It would be easy for "Astro City" to bang out a series of one-off stories, focusing on different, iconic ideas and moments within the superhero genre. In the case of "Astro City" #31, however, it's anything but a one-off story. Kurt Busiek and guest artist Jesus Merino instead provide a sequel story to an earlier issue, while simultaneously advancing and updating one of the central groups within the "Astro City" series.
I'm delighted Busiek has chosen to return to the Living Nightmare in "Astro City" #31. Such a simple but memorable character design deserves to be seen again, doubly so considering the character's intangible, hard-to-defeat nature. Rather than simply have some of the series' heroes tangle with Living Nightmare, Busiek turns the idea of a sequel on its head, because that's the sort of thing that makes "Astro City" fun to read every month. It's apt this issue follows the two-parter (in "Astro City" #29-30) showing the perspective of an individual member of a "villain" species; here, Busiek takes it one step further by focusing on a specific entity that has tangled with our heroes time and time again.
While the Living Nightmare was controlled by a human who used its powers for good at one point in time, Busiek gives us something very different here. He shows us the creation of the Living Nightmare and makes it more than just a mindless threat. Both the readers and the Honor Guard alike had written it off as just some nasty force that needs to be periodically destroyed (going all the way back to its appearance in the very first "Astro City" story), but Busiek humanizes it in a way that doesn't undo anything he's told us up until now, while also making it sympathetic. It's a great next step for both the Living Nightmare and the Honor Guard, and watching how it progresses forward in an attempt to become a hero within its own power should prove to be fascinating.
Merino returns as guest artist on "Astro City" for this issue and, like before, does a dependable job. He and Alex Sinclair make the Living Nightmare's flashback look suitably creepy, with its ragged panel borders, intriguing viewpoints that often keep the reader off-kilter and an almost misty red haze over the entire sequence. This flashback is the high point of the art for the issue, and the duo nail it. The rest of the art looks good, too; the members of the Honor Guard look suitably heroic, the action sequences are easy to follow and the Living Nightmare's offbeat character design continues to look slightly unsettling. When it comes to new creation Doctor Dominax, well, let's just say I audibly chortled at its appearance and name. No complaints here.
"Astro City" #31 is a fun little issue, and one that I hope gets followed up before too long. It's another reminder why this series is dependably worth buying and is able to use different viewpoints and perceptions in ways that stand out. Busiek and Merino's comic takes a familiar face and gives us a nice twist.