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‘Astro City’ gives an old ‘Wish’ new life

by  in Comic News Comment
‘Astro City’ gives an old ‘Wish’ new life

[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]

Ever since its return under the Vertigo banner, Astro City (from Kurt Busiek, Brent Eric Anderson, and company) has been pretty great on a consistent basis. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been a highlight of my pull list; but the current run has really been something special. Last month’s issue #15 — concluding the story of a sweet little old robotics genius and the supervillain who sought to ruin her — was particularly heartwarming. (What’s that? Something in my eye? No, I’m just tired….)

Then, however, I read this week’s issue #16. Readers looking for familiar pastiches will be rewarded immediately, since the broad strokes of the story are deliberately reminiscent of Silver Age Superboy and Lex Luthor. (The energy-headed hero Starbright also looks a bit like Firestorm, but that’s more incidental.) It’s a tale of awkward friendship, super-powered rivalry, and an act of simple kindness which literally transforms a life. As Busiek reveals on the letters page, the middle part of the story comes from his unpublished eight-page script for an installment of the backup feature “Superman: The In-Between Years.” In hindsight it’s easy to see how that script would have worked as a look into the developing dynamics between the Collegian of Steel and his former friend — but as usual, Astro City has taken those elements in undreamt-of directions.

Make no mistake — “Wish I May,” like the rest of Astro City, is its own thing. Simon Says isn’t Lex Luthor, although they share certain traits. Indeed, what we learn about Simon arguably makes him more sympathetic than Luthor ever could have been. That’s the real power of Astro City — to create something fascinating and new out of something eminently recognizable. Accordingly, “Wish I May” is a story that perhaps could only happen in the Astro City environment. I’ve avoided talking too much about the actual plot, because the story took me by surprise and I hope it will surprise other readers similarly. Moreover, it reinforces Busiek’s recent musings about writing “believable” characters, which (not surprisingly) I found to be eminently sensible.

If “Wish I May” had seen the light of day in its original form back in the early ’80s, it probably would have been entertaining and/or affecting on its own terms. However, it would have depended on readers’ preconceptions about the longstanding Supes/Lex relationship. Here, Busiek, Anderson, and company have played with preconceptions in different, and arguably more meaningful ways. Rather than offering one more insight into a preordained sequence of events, they’ve crafted characters who are believable on their own terms, and who can tell their own stories with confidence. As much as I appreciate the pastiches, that’s what keeps me coming back to Astro City.