“Astro City” #3 picks up right where the previous issue left off, as Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson bring a look into the inner workings of the Honor Guard’s emergency help line and how new employee Marella Cowper tries to make a difference by dispatching the superheroes where they’re needed. It was a fun comic, one that then derailed all of the fun and light nature of the comic when an earlier decision from Marella came crashing down around her ears. But what’s nice about “Astro City” #3 is that this is a book that even in its darkest hours always gives us a glimpse of hope.
Busiek quickly recaps what happened in “Astro City” #2, in case you’re a new reader who hadn’t dipped into the series up until now. It’s a courtesy that seems to be lost with so many different comics these days, and it’s nice to be eased back in even if you did read the last issue. “Astro City” #3 opens with a glimpse into the clash between the Honor Guard and the Skullcrushers in Quevachi, Ecuador, but what’s nice is that it’s not the main focus of the comic. This is a book that follows Marissa as she simultaneously blames herself for not understanding the need for the Honor Guard with a fielded call, and also tries to make amends for her mistake. It’s not a superhero drama, it’s a human drama that happens to have superheroes.
Ultimately, that’s what continually makes “Astro City” a compelling read. Sure, Busiek comes up with all sorts of fantastic concepts in “Astro City,” the sort that should make most superhero comic writers drool with envy. But it’s never their power structures or their names and costumes that are the big draw; it’s the people that populate the comic that draw you in. Marella is the sort of character that we’ll probably never see again, but in just two issues she’s fleshed out as a strong person that you could cheerfully read more about. Her attempts to right her perceived wrong make her just as admirable as the members of the Honor Guard, and while it’s of course a tiny bit convenient on how the day is ultimately saved, it’s none the less a satisfying conclusion to this look into the world of a superhero emergency number and how it would affect those who worked there.
Anderson’s art helps sell Busiek’s script. Just on a quick superficial level it’s good stuff; the thick swirls of lines reminds me of artists like Tom Mandrake and how they create a strong feeling of texture and depth by knowing just where to add in shading and crosshatching. What makes Anderson’s art stand out here, though, is how he tackles scenes like on page 8, where Marella’s falling into sleep is a nightmarish prospect rather than restful. The way that Anderson draws Marella’s bed getting progressively surrounded by shadows and darkness is wonderfully creepy; I love how the blankets start fading into the background, until it’s almost as if Marella is in the folds of a spider-web within the void. It shows her isolation, and one feels trapped as you look at how Anderson draws her subconscious coming out by the scared expression on her face. It’s an expression that is echoed two other times once Marella’s in Ecuador — once while asleep and once awake — and that increasing desperation comes across not through narration but by Anderson’s art.
It’s a real pleasure to have “Astro City” back on the stands once more. Busiek and Anderson continue to charm readers with their stories of heroism and sacrifice. But of course, that doesn’t just apply to those wearing a costume and using a codename. With a comic like “Astro City,” it’s a reminder that the superhero genre isn’t dead. You just need the right creative team telling the stories.