Kurt Busiek’s “Astro City” was a big bright spot in the weirdness that was “the ‘90s in comics.” Now in 2013, Busiek and Anderson come to the rescue once again, bringing their bright superhero sensibilities back to a company whose recent mainline output has been compared unfavorably to that aforementioned ‘90s era. “Astro City” #1 is at once happily familiar and a breath of fresh air.
Written by Kurt Busiek
Illustrated by Brent Anderson
ASTRO CITY is back in a new, ongoing monthly series that showcases old heroes and new, as The Ambassador comes to Earth, and an ordinary man is caught up in a cosmic conflict! Featuring the return of favorites like Samaritan and Honor Guard, and the debut of some new sensations! Plus, the seeds of a new mystery: Who is the Broken Man? The entire award-winning creative team is back to kick off a new epoch of the human and the super human. Get in on the ground floor of Astro City’s next epic!
You can’t go “back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time…back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” Novelist Thomas Wolfe made famous that oft recalled melancholy phrase. Much of the time, when applied to attempts to recreate the endeavors of the past, it proves to be true. Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson defy that sentiment with their return to “Astro City.”
American Chibi zips around the city, gleefully taking on any comers and literally throwing herself at the mysteries that Astro City herself holds – like that overly ornate door that has popped up out of nowhere and over the bay. Chibi is a new character (an obvious play on the super-deformed art style popular in Japanese media), but is made of the same stuff that all good “Astro City” characters do – play upon the tropes of sequential art while being fully-formed characters in their own right. American Chibi is not just an obvious pastiche. She’s tenacious, precocious, a tad immature, and just a little too fawning when she comes across “Astro City” mainstay, The Samaritan. She’s an annoying-sounding idea that is absolutely not annoying at all on paper. She’s fun and she carries a good chunk of the issue. And that is the magic of Kurt Busiek, one supposes.
On the other side of the coin, Busiek has also always anchored “Astro City” in humanity. Another “Astro City” mainstay, one who is presented as unspectacular in almost every way, returns and looks to play a rather large role in the tale going forward. As Busiek presents a world filled to brim with the sort of stuff we’ve read in comics, he plants some of us in that world too. Right along side the extraordinary and playing unusual roles in their mixed society that look to be just as crucial as catching a half-a-dozen missiles before they strike the Earth.
Busiek also shuttles us around these plot events with a rather interesting narrative device. Using some traits that are very specific to a comic book, Busiek traverses from scene to scene, almost manipulating the reader. To go too deeply into it would be to spoil the fun little surprises that the narrative device provides along the way. Besides, the exact mechanics or intent of this unusual narration really haven’t been revealed in full yet – a fact that is also played upon within the text. We’re in charge of how we digest information and media, but then again, are we? The book prods the reader in this way and runs the risk of being frustrating. Impatient readers will find that to be the case. Busiek’s intent is not to lord information over us, but we cannot fully parse out what the intent actually is just yet. The story teases and taunts us to follow it further down the rabbit hole.
And why not follow a book with such lush art from Brent Anderson and colorist Alex Sinclair? American Chibi pops off the page, looking like a Sailor Scout crash-landed in Metropolis. Her unsettlingly over-sized head makes her look terribly out of place, which is exactly the effect you’ve got to go for with a character like that. This is “Astro City”, after all, where literally anything and everything could happen. In this way, Anderson and Sinclair craft a colorful cornucopia of flavors from all corners of the comic world. Even our narrator is presented in an otherworldly, meta-textual fashion through the use of alternate perspectives, his own color scheme, and a mysteriously barren setting. There is nothing extraneous in the art. Everything that we see, we are supposed to see and is additive to to the world. Anderson reconfirms his abilities as a great comic storyteller with his ability to fill out a world that is at once a very crowded and potentially confusing place with a host of strange characters and the intentionally mundane, but which end up making an unlikely visual sense together somehow.Continued below
Busiek and Anderson’s revival succeeds because they don’t get stuck in the past, but instead remember what we liked so much about “Astro City” in the first place. That’s far easier said than done. They don’t overdo it on crowd-pleasing moments and even dare to leave readers out in the cold for bits and pieces, trusting them to put it all together down the road. So while not everything fits together just right in a tidy new #1 issue, Busiek presents a satisfying conundrum for his characters that somehow manages to set footing amongst a re-introduction that really is suitable for anyone new to “Astro City.” A truly novel cliffhanger at the end is the delicious cherry on top.
Final Verdict: 8.3 – Buy