Thursday, June 13, 2013

Culture Shock 06.13.13: Return to 'Astro City' is long overdue

"Astro City" No. 1 (2013).
After such a long time away, the signpost is still familiar and reassuring.

"Welcome to Astro City.”

Three years is too long, but with industry upheavals and "Astro City” creator/writer Kurt Busiek's health issues finally in the rearview mirror, one of the most beloved superhero comics on the stands is back, with a new No. 1 issue — never mind this is the 60th issue overall — that picks up where the series left off and serves as a jumping-on point for new readers.

If you're new, not to worry. There's a tour guide, a fellow called the Broken Man, who looks like a blue-skinned, 1970s David Bowie and connects the dots like a deranged Fox Mulder. But the clue he may know what he's talking about is he seems aware he's a fictional character in a book, and it doesn't trouble him in the least. Not when there are other things to worry about, like the gigantic inter-dimensional doorway that has suddenly appeared, tall and proud among the futuristic skyscrapers of Astro City's gleaming skyline.

Just another day in Astro City, where superheroes are as common as pennies on a sidewalk and Earth-shaking events as frequent as government holidays.

Busiek and artist collaborator Brent Eric Anderson waste no time introducing new characters and reintroducing old friends. Making a madcap debut is American Chibi, whose appearance and perky personality appear to have sprung from a Japanese cartoon. And returning is the Samaritan, Busiek's version of Superman written properly.

But where Busiek is always best, where he works real magic and metaphorical heroics, is with the ordinary, average people who just happen to live in a world of the extraordinary.

One of the greatest superhero tales ever told is Busiek's "Astro City” story "The Nearness of You” (collected in the "Astro City: Confession” trade paperback), which focuses on an ordinary man haunted by dreams of a woman he never met. An ordinary woman. Not too beautiful. Not even his type, really. But the dreams leave him with an ache, a sense of something missing. It turns out they are memories of a wife he had in another timeline – a timeline rewritten during one of those reality-rebooting events superheroes deal with every few years.

"The Nearness of You” is not only a beautiful story with a perfect ending, which I won't spoil, and it's not only a look at the "collateral damage” superheroes cause, it's a gentle critique of the comics industry, which has fallen into an endless cycle of huge events, multi-book crossovers, and reboots that lead writers to retell the same old stories again and again.

DC Comics is more guilty of this than Marvel, and it shows. How many times has Superman's origin story been retold, with a few minor alterations here and there?

Published under DC's semi-autonomous Vertigo banner, "Astro City” is mercifully free of DC's regular continuity-rewriting antics. Also, despite his use of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman analogues in the guise of the Samaritan, Winged Victory and the Confessor, Busiek's writing has always seemed more Marvel than DC.

So it is with the new "Astro City,” which kicks off with a story that puts Busiek's spin on a typical 1960s Stan Lee/Jack Kirby tale for Marvel, complete with a character who could have been designed by "King” Kirby himself. Busiek's "spin,” naturally, is to link this all-powerful, cosmic being's story to that of an ordinary man on the street. Humanity and the problems and hopes of everyday people, even in the face of literally larger-than-life events, are what interest Busiek.

And they are why "Astro City” remains a cut above all those other superhero comics.

"Astro City” No. 1 is currently available in comic book specialty shops and on the ComiXology app for Android and iPad.

No comments:

Post a Comment