“Astro City: The Dark Age” is a series that I can’t help but think will be looked on more fondly down the line, once people’s primary encounters with it are through the collected editions and not reading it one issue at a time. This is, after all, a story that began publication in June 2005 with “Astro City: The Dark Age: Book One.” It’s easy to see burn-out setting in with readers, with a sixteen issue story taking just under five years to hit its conclusion.
The thing is, it’s not a bad story. In many ways it’s two different stories; one about Charles and Royal Williams and how the need to avenge the murder of their parents slowly changes both of them, one about the death of the Silver Agent as well as his appearances since then. As the series is drawing to a close, it’s becoming clear that the two are about to finally intersect, which should certainly provide a good conclusion. But until we hit that, what we have is a solid, middle-of-the-road story that is good but not great.
Having Charles and Royal shift from opposite ends of the law to both becoming vigilantes is certainly not what I’d seen coming, but it’s been a logical progression of events. The problem now is that we should already be in the endgame, but most of the issue still feels like a bit of stalling. So while it’s nice to finally have the Williams brothers finally catching up to their parents’ killer, I found myself a little impatient in places.
It’s too bad, because I think there are interesting characters and concepts throughout this storyline that could have born some more fleshing out in a story that wasn’t “The Dark Age.” For example, Apollo 11 was a team that had a lot of potential but got quickly lost in the shuffle of so much else going on, and the visuals of Mirage alone make me want to see more. A neon-tube designed superhero is a great match for the Las Vegas location of this last story, for instance, and it makes me wonder what we could get when he’s the focus of a comic instead of a bit player. It’s also an increasingly grim book; it may sound like a strange complaint for a book subtitled “The Dark Age” but so much darkness over time in “Astro City” actually feels slightly wrong. There’s more often than not a sense of hope infused into Busiek’s “Astro City” scripts, and I’ve come to miss it as this storyline has continued.
Lest it sound like I’m being too harsh on the book, I did enjoy large parts of “Astro City: The Dark Age: Book Four” #2. Busiek does a good job of showing things shifting from bad to worse, and he has a nicely ominous “to be continued” moment for the readers. Brent Anderson’s art continues to be strong, and some of the smaller details like how he draws the brothers regressed back to childhood or the dark tendrils creeping around the edges of the panels before pushing their way in look nice.
But after enjoying the two-part “Astra Special” and getting reminded how much lighter and fun an “Astro City” story can be, I think I’d ready for “The Dark Age” to come to a conclusion. While I’m not against multi-part stories in “Astro City” (“The Confessor” showed that there’s absolutely a place for that kind of thing), I’m looking forward to more one- and two-part stories down the line, and hopefully with a cheerier tone in places. “Astro City” should never be quite so dark for this long a time period.