Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Brent Eric Anderson
Published by DC/Vertigo Comics
With Astro City issue ten, Winged Victory’s current story arc has come to a close with Vic finally confronting Karnazon, the villain responsible for slandering her name and kidnapping her former students. As an ending to the story itself, the issue isn’t anything to write an epic sonnet about. A few keystrokes and the help of a plucky supporting character reveal the location of Karnazon’s base, and the Big Bad is dispatched with all the gravity and dramatic weight of someone shaking a leaf from the sole of their shoe. Readers looking for epic confrontations and climactic battles will be let down, but those readers will have missed the point somewhat, as Astro City has never been concerned much with action and excitement as it has with characters and ideas, and this issue exemplifies this.
While the immediate threat of the issue, the dragon to be overcome (the, it must be said, incredibly silly looking dragon, who looks like the New Gods’ answer to Ronald McDonald) is Karnazon, the important conflict is between Winged Victory and the Council of Nike, the collective of powerful women who gave Vic her powers. The council, fearing that Victory has strayed too far from her mission, are threatening to remove her powers, citing her relationship with Samaritan and work with Honor Guard as serious problems.
It’s when you start unpacking this confrontation and dismissing the Karnazon plot as the mere set dressing for the important stuff that the heart of the issue comes out. In a lot of ways Astro City #10 is a confrontation or at least critique of a lot of the more hardline stances of feminist thinking. The council chides Winged Victory for allying herself with men, positing that women must stand alone to be strong, that independence is synonymous with strength, something Winged Victory claims, to borrow a more English parlance, is a load of old cobblers. Finally speaking back to the council, Victory rejects their way of thinking, saying instead that, while there is a time to stand alone, working as part of a group and standing together with men as equals is just as important (if not more important) a role for women to take. Her cooperation with and attachment to male characters does not make her less potent as an icon of female empowerment.
Whether you agree or disagree, it’s refreshing to see a mainstream comic with a substantial point to make, a stance on a complicated issue that some readers may not necessarily hold with. All to often, comics go the safer route, and Astro City, as usual, stands apart from the pack.
Similarly, it’s good to see the status quo in the Astro City world is less set in stone than comics are often given credit for. By the story’s end, several important points of Winged Victory’s world and supporting cast have changed and evolved, making this feel more like a complete and important story than if everything had ended with the all-important Status Quo restored to perfect working order. The story leaves the world in a different, better state than when it found it, which is always a good sign.
While this story line has had its fair share of rocky issues, it was overall a success. If trimmed own to a tigher two or three issues, it may have even been one of the better stories in Astro City history. As is, it was still an excellent run of issues.