“Astro City” #50 is an auspicious issue, being both the 50th issue of its current run as well as the start to the final arc for this current iteration. So, how do Busiek, Anderson, Pantazis, and Comicraft choose to spend their “50th” issue? With more superheroics? With a long-dive into “Astro City” lore and its past? With a giant, bombastic battle and oversized issue? The second is the closest. But do they do it well? Or is this closing arc off to a rocky start?
Written by Kurt Busiek
Illustrated by Brent Eric Anderson
Colored by Peter Pantazis
Lettered by Comicraft
Our 50th issue begins a special new story: Michael Tenicek lost his wife, years ago, to a chronal cataclysm. But he’s not the only one in Astro City whose life has been upended by life among the superheroes. Today, we’ll meet others, learn their stories and see how Michael-and friends-cope with their trauma. A sequel to the Eisner-nominated “The Nearness of You,” considered by many to be ASTRO CITY’s best story ever.
For such an auspicious issue, Busiek and Anderson’s choice to revisit Michael Tenicek and to focus on the people of his support group seems like an odd choice. But upon closer inspection, there is no other story that could have opened us up into this final arc. Tenicek’s story, or more specifically, the stories of those regular people who are affected by the superheroics around them, is the soul of “Astro City.” Sure, Busiek and Anderson could have chosen to follow Samaritan again or to give us another look at Jack in the Box but instead, we’re focusing on what’s more important, the quiet bystanders.
We know this by the way the issue opens. Anderson opens on a familiar scene in the “Astro City”-verse, that of a man waking up, early in the morning, to his alarm. It isn’t even until the second page that we get any mention of the heroics of Astro City and when we do, it is through the TV narrator’s disembodied voice. Anderson robs us of any clear image of what the narrator is talking about and instead focuses our attention on Michael brushing his teeth. By doing this, we are given a hierarchy of events to focus on: first is Michael and the mundane and second is the everyday soap opera of the supers that populate the background noise of “Astro City.”
Anderson also allows us to revel in the silence of the morning routine and get sucked into the everydayness of it. So much so that it’s easy to miss just exactly what it is the TV is saying. Re-read it after having read “Astro City” ½. This is a sequel to a story featuring chronal anomalies after all.
But I digress. The majority of this issue is spent just following Michael as he helps his fellow city dwellers deal with the issues that plague them, providing them a place of companionship as well as a hand to hold while they search for help. Busiek does a fantastic job, as usual, of sinking us into the mind of Michael, allowing us to view the world and the other members of the support group through the eyes of a man who has suffered much and still insists on alleviating that suffering in others.
Yet Busiek doesn’t shy away from portraying Michael’s own issues. On one of those pages, he has just taken one of his support group members to a doctor’s, thinking “and maybe [I can] point them in the right direction every now and then.” And in the subsequent three panels we see him guardedly calling three people: his mom, Bob, and Deanna. While we don’t know the relationship he has to the second two, from the conversation he has with them and the way that Anderson poses Michael, we know they are close to him. This closeness manifests itself through concern for Michael as he is reluctant to leave the city for any reason and we are told through Anderson’s placement of Michael within the panels that this is something he doesn’t enjoy talking about.
We are kept at a distance from him, always with a mid-shot, either looking down at him or separated from him by a plant or the shadow that covers his entire body. While this is all subtext on this page, by the next one, it’s dragged to light by the professional, i.e. the doctor, who explicitly asks what we’ve been wondering for half the comics, Is Michael truly alright or is he just putting on a brave face?Continued below
We don’t get an answer to that question, at least none yet, and that’s for the best. “Astro City” is at its best, and here it is truly at its best, when it’s reveling in the small, human dramas within the world of cosmic melodramas.
While this issue opens on something small and very human, we end on the other thing “Astro City” is known for, the strange and the super. We’re teased for what is to come and, while I have no idea what it could mean, I’ve always been bad with remembering the many, many names contained within the pages of “Astro City,” I do know that it is going to be important and will intersect with Michael’s life in some way.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading the story this is a sequel to, track down Astro City ½. You can find a copy free digitally so go check it out and then come back and re-read this. You won’t regret it.
Final Verdict: 8.3 – “Astro City” will be missed when it goes from monthly to OGN in two months but until then, we can continue to revel in all it’s wonderful humanity.