Thursday, October 8, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Astro City volume 1: Life in the Big City

Kurt Busiek kicked off Astro City as a six-issue series from the fine folks of Image Comics. It would soon jump to Homage, a subsidiary of Image/Wildstorm, later DC Wildstorm. But for now, it was truly a boutique book even though two of its creators were some of the hottest names in comics in the aftermath of Marvels.

Issue one opens with an obviously Superman-esque figure named Samaritan. But instead of the regular narrative in to battle concept we get from most titles (especially at the time), the issue instead focuses on a day in the life of the busiest hero on the planet. The narrator is Samaritan himself, and by page two we already can see this story is about the speed he pushes himself in to every day. We learn of the sacrifices he made and the desires he carries with him, while each superhero battle gets little more than a panel to cover it all.

Issue two introduces a regular contrivance of Mr. Busiek, used both in Astro City and his Marvels work: the story from the human perspective. We get a flashback to the late fifties and an early adventure of the Silver Agent and the Honor Guard. We get the first hints of the Silver Agent’s unpleasant fate as an intrepid young reporter takes it all in. But the fight again is not as key as the lesson learned by the young reporter, now a news editor telling a very important lesson.

Wrapped in a cover featuring a foreboding close-up of the hero featured within, issue three focuses on the Spider-Man analog Jack-in-the-Box. But even this story has a unique perspective: that of a criminal who accidentally sees Jack’s face. The criminal learns how the repercussions of his happenstance work on his own over-active imagination.

Issue four focuses on a young woman from Shadow Hill, the supernatural hub of the city. But during the day she works in City Center, and the dual nature of her life quickly shows signs of wear when the Hanged Man and the First Family (a Fantastic Four-style super-family) become involved.

Issue five features a key story to the future run of the book. Here we meet an alien advance scout. Despite being there to scout the earth for an attack force, he has a love for humanity. But his love is sorely tested as the story progresses.

Volume one closes with a story of Samaritan finally taking a day off to spend with Winged Victory, the book’s Wonder Woman analog. Between discussions, arguments, and accusations, the two enjoy an uneasy night to themselves in a way the DC characters never could.

None of these stories are Astro City’s finest (although Astro City 2 is a personal favorite of mine). But they do succeed at both introducing the main cast of the book while also clearly stating the kind of stories Mr. Busiek planned to tell in the long run.

All these stories were collected in the Astro City: Life in the Big City trade paperback. Everyone should check it out. If you like it, you will love the rest of Astro City. If you don’t... well then I am not sure why you are reading a blog about superheroes at all. Highly recommended.

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