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‘Astro City’ # 13 Breaks from the Formula to Terrific Effect

‘Astro City’ # 13 Breaks from the Formula to Terrific Effect

Astro City13 cover

Astro City # 12

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by Graham Nolan

Cover by Alex Ross

Published by DC/Wildstorm comics

For a while now, Astro City has been in what you might call a familiar rut. Not in a bad way, per se, but a period of distilling the core ideas and motifs of the series down, of perfecting the formula that made Astro City great. But something like this can only be done for so long before it gets stale, and thankfully it seems that Busiek and co. were aware of this, as Astro City #13 is nothing if not a shakeup, an experiment, a step out of the normal pattern. And also thankfully, it’s a darn good one.

The story of the issue concerns a higher entity called The Dancing Master, seemingly a harbringer of music and love, who arrives in Astro City, causing a torrent of romance across the city. We see this through a small group of supporting characters, a bank teller, a costumed villain called Gunjack, and several lab technicians working on high-tech scientific projects that involve large, cumbersome phrases like “Plasmic chord patterns” and “Barraging the aetheric with digitized mandelbrot probes”. What makes the story interesting, however, is that it’s told out of chronological sequence, skipping Astro City 13 insertbackwards and forwards in time. Busiek takes full advantage of this, using the technique to set up expectations as readers try and tease out the relations between the various players, and occasionally subverting them.

On the artwork front, Brent Eric Anderson gets similarly experimental, trying out new styles and approaches to ensure that The Dancing Master is properly represented as a shifting, ethereal being. His first appearance is rendered in a gorgeous scratchboard style, and a later encounter with Astro City regular The Hanged Man is done in a flat, colorful psychedelic style, reminiscent of Yellow Submarine. The cover is done partially in this style as well, and this is by far the most visually striking Astro City has been in some time.

Though Astro City‘s recent patter of sticking to the core formula has yielded some excellent stories, issue 13 is a welcome change of pace from that trend, a trippy, experimental and deeply interesting comic that clearly had a lot of hard work and time put into it. The writing and art both break from the norm, going in interesting new directions, and hopefully this new trend of experimentation keeps going for a few issues more.