“Astro City” #23 is one of my favorite issues of the series in a while, thanks to its introduction of Sticks, the gorilla who just wants to be a drummer in a rock band. Unfortunately for poor Sticks, he’s in “Astro City,” where superheroes and supervillains alike see him as an asset. Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s latest creation’s attempt to make a life of his own delivers a compelling opening chapter in the character’s debut story.
“Astro City” is well known for creating its own riffs on lots of different classic comic book ideas, and it’s easy to see Sticks’s genesis as connecting with the classic Gorilla City from DC Comics (with a mixture of other sources, like Marvel’s Savage Land, among others). Instead of wanting to conquer the universe, or defend his homeland from the dimensional rifts that regularly gape open, though, Sticks sees his chance to have a different life, and that’s where the appeal for the character ultimately comes from.
Sticks isn’t the first character in the “Astro City” world who isn’t interested in being a hero (or villain), but his story is the most poignant. He’s finally getting the chance to enter the greater world and to do exciting and new things, and those exciting and new things involve living a normal everyday life. There’s something about that desire that is extremely appealing; it’s a reminder that being just an average person in the world of “Astro City” (or for that matter, our world) is still a great opportunity if you truly follow your dream. Sticks’ attempt to be nothing more than a great musician is fun to watch, even as it’s frustrating every time someone tries to recruit or kidnap him for their own purposes. He may have massive, amazing strength, but similar to how people with great fine motor skills shouldn’t all be forced to become surgeons, Sticks’ determination to stay out of the hands of the superpowered is admirable.
Anderson’s art looks energized here. There’s something especially adorable about Sticks’ smile as he asks, “Shall we?” at the audition while spinning his drumstick. Anderson not only pays attention to Sticks’ expressive face, but also on the drumstick itself, using the motion blur and the multiple images of the stick not being evenly spaced to give a real sense of its movement. Anderson also has fun with panel layouts in places where it’s appropriate; as Sticks not only climbs up the side of the building, but also up the panel borders in a fun little nod to the conventions of comic book storytelling. And when Sticks is making music, well, there’s something about the placement of those musical notes that brings it all together.
“Astro City” #23 looks great, and the story itself is even better. Hopefully the rest of this story arc will prove to be just as strong. Comics like “Sticks” are a good reminder of why “Astro City” has well-earned its beloved reputation, and Issue #23 is a huge success from Busiek and Anderson, as they give us your new favorite gorilla.