Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Graham Nolan
Published by DC/Wildstorm comics
Having a villain as the main character is something Astro City has indulged in before, on occasion, usually in the form of stories of redemption, like the early classic The Tarnished Angel. Issue 12 of the current series, The Deep Dark Woods, pulls a similar move, but the name of the game this time around isn’t redemption but addiction.
Our protagonist is Fred Glosman, a small time hood who works for various “theme gangs” in Astro City, addicted to the clothes and style of running with the likes of the Sweet Adelines or the Menagerie Gang. But of course, Fred falls in love and tries to go straight for his wife and child, but the lure of crime keeps calling him back.
While Astro City usually tries to pack a complete narrative or linear sequence of events into one issue, sometimes with mixed results, The Deep Dark Woods goes the safer route of mostly telling Fred’s story through flashbacks, allowing it to jump forward in time as needed. Also, because the entire issue is devoted to Fred’s origin, it doesn’t feel as bungled as the On the Sidelines, which tried to set up the characters and tell a story with them in just 22 pages. The Deep Dark Woods focuses on the origin, placing Fred into the world of Astro City to use later, and manages to tell an interesting, if depressing, story in the doing.
What sticks out the most about The Deep Dark Woods, though, is the art by newcomer Graham Nolan. For a long time reader, seeing Astro City portrayed by anyone other than Brent Eric Anderson is strange and jarring, and while Nolan’s style has some similar qualities, the differences are hard to ignore. His art seems more “flat” than Anderson’s, less focused on realism, and more on traditional comic book-style caricatures and figures. His characters seem more “cartoon-ish”, for lack of a better term. Not that this is a bad thing, just different.
There is plenty about the new art style to love, in fact. It seems to get more experimental at times, like in the opening page, which is done in a gorgeous style full of cross-hatching and olive tones that perfectly evokes a storybook illustration. When Ned falls into flashbacks, the panel seems to bleed or drip into the next one in a similarly interesting touch.
While The Deep Dark Woods isn’t the best issue of Astro City‘s latest incarnation, it is notable for its ability to tell a good story in a limited space, something other issues have failed to do.