Written by Kurt Busiek
Artwork by Brent Eric Anderson
Published by DC/Vertigo Comics
A really great comic can expand its universe and teach us more about the world we’re visiting while telling a story at the same time. It’s a hard balancing act to pull off, and usually readers have to settle for either storytelling or world building. Normally, “Astro City” is one of the few books to manage this feat, but this month’s issue sadly fumbles the ball, expanding the Astro City universe but ultimately failing to tell a really interesting or well developed story.
Our protagonist this time is Martha “Sully” Sullivan, who we last saw way back in the Crimson Cougar story as a supporting character. Sully’s a telekinetic, and mostly uses her gift working in the special effects industry, rather than for costumed heroics or villainy. The issue tells Sully’s “origin” such as it is, showing her early attempts at leading the costumed life and introducing readers to the little spoken-of world of “sideliners”, super-powered individuals who use their powers for everyday work.
This aspect of the issue is great, and Busiek and co. are doing what they do best: shedding light on aspects of any superhero universe that logically must exist, in this case, super-powered individuals who don’t spend their time wrestling atomic bodybuilders from the Earth’s core and such.
The problem is the actual story of the issue, which involves Sully and other Sideliners being kidnapped by a villain calling himself “The Majordomo”, who aims to use the Sideliners powers for his own evil purposes. The story feels truncated and rushed, with too quick a resolution and not enough meat to it. Really, it just feels like a conveyance, a way to showcase the Sideliners and tell Sully’s story. There’s never any sense of danger from The Majordomo, and when Sully and friends finally outwit him, it feels less like a satisfying resolution and more like a quick, easy wrap-up accomplished mostly through Deus Ex Machina.
On a more positive note, the art is the best of the new “Astro City” series so far, with the ink work and composition feeling like classic Astro, with none of the heavy lines or sparse detail that made previous issues feel slightly off.
What the problem really is, when you get right down to it, is that this really should have been a two-issue story. The focus on Sully and the other Sideliners is definitely interesting, but without a well put-together and satisfying story to back it up, the issue feels lopsided and rushed. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll see of this side of the “Astro City” universe, but the Sideliners first outing as feature players in a story doesn’t do them justice.