Who says you can’t go home again? In “Astro City” #32, Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson revisit one of their classic storylines, “Tarnished Angel,” with a return to Steeljack now that he’s given up a life of crime. While reliving past victories often isn’t a good direction, “Astro City” #32 pleasantly eases readers into seeing an old friend once more.
It’s been well over a decade since I read the original “Tarnished Angel” storyline, and thankfully Busiek assumes that other readers besides myself are in the same boat. He quickly and effortlessly eases us back into the story with a tiny bit of exposition to lead the way. In the case of “Astro City” #32, this feels especially natural because Busiek once again tells it in a crime noir/hard-boiled detective style, a genre that lends itself to a running inner monologue from the protagonist. This monologue is the core of “Astro City” #32; while the plotting is good, it’s the voice in which Busiek tells the story that everything else hangs on. Fortunately for us, it’s very much a success.
Steeljack (or Carl, as he’s known these days) isn’t a perfect guy by any stretch of the imagination. When hired to salvage super villain technology at the bottom of the river, it presents a temptation to take the weaponry, and it says a lot that he doesn’t do so simply because he knows that handing it over will make it more likely he’ll be hired for future work. He isn’t altruistic, but rather looking out for himself. It’s refreshing to see a character so up front with the reader about his less-than-perfect morals, and — if anything — it makes him more likable.
It’s also a lot of fun to see Steeljack encounter Cutlass, the old leader of his former super villain team, the Terrifying Three. Busiek manages to not only give us a bit of her origin, but — more importantly — we see the relationship the two once had. The brief glimpses of their time together — partners both financially and, at times, romantically — paint a picture that makes us simultaneously intrigued by her presence and also a little wary. To Steeljack’s credit, Busiek makes him a bit wary too. The story quickly circumvents the entire “Is he being set up to take the fall?” idea in a way that presents it as a possibility and also shows that both Steeljack and Cutlass have thought that through themselves. This duo has a good rapport, even they dance around one another with a level of distrust mixed with respect.
Anderson’s back on the art duties in “Astro City” #32, and I continue to find myself fascinated with how he draws Steeljack. An all-metal man is a familiar character type (most notably, with Colossus from “X-Men”), but Anderson’s depictions of Steeljack remain slightly different than what we normally get. Steeljack’s face always looks slightly warped and reflective in an attention-grabbing way. This less-than-idealized method of drawing the character is actually perfect for continuing the style that Busiek began in his moody script; Steeljack falls into a long line of characters who should have slightly craggy and world-weary faces, after all. I also found myself really appreciating how the Cutlass in the flashbacks looks distinctly younger than the one in the present day; she’s noticeably aged, but not in an over-the-top way.
In terms of action, as great as the explosion of bricks out towards the reader is, it’s the explosion of money a few pages later that really grabs your attention with its sense of movement. Peter Pantazis works well with Anderson here; the icy blue interior of the bank in Scottsdale comes to life thanks to the contrast between it and the splotches of red from the slain guards sprawled along the floor.
“Astro City” #32 is a strong opening to a new storyline, one that I hope continues for at least several months. Busiek and Anderson’s sequel to “Tarnished Angel” is off to a strong start; super-powered crime noir is a strange and specialized genre, but they turn out a real winner. Until the next chapter hits in March, I know what I’ll be doing: re-reading the original storyline. This is a real winner, folks.