I have to commend Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, because for a book that doesn’t show up twelve times a year, they certainly know how to re-introduce it to its readers. “Astro City: The Dark Age” will be a whopping 16 issues once it’s complete, and as the third of its four books debuts, Busiek’s script carefully brings readers back up to speed. He re-introduces us to the Williams brothers — one a cop, the other a lowlife –a nd their situation of trying to find the man who killed their parents. And then, with that out of the way, Busiek charges full speed ahead.
To me, that’s the best way to kick off “Astro City: The Dark Age: Book Three.” Not only is it just past the halfway point of the story (and the previous eight issues were all collected together in a single volume), but it’s in many ways a big turning point for the comic. Charles and Royal Williams have the power of who’s in control shift between the two of them, and the Royal Williams gets to be the hero in an extremely dangerous situation. It’s an interesting change of pace, and Busiek peppers the story with so many little factoids and easter eggs just waiting to be discovered. Strictly from a plot standpoint, there’s a lot to read and enjoy in “Astro City: The Dark Age: Book Three” #1.
More importantly, though, as Busiek moves his comic through different eras, the story and setting are both reflecting those times. I love that by entering the ’80s, Astro City itself is becoming a slightly grimmer, less black-and-white place to live. The comments about how henchmen being killed — even if they’d have died regardless — not being a big issue is a bit of meta-commentary on the shifting nature of the comics industry and the stories being told. And, of course, it’s a reminder that Astro City itself was staying current with the rest of the world it’s surrounded by. Busiek’s always had a strong historical grasp of comics, and that’s normally shown off in “Astro City” with his knowledge and channeling of Silver Age comics. Here, though, he’s nailing various modern age periods with ease.
Anderson’s art in “Astro City: The Dark Age” is up to its usual standards. The book kicks off with a beautiful opening scene of Astro City itself (and Alex Sinclair deserves a lot of credit for the colors there, from the pinks of the cherry blossoms to the swirling gray clouds in the sky), and then just as quickly shifts into a grim scene of cults and sacrifices. I like Anderson’s rough-hewn characters, and how they seem to almost scramble across the pages as they move. It’s a nice look to the series, not belonging to any one particular era or school of art, but able to bring in bits and pieces from whatever Busiek’s script is paying homage to.
In many ways, “Astro City: The Dark Age: Book Three” #1 is set-up for the remaining issues of this story, but I’m good with that. This is just the right way for the comic to come back after a bit of an absence, and by the end of the issue things are definitely rolling full speed ahead. It may sound odd to say, “Bring on the dark ages!” but this latest “Astro City” mini-series evokes that exact reaction. It’s nice to see it return.