Welcome to “Weber Has Issues”, which is a weekly look at a newly released comic book or trade paperback collection. Each column will highlight a comic that is accessible to readers who are looking for something new and exciting, without being bogged down in years of muddy continuity.
“Wait, I said wait just a cotton-picking minute,” you say. “Astro City is neither new nor first-time-reader friendly,” you exclaim while frothing at the mouth as though you were Bob Backlund at an Obamacare rally. Truthfully, this is a reintroduction (not a reboot nor a ret-con), to the unique universe that Astro City inhabits. I have been collecting AC (as intermittently abbreviated from here on out) comics for 18 years, and have closely followed the stories of these heroes (and more specifically, the tales of the citizens of AC who are affected by their super-powered cohabitants’ exploits). This is actually the 60th issue of AC, which has moved to several different publishers during its run. What is exemplary about this particular issue is that one needs absolutely no previous knowledge of the series to enjoy it, and this is done without insulting the intelligence of long-time fans. It’s a fine jumping-on point for newbies that feels like just another day in Astro City for loyal readers of the book.
Astro City #1(Vertigo Comics, $3.99), written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Brent Anderson and with character designs and cover by Alex Ross, is a cut above the usual costumed hero fare, and always has been. This book is creator-owned, which means Busiek has free reign to do whatever he wants with these characters, and this unpredictability has always been a part of AC. In this universe, if a character like Phoenix sacrificed herself to save the universe, she would’ve stayed dead. When we read typical DC or Marvel comics, we know that no matter the peril or the tragedy, the editorial staff/stockholders/moviegoers will never allow for true status-quo upheaval to take effect. The well-known icons must always return to their predetermined center. No wonder so many top-notch comic creators leave the big two and get burnt out when they can only tell the same stories so many times. Astro City doesn’t have this burden, and the reader never knows what to expect next. Busiek’s AC characters are written lovingly, and have always had clear, consistent motivation (i.e. nobody turns into a grim and gritty vigilante out of the blue because of the latest trends).
From a distance this story seems to invoke the famous coming of Galactus from Fantastic Four #50, but with a Close Encounters of the Third Kind twist. We see that someone (or something) massive in scope is revealing itself dramatically to the world, but we are shown not only the collected heroes’ responses but also the “street-level view”. The story is shown to us by an apparently all-seeing narrator who breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to us as readers of a funny book. This narrator, who says people call him “The Broken Man,” acts as our tour guide through the day’s events as giant heavenly doors manifest over Astro City’s harbor (could it be the Shockmaster?) We get an extended look at one of Astro City’s most iconic heroes, Samaritan, as well as a fun debut of new hero American Chibi. AC has never been just about heroes; equal time is given to a relatable civilian family that most readers can identify with.
Busiek packs a ton of dialogue in; this is not a typical 2-minute flip-through read (sorry, Big Bang Theory fans! Re-read your old Lobo comics instead.) In fact, the story benefits from repeated readings. There are references to past AC events and storylines, but none are crucial enough to the current story that a new reader would be confused. I am a huge fan of Kurt Busiek’s, (writer of my absolute favorite modern Avengers run and his outstanding Untold Tales of Spider-Man series) and it’s great to be reading his comics again. Brent Anderson is the longtime artist for this series, and it would feel wrong if anyone else drew the interiors. He adeptly switches from heroes to civilians to machinery and draws his characters very consistently. The collaboration between Busiek and Anderson creates a story that draws you in immediately and holds your attention throughout. I’m looking forward to seeing where this story goes, whether its threads are picked up immediately or if we look at another facet of Astro City next time and the fallout from this issue is revealed later in the series.
All-in-all, a terrific new beginning for Astro City. I recommend you check it out!
Other new comics I purchased this week: Action Comics #21, All-New X-Men #12, Earth 2 #13, East of West #3, Fairest #16 and Green Arrow #21.
To buy Astro City, I recommend supporting your local comic book brick-and-mortar store (though I acknowledge reading stories like this through the DC Comics app on an iPad is really kind of fun). To find a specialty comic shop near you, call 1-888-COMIC BOOK or search Yelp.com