Many superheroes have a fictional city they call home. Superman has Metropolis. Green Lantern has Coast City. Batman has Gotham City. Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be an ordinary person living in these cities? Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Astro City can give you an idea.
The series was launched in the mid-90’s as part of Image Comics’ short-lived Homage imprint, before Wildstorm Studios folded and was bought out by DC. I’ve decided to review as many of the collections as I can, because I think the series needs more love.
First, let’s talk about the creative team. Kurt Busiek really is one of the best writers in comics. His favorite technique is not using superheroes, but ordinary people to tell his stories. His Marvels novel, for instance, was told from the POV of a reporter who witnessed the first adventures of many of Marvel Comics’ legendary heroes. This series uses that same approach. Of the six stories in this volume, only two are told by superheroes.
Alex Ross is the cover artist, and his work is museum quality. His covers are included in a gallery at the end and all look great.
Brent Anderson is the main artist. He has a style that can capture motion well. It’s unique and complements Ross’s concepts well, without emulating it.
Image: The Samaritan
Now I’ll talk about the stories. First is “In Dreams”, spotlighting the Samaritan. The Samaritan can fly and has superhuman strength, speed, and endurance. He also has a barrier that can repel energy. In a way, he’s a tribute to Superman. He laments that he spends so much time flying around and saving people, he can’t just fly around and enjoy himself. We also meet the Honor Guard, the Astro City version of DC’s Justice League. The roster consists of Beauty, Samaritan, The Black Rapier, Cleopatra, MPH, Quarrel, and the N-Forcer.
“The Scoop” takes place in the 60’s, and is about Elliot Mills, editor-in-chief of Astro City’s Newspaper, The Rocket. (He’s basically a tribute to Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent works) In this story, he tells a new reporter about a framed article on his wall–one that was actually rejected by his editor. The story gives us a glimpse of the city’s earlier days, when a new hero called the Silver Agent called Astro City home. We also meet the original roster of the Honor Guard, and learn it was founded by a wealthy businessman named Max O’Millions. I liked this story for its glimpses of Astro City’s history.
“A Little Knowledge focuses on a homeless criminal who catches the superheroic clown Jack-in-the-Box as he is removing his mask. Jack in the Box is what you call a “legacy” superhero, meaning that more than one person has taken on the identity (think of how there has been four different Robins throughout the Batman saga) . Jack has rubber noses that can stun criminals, stretchable limbs, and shoots confetti like Spider-man shoots webs. While Jack-in-the-box is a light-hearted superhero, his costume can be frightening to criminals, and the narrator is worried what will happen to him now that he knows the clown’s secret.
“Safeguards” focuses on a woman named Marta, a junior clerk at a law firm. She’s friends with the fiancée of Nick Furst, a member of the superheroic family called the First Family. (similar to the Fantastic Four) Marta lives in Shadow Hill, the darkest area of the city. Shadow Hill is home to vampires and specters, including one called the Hanged Man, its protector.
“Reconnaissance” introduces rejected superheroes called the Irregulars and Crackerjack, a grandstanding swashbuckler with the ego of Errol Flynn. The narrator is another homeless man, but he’s not what he seems. He’s actually an alien gathering information on the heroes of Astro City. He’s sickened at humanity, and cannot wait for their destruction.
The final story, “Dinner at Eight”, gives us more information on Samaritan and Winged Victory. We learn that Samaritan is actually a time-traveler. In this world, he was able to stop the USS Challenger from its explosion and saved everyone on the shuttle. He was unable to return to his time, so he stayed around to save others. Winged Victory, although similar to Wonder Woman, has a flaw Wonder Woman does not. Her feminist perspective gets in the way of her compassion. It was interesting to see a feminist superheroine who was not as admirable as her inspiration.
This was a great introduction to the series, and I’m eager to see what the rest is like.