Sometimes alternate takes on superhero stories are great, sometimes they’re not. I’ve actually spent a considerable amount of time checking out these off-brand superhero stories when I got tired of the same old thing from Marvel and DC. The original Astro City was one of those titles and I liked it enough to read most of the series they’ve had over the years.
So Kurt Busiek, the creator of the series, got sick for a couple of years and, well, a lot of things happened, like the end of the Wildstorm imprint, and it kind of fell by the wayside but I never forgot how good some of it really was. Now, I get to revisit the streets of Astro City once again and you can join me.
Issue #1 is really just a re-introduction to the whole world of Astro City, featuring a new character named Broken Man. It sets up a story that I hope we get to revisit and finish sometime, although the very disturbing American Chibi, well, the less said about her the better,
The real meat of this review comes in issues #2 and #3 where we’re introduced to The Honor Guard’s Emergency Contact Line and the operators who help sort out the true emergencies from the unnecessary chaff that can be routed to other non-emergency and non-superhero workers. We meet Marella Cowper, who wasn’t even aware she was applying to work with superheroes, as she learns the system, deals with calls and generally makes people’s lives better every day. She dreams of getting that big call, the one where she sends in the Honor Guard and helps to save the world, but when she gets a phone call from a little girl named Esme, she thinks it’s just a child welfare call so sends it elsewhere. That turns out to be a mistake because the secret base of Slaughter Shaw and the Skullcrushers was nearby and the area explodes into a warzone, resulting in thousands of casualties, perhaps even little Esme herself.
It’s a great tale of taking responsibility for your mistakes, exactly the kind of thing we’d like to see from our emergency operators and when Marella takes it upon herself to join the relief effort and try to find Esme and her mother, she ends up playing a vital role in the capture of the Skullcrushers as well.
Storywise, it’s great. Come on, it’s Kurt Busiek for crying out loud. He’s one of my favorite comic writers, I don’t think I’ve read anything by him I’ve disliked. The art by Brent Anderson is amazing, his work compliments Kurt’s writing perfectly, I can’t imagine two creators who work better together than these two.
I will admit that I think issue #3 was a bit weaker than #2, they spent a lot of time following Marella around doing her care routine, but when it got moving, it was right on the money and Kurt delivered a perfect heartwarming story that turned out great for everyone. Unfortunately, Astro City is such a huge canvas that I’m sure we won’t spend any appreciable time with Marella again in the future, but in just two issues she became a fully fleshed-out character that you really rooted for. That’s the sign of a great comic.
If you like superheroes but are looking for something different, perhaps a little bit of a harder edge without being too dark, give Astro City a shot. There are about 80 back issues, but this #1 is a perfect jumping on point, you won’t be lost and you can go back and check out the back catalog at your leisure, just about all of it is in trade paperback.
Two thumbs up!