Astro City:
Life in the Big City

Kurt Busiek, writer,
Brent E. Anderson, artist
(Homage, 1996)

Comics have surely undergone a revolution in the past decade, approaching the superhero industry from many new angles and in a variety of new styles. But I don't know if I've ever read anything quite as refreshing as Kurt Busiek's Astro City.

Astro City is a title I've seen around but never picked up -- until now, that is, when Life in the Big City, a collection of the inaugural six issues, finally proved too irresistable to pass by. Oh, I'm glad I bought it.

The world of Astro City isn't any more "real" than any other comic-book universe. There are still plenty of heroes and villains with powers far beyond those of your average joe on the street. But what it does is take a more realistic approach to exploring that unreal world. For instance, the first issue takes us along on an average day with Samaritan, perhaps Astro City's greatest hero. With amazing strength, speed and other powers, this man from the future is everything a superguy could dream of being -- and yet he dreams of flying, slowly, enjoying the moment instead of rushing at a breakneck pace to confront various dangers around the world.

The second tale allows us to tag along on the heels of a rookie reporter on his first big scoop -- and the problems of trying to report the story in an incredulous world. Next, a small-time crook learns the secret identity of a big-time masked crimefighter -- and doesn't know what to do with the information.

The stories continue to unfold as a woman living in a supernatural neighborhood of the city faces the real dangers of downtown, and an elderly man with a secret gathers information for a devastating cause. The book concludes with something as simple as a date between Samaritan and Winged Victory, Astro City's reflections of Superman and Wonder Woman.

That's perhaps what makes this book so refreshing. Big conflicts with super-powered villains occur mostly in the background, while Busiek gives us a closer look at the people who spend their lives protecting others. Some are brash and arrogant, some are quiet and introspective, some are lonely ... but Busiek (who earlier did the same trick on a smaller scale for Marvel Comics with the mini-series Marvels) makes them seem real. And that's rare.

Brent E. Anderson breathes life into the stories with stunning art, and Alex Ross (who painted Marvels) provides the covers. Bonus pages at the end include a glimpse at the creative genesis of Astro City and its residents.

Astro City is fresh and exciting, and while it's not real, it's as close to real as superhero stories can be. I'm only sorry I passed this one by for so long.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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