Thursday, October 1, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Astro City: An Introduction

When I started reading comics, my first two books were G.I.Joe and Transformers. Until the late eighties, pretty much all my comic purchases focused on those and other toy/cartoon tie-ins, from C.O.P.S. to M.A.S.K. to Super Powers and beyond. As I got older, I started in on X-Men and the Avengers while the “Panic In the Sky” storyline brought me in to Superman. In those pre-teenage years I quickly became voracious in my comics reading. I bought every book I could off the newstand, whether they be Marvel and DC, or Image, or the Ultraverse, or even Dark Horse. I bought every issue of Wizard and Hero Illustrated, always wanting to learn more about my new hobby. I learned about the history of these characters over years and decades. I grew to love the superhero as a setting (or genre if you prefer).

So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite titles ever is Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. Over the next few months, I plan on posting regular retrospectives about the characters, stories, and storytelling that Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross bring to a book that everyone (and I do mean everyone should be reading). My plan is to cover a story arc (or so) every week and hopefully by the time I am finished, we will only be weeks away from the return of Astro City as a regular series.

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross made a beauty of a book named Marvels only a couple years before. Marvels changed the way a lot of people looked at the superhero comics they read, and I strongly suspect its human interest angles mixed with classic continuity are an inspiration for many books on the market today. (Geoff Johns should stand up and wave right here.) It made household names out of two creators who up until this point were rather unknown. Ross’s only major published work at this point was The Terminator: The Burning Earth for Now Comics. Kurt had written Power Man & Iron Fist, Liberty Project, and numerous fill-ins at this point, but was still probably best known as the guy who came up with the way to bring Jean Grey back for X-Factor. Marvels changed the careers of both men, and in its aftermath came a creator-owned project: Astro City. Ross would provide the covers and long-time, under-rated penciler Brent Anderson (most famous for X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills) would draw the interiors.

I will start with a book that remains one of the most unique tales of the book: Astro City 1/2. The story focuses on every-man Mike Tenicek, just a guy haunted by dreams of a beautiful woman and their love affair. The dreams haunt him, consume him, until an appearance by the entity known as the Hanged Man (sort of a less kill-happy Spectre). And in the process, we get a view of the numerous big-time crossovers, massive crisis events, and the like. I will not say more than that (I may have spoiled too much even there), but I will say it is one of the most emotionally impactful super-powered stories I have ever read. Don’t believe me? Even the folks at Wizard have named it the 16th best comic in the history of their publication. I honestly would rate it even higher, at least in the top five.

So, yeah, Astro City knows how to tug on the heart strings too. More reviews as we continue, but for now, you can check out issue one-half in the back of the Astro City: Confession trade paperback. Highly Recommended.

No comments: