Story by Kurt Busiek Illustration by Benjamin Dewey …
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.
Autumnlands #5 is another great chapter in this high fantasy epic as Busiek balances political tension, character relationships, and even throws some well-timed, funny dialogue from fish out of water Learoyd to make sure the story isn’t overtly tragic. Combined with the beautiful storytelling of Dewey and Bellaire, Autumnlands #5 continues to show why it’s the best fantasy comic currently on sale.
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.
The expedition into Kurt Busiek’s Autumnlands continues and as expected, it’s a wonderful piece of work. One of Tooth & Claw’s strengths has been its limited exposition. The world the characters inhabit is explained through the story, trusting the audience to fill in the gaps. Aspects, like insectoid beasts of burden and wicker-built cities, come naturally as part of the series’ excellent world building and this issue continues the trend.
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.
Kurt Busiek is not afraid of large scale, epic stories. He does an excellent job at creating an unfamiliar world, such as the detailed universe within Astro City, and even feeling comfortable with established characters like The Avengers. Tooth and Claw starts off within an unknown land, presenting plenty of interesting elements. The universe presented in the first issue feels very fleshed out already, even though a lot is withheld. Many places of this exotic place are thrown around in dialogue by name, like the Crystal Archipelago: mysterious and intriguing. A lot is thrown at you in the form of a present, through over forty pages of no ads, truly adhering to fans of fantasy.
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.