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ASTRO CITYWriter: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Brent Eric Anderson and Alex Ross
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)
Synopsis: Welcome to Astro City. Life here's a little different. There's more costumes--"superheroes", that is--living here than anywhere else. It's the home of the first superhero, Air Ace, and the mightiest hero of all, the Samaritan. Not to mention all manner of supervillains, robots, aliens, vampires, and mad scientists. But hey, you learn to live with it.
How Is It?: A visually stunning recreation of the world of old-time superheroes, with the emphasis not on one specific hero of the dozens that populate Astro City, but rather on the city itself and the lives of the inhabitants (heroes, villains, and regular people alike). The series' cleverest conceit is the construction from the ground up of over a hundred years of history for its' superheroes, which we then only get to see in glimpses. Also of note is the artwork, with its lush colours and inventive character design. I'm not usually a fan of superheroes, but Busiek and co. won me over with this one.
Life in the Big CitySynopsis: In this six-part limited series, we meet the major inhabitants and institutions of Astro City, starting with the mightiest hero of all, the Samaritan (who bears a suspicious resemblance to a certain Son of Krypton...). We'll also meet Winged Victory, the First Family, the Honor Guard, the Silver Agent, Jack-in-the-Box, and dozens more. We'll also travel to the spooky district of Shadow Hill, the city centre of Metrobank Tower, and Honour Guard's hovering headquarters.
How Is It?: I think me picking up this collection must have been a bit like a 9-year-old picking up his first Spiderman comic 20 years ago. I finally understood just how cool those superhero comics could be! I think the secret is that Busiek's approach leaves you wanting more. Most of the major heroes have been around, supposedly, for decades, and have elaborate histories and origins, not to mention their regular daily adventures. So when they show up for a few pages an issue, usually sharing space with a dozen other characters who have just as elaborate a past, you can't help but keep reading to find the nuggets of information that Busiek tosses in. Of course, there's a lot more to the series than that. It's really about people, the way they live and act with each other, and the kind of stuff that just isn't dealt with in most superhero books. Will leave you thirsty for more.
ConfessionSynopsis: Brian Kinney came to Astro City hoping to become a hero--and he succeeded faster than he would have thought possible, becoming "Altar Boy", sidekick to the mysterious Confessor. But Brian quickly learns that even superheroes have their problems, as a wave of murders sweeps across the City--and suddenly the "costumes" are facing the wrath of the government and the people.
How Is It?: The first extended Astro City plot arc, and one that works beautifully, providing the payoff for a whole bunch of plot threads introduced in "Life in the Big City". Again, the angle of seeing the heroes through someone else's perspective pays off, as even Brian doesn't know the Confessor's origins and true identity--he has to figure them out himself. And the true scope of the plot to discredit the heroes is revealled only slowly, but with a terrific reveal at the climax. An epic tale that's truly superhero action at its' finest.
Family AlbumSynopsis: An anthology: we're reacquainted with Astro through the eyes of a newcomer in "Welcome to Astro City"; the First Family's youngest member runs away from home in "Everyday Life/Adventures in Other Worlds"; a supervillain finally gets what's coming to him in "Show 'Em All"; Jack-in-the-Box faces the spectre of fatherhood in "Serpent's Teeth/Father's Day"; and a cartoon character recounts his fall from grace in "In the Spotlight."
How Is It?: A mixed bag, with the best being, unquestionably, the Jack-in-the-Box 2-parter; Jacks seems to be the "Astro" creators' favourite character, and his horrific glimpse of his child's future packs a real emotional punch. "Show 'Em All" is also a lot of fun...it's hard not to root for the cantankerous Junkman, even if he's supposedly a villain. On the other hand, "Welcome" seems a bit like padding to bring the new readers up to speed (they should have read "Life in the Big City", dammit!) and I wasn't nuts about Loony Leo's adventures in "Spotlight"--it seemed a little too mean-spirited for this usually upbeat title. Still, for anyone who's slavering for more Astro City, this is well worth a look.
Tarnished AngelSynopsis: Steeljack (formerly the Steel-Jacketed Man) has done his time, and now he's getting out of jail. He's a bad guy, but he's not a bad guy--if you understand me. But even after twenty years, it seems like he can't escape the criminal life...until when small-time supervillains start turning up dead, and suddenly Steeljack is offered a chance to redeem himself--if solving the murders doesn't kill him first.
How Is It?: The longest Astro City arc so far features a memorable, if slightly depressing, protagonist in Steeljack, the guy who became a supervillain just because he didn't have any other options in life. Unfortunately, the big climax it rises to can't compare with the spectacular denouement of "Confessions", and for once the "tiny glimpses" of super-powered adventures works against the story--Steeljack isn't much of a detective, so he doesn't make a lot of headway in solving the mystery until near the end--and when it's revealed, it seems a tad arbitrary. Still, there's some neat new info about the denizens of the City (and a hilarious look at some of the supervillains of England) and Steeljacks' quest to do something heroic, in spite of the odds against him, is touching.
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