There are many independent superhero series, but while many of them are high quality, they generally explore or interrogate the genre in a manner that puts those comics clearly outside of the mainstream. They can be parodies like Empowered or grim like Kick-Ass, they can feature imperfect characters like They're Not Like Us or take a more melancholy tone like Black Hammer. In their search for genre maturity, few decide to remain as uplifting and optimistic as the works they interrogate. Astro City is one of those few.
Since 1995, when the first issue was released, Kurt Busiek's Astro City has been a wonderful mélange of influences from both Marvel and DC with Busiek's own human look at the genre he wrote in for a long and storied time and has given him a near encyclopedic knowledge. The series, set primarily in the titular city, often takes the perspective of a regular human on the regular superhero storytelling. The anthology format allows Busiek to often change perspective and tell different stories in arcs small and short or in single issues, and allows us to see the world he created and Brent Anderson (most commonly) depicts.
The very first issue, told from the perspective of the Superman-like Samaritan, has been often hailed as one of the best Superman stories ever written, and I for one gained a greater understanding and appreciation of the character's archetype thanks to it. "The Nearness of You" shows how the fallout of reality-threatening events, so common in mainstream superhero stories, would affect regular people. The two Steeljack storylines provide a more understanding look at small-time supercriminals than either of the Big Two ever tried, with only Marvel's recent Iluminati taking a stab at it in its first Titania-focused issue. One of the first stories of the current series, started in 2013, is focused on a 911-like hotline that helps superheroes find threats that need stopping and people that need help.
And now the series is celebrating its biggest landmark; while this is 45th issue of the current run of Astro City, it also is the 100th issue overall. For that occasion, Busiek and Anderson are giving us a double-sized story focused on the character that gave the titular city its name—The Astro-Naut.
In a typical Astro City we learn about the main character through the eyes of an ordinary person. In this case, it's Romeyn Falls (Astro City's original name) city council member and friend of the aforementioned character, Joseph Greenwald. The Astro-Naut himself, Roy Virgil, is a larger than life figure, molded after Howard Hughes or –to pick a more comic book example– Marvel Cinematic Universe's Howard Stark. He's a brilliant and wealthy inventor with a gigantic smile on his face for much of the issue. The story follows his early exploits as the town's favorite costumed crimefighter, and his forays into interstellar adventuring, Buck Rogers-style. And then it all changes when WW2 begins, taking a mature and thoughtful approach to how the character would be involved in the conflict and how the public would react to his choice.
The concept of presenting a science-fiction/fantasy character through the eyes of an ordinary person isn't new –and certainly not uncommon for Astro City– but if done well, it can help paint a more relatable view of the central character, without obscuring it too much with the beholder's bias. As usual for the series, it works well; we get a good understanding of who Roy Virgil is and how his journey as a hero progresses, while also getting a sense of who Joseph Greenwald is. As usual for the book, it's really well done and reminds us of how good the series is. It's like Saga; people really don't talk about how good the comic is anymore, because at this point it's obvious. Water is wet. The sky is blue. Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson put out a good issue of Astro City.
If I were to have a minor complaint to the issue's story, it'd be its connection to the overall plot-arc of the series since its 2013 return, i.e. the Broken Man's fight against the Oubor. The story generally gets told in its own issues, with the Broken Man showing the readers events from Astro City's past that tie into that story. Here, it's a quick appearance of the character, who wordlessly points out a character connected to the main mystery. It's quick, but a little disruptive to the flow and tone of the story.
The art is the usual high quality for the series. Brent Anderson has a perfect style for the comic, flexible enough that he can jump between dynamic superheroic action and quiet personal conversations, and it always look good. His designs take pulp influences and recreate them in a more humane, relatable way.
The 100th issue is a perfect celebration of the series. While the story is not entirely unusual, the size and character of it make it more special. After all, this is the first issue we get to see the origins of the most important character of the comic—the city itself. How it transitioned from being Romeyn Falls to self-described "Home of the Heroes", whose citizens are proud of their many protectors. And hopefully, there's at least half as many issues to come in the future.
Astro City #41 is written by Kurt Busiek with art by Brent Anderson, and it's published by Vertigo Comics It can be found at your local comic shop or digitally on comiXology.
Dominik Zine is a nerdy demisexual lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.