When reading “Astro City” #28, it’s understandable if you have a sense of dejÃ vu. There are multiple story elements here we’ve seen in other comics from Kurt Busiek, and — while he continues to use them well — it’s hard to shake that familiarity. Fortunately, thanks to guest art team Gary Chaloner and Wade von Grawbadger, there’s still something different and new for experienced Busiek fans to soak in.
The plot of the comic is straightforward, as Busiek gives us the origin story of Australian superhero and Honor Guard member Wolfspider. As we go from mutated child (due to an accident) to restored young man who becomes a superhero, the strongest through-line is Wolfspider’s love of Queenslaw, an Australian cartoon featuring fictional superheroes from all across the continent. Having the shrunken Wolfspider playing along with the cartoon as he watches the episode is adorable and imbues the book with a certain upbeat nature.
That nature continues even as we start to plumb depths we’ve seen before, from villains-posing-as-heroes (which Busiek famously tackled in “Thunderbolts”) to cartoons coming to life (which Busiek used in his previous “Astro City” story about Looney Leo). These familiar story elements are still entertaining, but — because we’ve seen Busiek handle these story beats before — there’s a certain sense of wonder normally present in “Astro City” that is slightly muted. Even the final beat of the comic, where Wolfspider informs his mother on what’s happened, feels like a note we’ve had a lot of im past “Astro City” comics. Again, not a bad thing, but the impact isn’t as strong.
On the other hand, it’s a joy to see Chaloner’s pencils on this book. I’ve enjoyed his art since I first encountered it 25 years ago on a little book titled “The Jackaroo” and it’s great to see him and Von Grawbadger collaborating here. Chaloner’s pencils have a clean line, one that draws big thick curves and curls on his characters. From the fringe on Wolfspider’s costume to the sideburns that move across his cheeks, Chaloner draws the comic in a way that feels fresh and different than what you’d normally see. There are so many adorable moments here too, like Wolfspider’s reaction to seeing Queenslaw is real (the flopping back on the couch is made even better with the contented, goofy grin on his face in the next panel) or the gorgeously puffy exhaust clouds coming out from under the Ute. While I get the impression the guest artists on “Astro City” are generally only coming on board for one issue apiece, the idea of getting another issue or two down the line drawn from Chaloner and Von Grawbadger (the latter of whom inks Chaloner perfectly) is a happy one.
“Astro City” #28 is a fun, if not quite groundbreaking, comic; it’s got familiar beats, but Busiek still handles them well and crafts an entertaining story. This month, though, it’s Chaloner and Von Grawbadger who steal the show and push this up from above average to full-on great. Once again, “Astro City” delivers the goods.