “Astro City” is back and continuing to deliver a brilliant mix of the spectacular and the mundane in a world where superheroes are just a fact of life.
Busiek debuted “Astro City” in 1995, focusing on – as he described it in the first trade collection – not so much what it would be like if comic book characters were in the real world, but what life would be like for people in a comic book world. The series is a mix of slices of life for the regular folk and superheroes alike and epic tales set in a richly realized environment, centered around the titular city.
Many of the characters are recognizable analogues of archetypal characters: Samaritan is Superman-esque, the Confessor and Altar Boy recall a certain Dynamic Duo, the First Family has a lot in common with another famous FF, etc. The genres shift between classic superhero adventure, stirring sci-fi, noir and even a legal thriller, and any other story the creators see fit to explore.
Whether it was because I was too glued to Marvel and DC or perhaps because I couldn’t find it or maybe I was just turned off by all the hype, I never sought out “Astro City” when it debuted in my teenage years. Eventually, I picked up some volumes through my local library and found the hype didn’t do it justice.
Busiek’s love of comics shows through in every story, and Brent Anderson’s art is clean and comic-book-ish enough to feel comfortable and classic throughout.
The book had that classic feel from the start, thanks to Busiek’s embrace of many fans’ love-hate relationship with continuity. Seeing references to past or concurrent storylines always made me feel a part of something larger, even if I’d never read what was referenced. But convoluted histories can be off-putting to new fans and even veteran readers who haven’t happened upon the tale which is vital to understanding a particular arc.
“Astro City” is less than 20 years old, but Busiek has created a deep cast of characters, operating in a shared world that feels older and broader than the limited run of “Astro City” (50 issues, if my quick math on Comic Vine is right). The details he gives, and the way he writes these heroes, villains and others, hints at decades of background that Busiek may or may not have mapped out.
You don’t need to have read any of the previous series to appreciate the new volume, being published under DC’s Vertigo banner. It starts with a cosmic being appearing in Astro City seeking a guide in learning about humanity. We also meet the Broken Man, a conspiracy theorist who speaks directly to the reader and may not be a trustworthy narrator.
Issues 2 and 3 follow a young woman who finds herself working in customer support for the Honor Guard, “Astro City’s” Avengers/Justice League. Through her eyes, Busiek shows us the behind-the-scenes ways Honor Guard does what it has to do (apparently, superheroing isn’t all about being in the wrong place at the right time or waiting for some chemically altered relative to seek revenge on you).
Number 4 looks at what happens if a person with powers doesn’t follow the path of hero or villain, while 5 is a whirlwind tour through the Broken Man’s web of mystery – and multiple genres.
Along with Busiek’s words and Anderson’s art, these comics continue to sport terrific painted covers by Alex Ross.
The comic bears a $3.99 cover price, but unlike some titles that try to justify the extra buck with digital copies and such, “Astro City” delivers your money’s worth of story and then some.
Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group.”