September 29, 2010

Read This Too: Astro City

Category: Off-Topic, Reviews — By

Today, a group of comics bloggers have gotten together to recommend lesser-known gems of the comics world. Comics are more than Brightest Day and Heroic Age, and you just might want to…read this too!

Astro City. Written by Kurt Busiek; art by Brent Anderson; covers by Alex Ross. Published by WildStorm Comics.

A big part of the appeal for many comics fans is the shared universe. Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four all share the same New York. Flash and Green Lantern can fight each other’s villains. There’s a sense that, beyond what you’ve read, there’s more…a bigger world, one where things matter beyond a single story.

Astro City takes that feeling and creates a whole shared super-hero universe in a single book. Instead of following one character or team, the anthology focuses on a different hero, villain, or civilian in each story. The stories are usually about the human element, focusing more on character than on super-villain beat-downs.

Many (but not all) of the heroes are based on classic characters or familiar archetypes. Samaritan is Superman down to the blue hair. The First Family is very much like the Fantastic Four. Others are original, or far enough removed from their sources that I can’t place them.

The first volume, Life in the Big City, features:

  • A day in the life of Samaritan, who is so busy rescuing people that he can’t slow down to enjoy flying.
  • A newspaper editor tells about his first published story as a cub reporter, when he witnessed a team of heroes turning back an interdimensional invasion in the caverns beneath the city.
  • A small-time crook accidentally discovers the hero Jack-in-the-Box’s identity, and tries to figure out what he can do with the knowledge.
  • A woman who grew up in a neighborhood fraught with supernatural dangers finds herself confronted with the very different, scientific dangers that threaten downtown.
  • A neighborhood recluse turns out to be an alien spy, scouting out Earth as a potential invasion target. His decision rests on the discovery that one of his neighbors is secretly a super-hero.
  • Heroes Samaritan and Winged Victory try to go on a date, but their professional lives keep getting in the way.

You don’t have to start there, though. With very few exceptions, Astro City stories can be read in any order. Most of the stories only take one or two issues, and are collected in Life in the Big City, Family Album, and Local Heroes. There have been a few longer ones: Confession and The Tarnished Angel each take up an entire volume, and the longest story, The Dark Age, will be collected in two volumes.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Confession re-imagines Batman and Robin with a supernatural twist.
  • In Family Album, Jack-in-the-Box meets his future son…or rather, three different possible versions of his future son, all traumatized by his death. The encounters force him to rethink the life he leads as he and his wife try to start a family.
  • Also in Family Album, A man is troubled by vivid dreams of a woman he’s never met, and eventually learns that she was his wife before the reality-altering Crisis event erased her from existence. This 16-page story from 1998 is still my favorite take on the genre created by Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • In Local Heroes, a lawyer gets in over his head when he successfully uses the doppelganger defense.
  • In the upcoming Shining Stars collection, sworn enemies Samaritan and Infidel meet once a year for a cordial dinner, while a living “Beautie” doll with super-powers seeks out her origins.

Astro City took a long break earlier this decade, and has been on a series-of-miniseries schedule for the last few years. With The Dark Age finished just a few months ago, Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson have been planning to relaunch the series as an ongoing monthly again, but the recently-announced shuttering of WildStorm may throw a bit of a wrench into those plans (or it may just launch with a DC logo on it instead).

Oh, one more thing: Flash fans might be interested in the Astro City: Silver Agent two-parter that wrapped this month (and will be included in Shining Stars). He’s not a speedster, but you’ll see what I mean. More about this in an upcoming post…

But That’s Not All!

Interested in reading more? Good! I’ve also reviewed The Unwritten at K-Squared Ramblings, and there are a lot of other bloggers participating in today’s event. Check out the lesser-known titles reviewed in these other blogs and read these, too!

June 29, 2009

Looking Back at Velocity

Category: Other Speedsters, Reviews — By

Velocity #1This weekend I read the 3-issue Velocity miniseries from 1995, by Kurt Busiek and Anthony Chun. I’m not terribly familiar with the character, having read only the Pilot Season one-shot from 2007. I haven’t read any Cyberforce or anything else she’s appeared in, since I basically ignored Image back in the 1990s. (I was a DC snob at the time, and only made exceptions for Groo the Wanderer and the occasional licensed book.)

What struck me right away was that this was not the character I remembered from Pilot Season. This Velocity was shy, timid, and always followed her first instinct: to run away. I was also annoyed by the male/female protector/protected dynamic that started out with Heatwave (no relation) and shifted to Savage Dragon in issue #2. It’s one thing if your lead is the protector, but if your lead is the protected and supposed to be the hero?

I kept reading, though, and realized that this miniseries was about how Velocity grows up and becomes the capable hero I read in about in the Pilot Season book.

She’s put in a situation where she can’t just run away, and can’t rely on other people to shield her. She’s cornered, and has to turn and fight. Near the end of issue #2 she begins taking her fate into her own hands. By the end of the story, she leads her pursuer to a battleground more suited to her and defeats him on her own. More importantly, learns that she can.

Compared to the Flash

The emphasis on running away reminded me of Flash: Rebirth, which has made a point of characterizing Barry Allen’s life (unfairly, but he is depressed right now) as a series of choices from which he ran away. Both miniseries are about taking a character who is not ready to be a hero (Barry with his not-quite acknowledged death wish, Carin with her inability to overcome fear) and moving them to where the need to be in order to become better heroes. Read the rest of this entry »