When I announced my intent to write this review the other day, one of my colleagues responded with a very interesting question. He asked, “Out of curiosity, How many #1s has Astro City had?” This piqued my curiosity, as well, so I did a little research and found fourteen, yes fourteen, previous first issues of various Astro City titles. This may seem like a huge amount, but this is the day and age of the reboot, the mini-series, and the special issue. Gone are the days where comic companies stayed with the same titles for hundreds of consecutive issues.
So I went about the reading of the fifteenth #1 issue of Astro City with a few questions in the back of my head. Do we need another Astro City series? Does Kurt Busiek have anything new to say about the city and it’s inhabitants? And finally, why was I so excited about this release? I’m going to address the last question first. When I heard there was going to be a new Astro City series, my immediate reaction was, “Cool.” I am a huge fan of Kurt Busiek. He has been a fairly prolific writer in his 30 years working in comics, but he might be best known for his work on the Avengers.
Granted, in the post-Heroes Reborn era, the bar was pretty low, but Marvel wasn’t taking any chances. They paired fan favorites Busiek and George Perez on the book and a new era of greatness began. At the peak of his popularity, in 1995, Busiek launched his signature title at Image Comics’ Homage imprint. Astro City was different. It was retro in an industry that was fighting to see who could be the most dark, grim, and disturbing. Heroes like Samaritan were iconic, bright, and hopeful, but there were some dark spots in Busiek’s city. The Confessor, among others, severed as a contrast to the rest of the city, but that darkness wasn’t allowed to overwhelm and change the nature of the book.
Does the comic industry need another Astro City series? That’s a tricky question. I am a comic nerd from way back. The industry isn’t what it used to be. Video games, TV, movies, and the internet all fight for the attention of our kids these days and the printed word (and picture) seems to be losing ground. If the industry doesn’t gain new readers, it will falter, like any business. What generates new readers? Innovation can get attention, and certainly mainstream avenues like television and movies can have a lasting effect. Go look at your local movie listings right now… I’ll wait. (Tapping foot, impatiently) Ok, what did you find? That most of the movies out today are comic adaptations? Yeah, me too. Two of the biggest properties in movies and TV in the past year were The Avengers movie, and The Walking Dead on television. Those things all work to get attention but what keeps people coming back is interesting writing and inspirational art. Maybe we need to take a look back into the past to see what used to work. As a kid, I was hooked by the purity of comics. The good guys, the bad guys, the colors, the strange worlds all gave me a place to escape to, from the world. Who needs this escape more, these days, than our kids who are exposed to an electronic barrage of information all day long. I know I sit down every chance I get, tune out the world, and for a few solitary minutes I travel to another world, and live a different life. Busiek and Anderson’s Astro City can be that world!
In this latest incarnation, from DC Comics Vertigo line, Busiek teams with long-time collaborator Brent Anderson on a tale that’s off the beaten path for the duo. It’s narrated by a strange new character called the Broken Man, who catches the reader up on what’s happened in Astro City since we last visited. This Broken Man seems half entertained by the actions of men, and half distracted by a malevolent force he calls The Oubor. This force is a growing shadow that threatens reality, and the Broken Man seeks a savior, but not an obvious one. He rules out old heroes and new until he spots a normal man, Ben Pullam, who he claims is untainted by the Oubor. As this is going on a mysterious door appears over the river. The heroes all try to open it with brute force and fail. Baffled by their failure, the doors open revealing some new race of beings far beyond imagining. Telseth, of the Kvurri announces that he was sent to Earth to study us (this never ends well) peacefully. The Broken Man, seeing an opportunity, mentally pushes our unlikely hero to “voluntarily” assist Telseth in learning about the planet, its political structures, and its people. All-in-all it’s a fairly peaceful set-up issue laying the ground-work for things to come. I didn’t care much for a new character called American Chibi, a seeming cartoon come to life, but the Broken Man character is intriguing enough to make up for her shortcomings (pun not intended, you’ll understand when you see her). This new race of beings, the mystery of the Oubor, and the Broken Man are enough for me to stick with the book. What really interests me though, is how the heroes have been pushed aside. Telseth makes it clear that their powers are insignificant, and then refuses them as his emissary in favor of a normal man. I look forward to seeing this dynamic play out.
Does Kurt Busiek have anything new to say about Astro City and it’s inhabitants? After only one issue, I’d have to say emphatically, yes! He has begun a story of possible epic proportions, where the superhuman heroes are banished to the sidelines, a normal man may be the most powerful human on the planet, an unknown crazy man is pulling all the strings, and all masterfully drawn. I want to see more. I’m booking my tickets back to Astro City now. You are now leaving Astro City, please drive carefully!