"Astro City" is at its best when Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson find that perfect balance between adventure and character examination, and so far that's what we're receiving in their latest storyline. "Astro City" #19 is the second part of a story exploring the life (past and present) of Quarrel, and it hits the mark over and over again.
What's great about "Astro City" #19 is that, at its core, it makes you care about Quarrel, a character who's been little more than a face in the background up until now. Busiek alternates between dealing with her in the present day -- confronting the fact she's aging, unlike corporate characters -- and running through her history as a hero. It helps that Quarrel's a self-made hero that pulled herself up by her proverbial bootstraps from an awful situation, something that makes us a little predisposed to like her. Even without that bonus, Quarrel is likable and someone with which the reader can quickly empathize. Between her early bewilderment upon arriving in Astro City (the joy of having already made your mark there thanks to time travel) and her ways of making ends meet in lieu of a salary, she's someone you can get behind and cheer.
The best thing about this story is seeing Quarrel and Crackerjack's relationship play out with all of its ups and downs. Seeing the genesis of the two getting together is entertaining right from the start, something that's unsurprising considering how amusing Crackerjack has always been. It's not only the hard road but competition that keeps the two together. They're a surprisingly good match for one another, both in terms of the traditional straight man/comedic foil pairing, but also in the way each clearly pushes the other to always try harder and be better. Add in their attempts to continue their crime-fighting careers even as they age (an element that Busiek's scripts get to explore naturally due to the 20 year age of a title that isn't afraid to move its characters forward with the passage of time), and Quarrel and Crackerjack feel not only real but like a pairing that we've been seeing play out over the decades.
Anderson's art looks good, and he continues to make the world of "Astro City" come to life with the little touches, from an old-school post office with the PO Boxes in the background and the letter slot to deposit mail to the different styles of architecture on the buildings that were constructed over the years. The best thing, though, is seeing the aged Quarrel and Crackerjack on some pages and the youthful versions on others. They're instantly recognizable as the same people but for the hints of wrinkles around the eyes and the slightly aged expression. For a story that takes place over many years, Anderson hasn't lost sight of the need to tell that in a visual manner.
"Astro City" makes you fall in love with characters you've only just met. That's very much the case here, thanks to Busiek and Anderson taking just the right amount of time to unspool Quarrel's story. Told as a single-issue story, this wouldn't have worked at all, but this story arc comes across perfectly paced and always provides more than enough to make us come back for the next installment. If you haven't read "Astro City" in a while, come and take a look at this story arc. Stories like this will make you a fan of "Astro City" all over again.