Astro City:
Local Heroes

by Kurt Busiek,
Brent E. Anderson
(Homage, 2005)

I enjoyed the book-length stories that fill Confessor and The Tarnished Angel, but for my money the best tales from Astro City come from the montage collections of shorter pieces. Local Heroes is another fine example of the short graphic fiction that Kurt Busiek writes so well.

These stories, appropriately, are told on a smaller scale and a more personal level. The first is a classic example. In "Newcomers," there are matters great and small afoot in Astro City, and they're told over the course of several years -- but all from the point of view of Pete Donacek, the head doorman of a swanky downtown hotel. He's sure seen a lot in his day, and once or twice he came all too close to the action that, in Astro City, is all but commonplace.

"Where the Action Is" takes an odd turn in superhero comics; the story revolves around the comic-book publishing house that prints tales about Astro City's "real" superheroes. The top dog at Bulldog Comics is an enthusiastic man who will sacrifice nearly anything -- up to and sometimes including the truth -- to tell an exciting story. Of course, the heroes and villains portrayed in those pages sometimes think he takes too much license with their lives.

Mitch Goodman is the Crimson Cougar, a soap-opera superhero, until one day circumstances -- and an overblown media reaction -- thrust him into the spotlight of the actual supervillains. After "Great Expectations," "Shining Armor" relates the sad story of a Lois Lane-like character who tries too hard to prove her superhero boyfriend and her mild-mannered pal are one and the same.

"Pastoral" takes readers outside of the city, where a lone smalltown hero tries to fulfill a downtown girl's expectations. "Knock Wood" and "Justice Systems," on the other hand, are as downtown as you can get, where a defense lawyer breaks new ground by applying superhero rules to a mundane murder trial and a vigilante phantom takes police justice into his own hands. "Old Times" brings an old cop and an old hero out of retirement.

Most moving of all is "After the Fire," an immensely personal tale written for and printed in an anthology inspired by the 9-11 attacks. In Busiek's story, a young boy struggles to understand the sacrifice a firefighter made to save his life.

Astro City is a great place to visit, and Local Heroes can tell you why.

by Tom Knapp
30 December 2006

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