It’s been a couple of years, but “Astro City” is back, as Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson kick off a new ongoing series for DC Comics. When a series goes away for an extended period of time, I think there’s a legitimate concern that the time on the bench can result in a book that’s lost some of its punch. Fortunately, with this first new issue in a while, it feels much more like welcoming back an old friend that’s never been gone.
Busiek plays around with the storytelling structure of the comic in “Astro City” #1; introducing a new character who refers to himself as the Broken Man, he repeatedly addresses the readership directly, not just as narrator but also directly breaking the fourth wall and actively encouraging the reader to become part of the story process itself. It’s a strange but fun little diversion; this isn’t a narrative trick that could be used every month because I think it would result in a quickly diminishing return, but for a story arc it works. It allows Busiek to give some sly digs at himself (the line about spending “a few years messing around with stuff that mostly happened thirty years ago” is a nod towards the sixteen issues of “Astro City: The Dark Age,” for example), and also to let him pose theories without offering up answers to the reader. That’s an especially fun little trick on Busiek’s part; he’s not afraid to come up with fun character concepts and then let them dangle for months or years before giving us a reveal, and the way that he uses the Broken Man’s narration to offer up ideas about new hero American Chibi is instantly engaging.
It’s also nice to see that Busiek hasn’t been afraid to let time march forward even when “Astro City” wasn’t being published. Characters from earlier stories return as older people now, and references to how smartphone apps are used by residents and tourists alike within Astro City is a nice way to show how it’s keeping up with the times. I also appreciated that Busiek was able to re-introduce those older characters in a way that wouldn’t keep new readers in the dark (the Broken Man’s narration once again being a big help), even as those who do remember them get the hook of finding out what they’ve been up to since we last saw them, so that they aren’t bored by a new “getting to know you” moment. This is a strong and well-told script from start to finish, and knowing that Busiek’s banked almost a year’s worth of “Astro City” scripts already is especially exciting based on the quality of this debut story.
Anderson’s art looks just like it ever did. I think he’s best when it comes to drawing average, ordinary people; perhaps because they’re never just a throw-away sketch. Seeing the older Maggie and Faith is nice, in part because they both look like people you would genuinely see in 2013. Maggie’s professional outfit, Faith’s clothes more befitting a college student… it’s the little touches that make them stand out, even as they don’t come across as too flashy or over the top.
That’s not to say that Anderson can’t draw superheroes, of course. Samaritan looks as regal as ever, for instance, and Telseth’s Kirby-inspired figure leaps off the page thanks to Anderson’s impressive first look at the character. I do think that Anderson occasionally gives us a page that comes across as a little too cluttered; he’s great when it’s just a couple of characters, but draw in huge crowds and lots of detail and at times it feels like it’s easy to get lost on the page. Fortunately those moments aren’t too frequent in “Astro City,” and on the whole I feel Anderson’s a good choice for the series.
It’s nice to see “Astro City” #1 return with such a strong comic right out of the gate. I also appreciate that “Through Open Doors (Part One)” is set up in a way that the next issue could be the next installment, or it could be several months until we return to this narrative. Either way, I’m pleased with the end result. Busiek’s slight experiment with storytelling worked well, and there’s a lot given to us here that could be used for dozens of stories down the line. In other words, just like a good “Astro City” comic should be. “Astro City” #1 reminds readers just how much fun Busiek and Anderson’s series can be. It was absolutely worth the wait.