Astro City # 18 Feels Bogged-Down with Set-Up

Astro 18 coverAstro City # 3
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Brent Eric Anderson
Published by DC/Vertigo Comics

 What happens when a superhero starts to get old? Not Dark Knight Returns old, but just old enough that running around in long underwear on rooftops seems even more inadvisable than usual, and thoughts of “what comes after?” start to creep in. This is the question that Astro City # 18 stets out to grapple with in a multi-issue story starring Quarrel, an Astro City regular enjoying her first time at the forefront of a story. But while Quarrel’s story has a lot of potential, the first installment feels first and foremost like setup for what’s to come later, the foundation on which the story to come can be built, and as such is only a somewhat satisfying read.
Astro 18 interior

The action begins at the retirement party of The Black Rapier, a familiar face in Astro City who’s decided to hang up his sword. With boyfriend and fellow crimefighter Crackerjack in tow, Quarrel then has a tussle with The Chessmen before recounting her origin as a country girl who finds out her father is in reality the supervillain Quarrel. Quarrel’s (that is, the second Quarrel) origin story takes up around half of the issue, the other half being the requisite action scene and some basic set-up for Quarrel and Crackerjack. While it is a perfectly serviceable origin story, at the end of the day there’s nothing really remarkable or new about the storytelling. It’s just another origin story, one that hits all the beats we expect, and feels like it’s only being told as set-up for what’s to come.

None of which is to say that Astro City # 19 is a bad comic, far from it. But it feels as though we’re only being prepped for the much more interesting comic coming next month, that this is just the entree for a more substantive course that’s on the way, one that isn’t saddled with a workable but only somewhat engaging origin yarn. The look at Quarrel and Crackerjack’s personal lives, their reactions to the changing world of superheroics, all that is interesting stuff, but feels spread too thinly over the issue’s 22 pages. Perhaps if Busiek had condensed the origin half of the book down more, and given more attention to Quarrel’s story in the present, which seems far more interesting, the issue would have fared better. As it is, it’s still a fine comic, but doesn’t satisfy as much as it should.

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