Astro City # 21 ends the Quarrel story with few surprises

Astro 21 coverAstro City # 21
Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Brent Eric Anderson
Published by DC/Vertigo Comics

A good ending can make or break a story. It can make an okay story great, and by the same coin, make a good story seem poorer if the ending is lacking in something. The ending to the current arc of Astro City‘s current storyarc doesn’t really fall into any of these categories. After a simply “ok” storyline, Buskiek and co. have delivered a serviceable enough ending, but not one that makes the faults of the previous issues seem any better. The story has often felt drawn out, a bit prone to wandering, and the hope going into the finale was that these problems would feel validated or justified. Sadly, that isn’t the case, and now that we can finally view the story a whole, the view hasn’t improved. None of which is to say that it’s been bad just perhaps not up to Busiek’s usual standards.

After tracking down Crackerjack and Black Lab, Quarrel and his crew engage in some good old fashioned superhero headbusting, and the first half of the issue is the kind of action and excitement one would expect from a superhero book. It’s the second half where things come alive, as Quarrel is left with the aftermath of Crackerjack’s actions, andAstro 21 interior the time to decide what she’ll do next finally comes. It’s in this section that the issue feels more like the Astro City we all expect, a book less about action and more about the day to day lives of people living in a world where people can say things like “You have found me fools, and now I shall depart!” outside of a Ren-Fair.

So does it work, as finales go? Well, yes. But there’s a difference between something working, and something working so well it astonishes. And Astro City #21 doesn’t astonish. For the most part, things end the way we expect them to. No sudden thematic turns or revelations, no shocks. Not that shock value is better in and of itself, but nevertheless something about the finale to Quarrel’s story feels lacking. Some element feels left out, a note of tragedy perhaps, or a clever character turn. We do get some indication that the events of the story will lead to some potentially interesting things in the future, but ones involving other characters rather than Quarrel and ‘Jack themselves. It’s easy to see how this storyarc could have worked on paper. But on a whole, the execution feels flawed, awkward, missing in some crucial detail or touch and simply overly drawn-out. But a new story starts next month, and with the hope Busiek and Anderson will bounce back.

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