I reserved reviewing ASTRO CITY at its new home, Vertigo, till now because the first issue threw me with its meta omnipotent narrator. I didn’t dislike the issue; it was simply a far cry from the ASTRO CITY I once knew. I understand why Busiek chose this route since it has been a long time since anyone has visited the birthplace of his homegrown heroes, it’s just not what an old timer like me was looking for.
For the uninitiated, ASTRO CITY is about people not heroes, and how their lives are affected by a world with super beings. It’s the natural extension of Busiek’s ground breaking work on MARVELS oh so many years ago. Except the sandbox is his own with ASTRO CITY and it’s a playing field where golden, silver and modern age collide. ASTRO CITY is about the dreams of mortals and how the God’s among them either squash or enable those aspirations.
Issues two and three have quickly corrected course. Another tenet of ASTRO CITY is that serves to reflect our own societal woes or wonders. For the past two issues, Busiek has pointed a laser sight at our failing economy, specifically the new job market where college grads are asking, “Would you like foam or no foam on your megafrap deluxe?”
I’m being a bit hyperbolic with that last statement since our protagonist, a recent college grad named Marella, opens issue two applying for what she believes is a job in a call center. In my mind someone with a programming degree shouldn’t be hocking low interest credit card loans though either. Fortunately for Marella (and us readers), her job becomes far more interesting once she says yes.
The call center is a front…sort of. Once she enters the door of the building and then the trans-dimensional portal inside she is whisked away to the sub-command center of Honor Guard. This is THE team in the Astro City universe, basically Jsutice League before they were wrought with so many problems and inexperience that seem to plague their current incarnation.
Marella isn’t being hired to hock anything, she’s actually been hired to be the front line of calls for help and triage what should be brought to Honor Guard’s attention. It’s not her ideal job, but certainly a far cry better than the alternative. Even in our world you’ll find much higher job satisfaction from someone working a 9-1-1 line versus asking people if they want to buy cheap real estate in Florida.
Another reason I’ve always been enamored with ASTRO CITY is that time is elastic. Often Busiek plays with entire decades of history like his last outing in DARK AGE. For this story though we’re only talking the course of a year.
But what a year it is. Again, ASTRO CITY is about people. So while the heroes are always omnipresent as Marella skills up, the true beauty of this story lies in a young woman finding herself and her place in the world. Here the story transcends to an all relatable tale as Marella gains confidence in her job skills, makes new friends with co-workers, deceives her family about what she does all day, and even develops a crush on the cute guy in the command console next to her.
Until it all comes crashing down.
Like any job Marella has metrics to meet, if you don’t triage correctly you waste precious escalation resources chasing ghosts. After being a chastised a few times, her team becomes gun shy about escalating issues to the next level. This proves to be a fatal move as one improperly diagnosed call gives a villainous group names the Skullcrushers the ability to obliterate a South American town.
I think I’ve described enough to entreat those who like me insist their stories be as much character development as carnage. I will say though, issue three is a story of redemption for Marella. She learns that mistakes don’t define a person, it’s rather the lessons we learn from those mistakes.
I’m thrilled ASTRO CITY is back and under the spearhead of a publisher known for a tight schedule. There have been lapses with past series that diminished a bit of the joy trying to recollect months prior. I’m aslo thrilled Anderson is in the pencil seat again. He’s been a staple of this series for a long time and truly gets how to make the characters look exactly like Busiek intends from an emotional perspective.
This isn’t just another pastiche, Busiek’s world is rife with originality even though it borrows from tropes we all know and love. I really believe new fans will dig this series, and Kurt provides enough Easter egg fodder so that old time fans feel once again welcome in ASTRO CITY’S bombastic and beautiful boundaries.