Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Word Balloon: Astro City
With Comic Con just 2 short days away I thought I would lay out this month's Word Balloon choice. I have covered a wide range of books, from DC and Vertigo to main stream Marvel and independents. This month I thought we would look at a superhero book. Specifically Kurt Busiek's Astro City.
Astro City, originally published by Image Comics before moving to the DC/Wildstorm imprint is a book that is truly an homage to super heroes and the tales that many readers grew up loving. The book is created by author Kurt Busiek, who has been writing comics for nearly 30 years at both Marvel and DC and who happens to be a huge comic history buff. He teamed up with character designer and cover artist Alex Ross (of Kingdom Come fame) and veteran penciler Brent Anderson, another 20 plus year pro to create an entirely new world.
Astro City is meant to be Kurt's love letter to the comics he grew up reading, the innocence of the comics of the 60's that lead into the more psychedelic later 60's and early 70's. The dark times of the late 70's that gave birth to the grim and gritty anti-heroes of the 80's. They are all combined together in a world cobbled from the best parts of all the great characters. Kurt never rips off directly a character, but you can find all the archetypes you know and love, the Superman, the Batman, the Spiderman, the Daredevil, the X-Men, the Justice League, Shazam, they all exist in one form or another, tweaked or bent in such a way that Kurt can give each his or her own spin.
Astro City itself is the name of the titular town that many of these heroes inhabit, where each street and suburb is a thank you note to the creators who first birthed these 4 color worlds. My recommendation is to start at the beginning, Astro City: Volume 1: Life in the Big City. The first trade is a slice of life look at the types of stories you can expect from Kurt. Not straight up super hero fights, but the inner workings of each character. They are six stories that can stand alone, but when read together form a greater narrative. The first story is about a Superman archetype, Samaritan. A character who spends nearly every waking hour of his life fighting crime and diverting disasters on a global scale while trying to cling to some semblance of a normal life. But as you read on, you discover he really only wants to do one thing. Fly. With no purpose or reason, just fly. It is a brilliantly poignant tale that I didn't get the first time I read it. I was expecting another super hero romp but in the end I found a deeper story.
Each issue has its own theme, told from a perspective that isn't always the heroes. For example what does a small time villain do after seeing a cape unmask, or how do we view our heroes when our point of view is being told from a person with an underlying objective. There is also a great story told from a journalist who was involve din a major super hero clash that stopped the end of the world, but had no journalistic evidence to support it. There is another tale told from a woman who lives in a section of town that still clings to old world beliefs. How can that woman adjust to living in a city that doesn't know what goes bump in the night. The final tale brings us full circle and tells one more story with Samaritan. What would Superman on a date be like?
Each story is so different and special than what you come to expect from a regular comic book. They offer an insight an homage to a world that seems so familiar, but is just a bit off the norm. Kurt is a truly gifted writer that can take a super hero tale and through character perspective, tell an unconventional story that has all the trappings of a familiar tale. Whether its through the hero's eye, or the man on the street, each story arc has its own unique voice and spirit, channeling any number of decades or style.
Cover artist Alex Ross designs many of the characters with a style and flash that helps the book get noticed on the shelf. He creates characters uniquely individual to this world without losing any of the cache that the characters draw from so that they still seem familiar to the reader. Interior penciler and designer Brent Anderson may be one of the most under rated pencilers working in the business today. There is no scene he is incapable of drawing, or style of story outside of his range. These creators come together to create a perfect mix of storytelling and illustration to make It one of the most unique books on the market.
The best part of this series is that it just gets better. Life in the Big City collects the first 6 issue miniseries that would later launch the title into an ongoing title. Despite that the book eventually got overwhelmed by this pace (Busiek an the team opted for a series of mini-series approach for the current run) the story arcs keep getting better as we delve deeper into the mythos of the comic book world. The third trade in the lot, which I will highlight and some point, may be one of the top 10 comics I have ever read.
Take my word for it, check out DC/Wildstorm's Astro City: Volume 1: Life in the Big City, by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and Brent Anderson. It is one of the best super hero books out on the market right now.
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