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Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: Astro City Vol 1-5

Someone borrowed my entire Fables collection, and asked me if there was more. I thought of Astro City, but didn't think she'd be terribly interested in it. Then I read the first book again and got sucked in all over again. The series volume are:
  1. Life in the Big City (Astro City, Vol. 1)
  2. Astro City Vol. 2: Confession
  3. Astro City Vol. 3: Family Album
  4. Astro City Vol. 4: The Tarnished Angel
  5. Astro City Vol. 5: Local Heroes
  6. Astro City: The Dark Age Book One SC (Kurt Busiek's Astro City)
  7. Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two
I've only read Volumes #1 to 5. The conceit behind Astro-City is subtle but a lot of fun: rather than tell stories directly about men (and women) in tights using them as the protagonists, let's look at them a little sideways: we'll tell the stories either from the point of view of the common man who lives in the city, or we'll tell the little side stories that you've always wondered about, like why the heck does a super-villain keep doing the same thing over and over if he keeps getting caught by the super-heroes? What's really great is that Kurt Busiek creates all the heroes in Astro-City out of whole cloth, but he taps into the knowledge of super-heroes that nearly everyone has had, built up into mythology by comic books over the last 60 years or so. That lends all his "super" characters some familiarity, but keeps them somewhat interesting still by not over-explaining everything about them, which is what tends to happen with the regular comics industry. Book 1 is exuberant, introducing the city to everyone and asking you to take nothing at face value, not the history, not even the heroes themselves. Book 2 is probably one of my favorite takes on the Batman character I've read, and even reading it today is still fresh. What I love is the layered approach. In many ways, the Batman has always been about overcoming your past, and this version takes that to an extreme. The next two volumes are weaker, but still work through the concepts well. In particular, The Tarnished Angel spends almost the entire volume on villainy, and manages to be tongue-in-cheek about it.

Having read all of these in a couple of nights, I have to say I still recommend the books highly. I still don't know whether to lend them to my friend. Maybe I'll just drop in the first couple of volumes and see if she gets hooked...


ArC said...

I actually think Astro City depends far more on shared superhero knowledge than, say, Fables. (Fables is generally enjoyable even with a next-to-nil knowledge of the underlying fairy tales.) As you say, for example, Confession draws heavily on the Batman. And sure, everyone knows Batman in rough outlines thanks to movies, TV, etc, but I think Busiek goes deeper than drawing on just the rough outlines.

I did read Dark Age recently (quite quickly as I was at the library just killing some time) and I would recommend you read it too.

Also, as much as I like Astro City, etc, I think I'd really like new superhero comics to do something besides pastiches of Superman, Batman, etc. (I guess this goes back at least to the Squadron Supreme comics of the 1980s, come to think of it.)

Piaw Na said...

I didn't think the Confession Arc drew much of Batman other than what one would have seen in the movies or on TV. I guess I will have to dig up the Dark Age at some point.