Astro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big City
Storytellers: Kurt Busiek, Brent E. Anderson, and Alex Ross
Year of Publication: 1996
Page Count: 192
What I Learned About Writing/Storytelling: Kurt Busiek writes in the introduction of this trade paperback that superheroes are a great way to illustrate metaphors. Superman is a male power fantasy, and Spider-Man is the teenage experience writ large. That gave me an idea: How could a superhero metaphor be used to illustrate religious experience? There’s an idea! Aside from that, I also learned something about the nature of narrative realism. Busiek again writes in the introduction that Astro City is not a realistic take on superheroes; It’s got time travel, aliens, evil shark cults, and vampires. It is, however, a plausible story which relies on complex character studies to drive the plot forward. This flies in the face of the idea that a story about superheroes are a substandard genre of comic book storytelling.
What I Learned About Art/Storytelling: Brent Anderson’s art avoids the excesses of most ’90s comics, while retaining a visual “oomph” that lends and impressive, intimate feel to the art. If I learned anything, it’s that a good artist can make all the difference in a comic book story. With writing like Busiek’s and art like Anderson’s, the feeling of nostalgia and humanity that generally sums up the stories found in this trade is completely palpable.
Notes/Review/Synopsis: I really like Astro City. It’s basically a wholesale meta-critique of the DC Universe, often from the point of view of the man (or woman) on the street. In a previous review, I covered The Dark Knight Returns, which helped kick-off the wave of superhero deconstruction that lasted up until the early 2010s. Astro City is the first in a wave of comics that are a response to that deconstruction, a reconstruction, I suppose. Every comic of that persuasion from Robert Kirkman’s Invincible to Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl almost certainly owes a debt to Astro City. I certainly do now.