Kurt Busiek is probably one of the biggest name in American comics. He started off doing freelance work for both DC and Marvel on titles like Iron Man, Avengers, and The Untold Tales of Spider-Man. In 1993, Busiek joined with superstar artist Alex Ross co-created the classic Marvels mini-series that showed the major events of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of photojournalist Phil Sheldon. From there, he created the long-running, award-winning Astro City series. Kurt Busiek is most notable for his humane approach to superheroes, making characters feel relatable despite their fantastical powers.
A good ending can make or break a story. It can make an ok 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 in to 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 spending several issues focused primarily on the origins of Quarrel, Astro City issue 20 seems to have finally gotten around to the story proper, as the action in the current storyarc kicks into high gear in time for next issue’s explosive finale. Considering that the main problem with the previous issues was that they felt too much like setup, this makes issue 20 undoubtedly the strongest of the arc thus far, finally tackling the promised subject matter of non-powered crime fighters coming to terms with the fact that their prime is behind them and thinking about what the future holds.
In last month’s Astro City, the first part in a multi-issue story about the past and future of longtime Astro character Quarrel, Busiek and co. told the story of Quarrel’s early life and the events that set her on the road to heroism. It was, and still is, a fine origin story, but the issue felt mostly like set-up for something more rewarding to come, a story more focused on Quarrel’s present, as she and Crackerjack near what passes for retirement age for crimebusters. A good origin story, even as deftly executed as we saw last month, still feels like old ground for superhero comics, and the prospective of a comic focusing on an aging hero’s choice to finally hang up the tights seems like a much more interesting and less-travelled idea for a story.
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.
A good twist can make a good comic, just as easily as it can make a bad comic worse. Thankfully, Astro City issue 16, entitled Wish I May… has the latter kind of twist, one that makes an already strong comic even better. Of course, the problem this presents is that it makes it extremely difficult to talk about the comic and what makes it interesting without giving away the surprise, which is why this review will sadly have to come with Spoilers
After a first half built around a central question that took its time setting up characters and mood, Astro City # 15 concludes the two part storyline focusing on Ellie, an elderly woman with a mysterious past and a proclivity for repairing robots. But while the first half of the story felt very deliberately paced, focusing on setup, part two feels positively overflowing with exposition and story momentum, taking off at a run early on and not stopping for the world.
‘Where do all the robots go?’. It’s a pretty good question, when one thinks about it, just another of the many things comics never really address. When mad scientist X, Y or Z comes in to town, the proud new owner of something large, shiny, ambulatory and looking to cause some ruckus, and said shiny thing is quickly reduced to a collection of paperweights of various size…where do they all go? As always, Astro City is here to shine a light on the lesser-known side of any comic book universe, the robot junk yard.
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.
Having a villain as the main character is something Astro City has indulged in before, on occasion, usually in the form of stories of redemption, like the early classic The Tarnished Angel. Issue 12 of the current series, The Deep Dark Woods, pulls a similar move, but the name of the game this time around isn’t redemption but addiction.
Astro City is a book (and a city, for that matter) populated largely by archetypes. While there are a few wholly original heroes and villains dotted about like bacon bits on a good pizza, for the most part what we get are thinly veiled variations on characters we already know. This is because Astro City is more concerned with the world and the normal people in it than the brightly colored people who fly about it in their longjohns, who for many stories are just set dressing. Astro City number 11, once you get to the heart of it, is about Doctor Strange and Wong.
With Astro City issue ten, Winged Victory’s current story arc has come to a close, with Vic finally confronting Karnazon, the villain responsible for slandering her name and kidnapping former students. As an ending to the story itself, the issue isn’t anything to write an epic sonnet about. A few keystrokes and the help of a plucky supporting character reveal the location of Karnazon’s base, and the big bad is dispatched with all the gravity and dramatic weight of someone shaking a leaf from the sole of their shoe. Readers looking for epic confrontations and climactic battles will be let down, but those readers will have missed the point somewhat, as Astro City has never been concerned much with action and excitement as it has with characters and ideas, and this issue exemplifies this.
It would be very easy to call this issue a dalliance or distraction, similar to the previous one. Not entirely essential to the story, but just a bit of padding to bring it to four issues. While this claim may not be entirely false, it feels more like an organic part of Winged Victory’s storyline than the last issue, mostly by the virtue of actually putting more of its focus on events which directly affect Vic as a character, and not sidelining her so “Astro City” can have a “Batman vs. Superman” moment.
Since relaunching last year, the now Vertigo-published “Astro City” has largely been cruising along on a series of single-issue stories, often to its detriment. But Busiek and co have finally decided the time has some to tell a larger story, one that finally gives some attention to critically under-exposed Astro City heavy hitter Winged Victory in the process, and issue two of the story recently hit the shelves.
Issue 7 of “Astro City”, which hit stands this week, stars Winged Victory, the unabashed Wonder Woman of the Astro City universe, though she looks more like Katherine Hepburn mugged Xena and Hawkwoman. The issue, the first in a four-part story, both recants WV’s origin, and sees her slandered by her foes, implicating all her battles with them are staged, and offers an overall introduction to Winged Victory’s side of the the “Astro City” universe, which till now had only been referred to rather than shown.
Astro City # 6 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 …
Astro City # 4 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 …
Astro City # 3 Written by Kurt Busiek Art by Brent Eric Anderson Published by DC/Vertigo Comics Like a tumescent, throbbing perfect batting average, a good streak of comics is hard to keep up. Oh sure, it’s easy to put out one awesome comic, and probably to put out two, but to keep that level …
Astro City # 2 Written by Kurt Busiek Art by Brent Eric Anderson Published by DC/Vertigo Comics The first issue of the triumphant return of “Astro City” to comic store shelves, now under the umbrella of DC’s Vertigo imprint, felt like a step in a new direction for the series. “This is a new day” …
Astro City # 1 Written by Kurt Busiek Art by Brent Eric Anderson Published by DC/Vertigo Comics For the past few years, the absence of Kurt Busiek’s “Astro City”, easily one of the best new superhero properties of the 20th century, has been sorely felt by fans. Since the shutdown of former “Astro City” publisher, …