Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Brent Eric Anderson
Published by DC/Vertigo Comics
Since returning to stands earlier this year under DC’s Vertigo imprint, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City has been fluctuating up and down in quality with more fervor and energy than the needle on a seismograph placed next to a tap dancing Kodiak bear. Oh, everything started off all shiny and new before settling into a comfortable vibe, but then the sheen started to wear off and the comfortable vibe started to ebb away. Suddenly ,the last few issues had pacing problems or were trying to juggle too many plates and it seemed like something was dreadfully amiss.
Well, readers of Astro City can rejoice, because the patient has recovered from the recent palpitations and is happily recovering in Ward D, eating Jell-O and awkwardly flirting with the day nurse, because the new issue seems to have gotten things back on track.
The Astro citizen we’re peering through the eyes of all John Malkovich style this time is Thatcher Jerome, member of the Astro City mob, who gets the bright idea to head across to the massive door behind which lives The Ambassador, the alien who appears in issue one only be completely forgotten for five issues. Thatcher’s plan is to pose as a Longshoreman’s union rep and set up a venture wherein the government pays him to transport food and goods to The Ambassador, just in case the giant glowing super-being the the floating theater mask for a face ever feels the need for a box of Wagon Wheels. Surprisingly, it works, and Thatcher starts making a cool profit by padding the bill. But after bringing home a mysterious object from The Ambassador’s compound, things get decidedly more complicated for Thatcher.
The issue gets off on the right foot and stays on it, hopping madly to the finish line, by putting the emphasis on character, instead of trying to balance it with too much of an actual plot. While the recent “Sideliners” story tried to balance character, world building, and a full plot with a villain to defeat, Thatcher’s story seems to have more breathing room, presenting the reader with a new and interesting character and shedding more light on the Astro City universe without feeling rushed or cramped.
The downside to this is that the story only feels like one piece of a larger puzzle, a tad open-ended and spending a lot of time laying down hints and seeds for future stories, like an unappreciated mother leaving coins under her the pillows of her children when all her friends are out doing whatever raucous older women do. “Astro City” Number six is a power-mom, though, managing to keep her childrens’ belief in calcium-obsesses fairies alive as well as going out for drinks and dancing with Maude at the gals.
By the end of the issue, Thatcher feels like an interesting and fleshed-out character, one who it would be interesting to see more of in the future, and while nothing of major immediate importance happens of the course of the issue, there’s enough action and excitement to keep the reader hooked, and enough hints at the larger story that’s going on to encourage them to stick around for the next issue.