One of the many charms of “Astro City” is how Kurt Busiek uses it to tell stories on all sorts of subjects while still keeping it within the superhero genre. That’s the case with “Astro City” #35, where Busiek and Ron Randall delve into the history of multiple heroes who took the Jack-in-the-Box name. However, while this is a superhero story, it applies more broadly just as well.
Strictly in terms of superhero trappings, Busiek’s script is strong. Busiek takes the time to showcase more about the different Jacks-in-the-Box and gives each hero an origin, while also exploring the different motivations and techniques of whoever’s behind the mask. From working solo to having others alongside, there are differences between each of the different characters involved. More importantly, Busiek neatly sidelines what could easily become a lineage of characters moving into the future; we’re shown that it’s not only a career that won’t work for everyone, but also just how easily disaster can strike for those who aren’t ready.
That said, the emotional heft of the story lies in a child who wants to follow in the footsteps of their parent but is denied the opportunity; this is where you get a story that can be told in any medium, not just that of superheroes. Ike’s desire to be the fourth Jack-in-the-Box is palpable, and — when things go wrong his first time out of the gate — the depression that results oozes just as strongly off of the page. “Astro City” has always been about the human touch within the world of a superhero, and this issue is no exception. It’s very hard not to empathize with poor Ike.
I’ve enjoyed Randall’s art ever since encountering it on the licensed “Dragonlance” comic back in the late ’80s, and — just as he did then — he provides readers with easy-to-follow storytelling and characters that have a nice rounded shape. His character designs — which are fairly simple — are also very effective, like the two-color pattern of Mister Drama or the normal-at-first Weirdies that deliberately become more and more off-putting. Randall is good at the action here, too; something as simple as Jack-in-the-Box’s arm hyper-extending has a real sense of movement to it. Randall was a good choice as guest artist on “Astro City.”
Busiek and Randall round out “Astro City” #35 with a mystery about the Weirdies, Mister Drama, the Landlord and the various Jack-in-the-Box heroes that continues to unfold. Add that to the story of being a legacy, and you get a comic that feels densely plotted and more than your money’s worth. “Astro City” #35 is a reminder that the superhero genre can give us rich, interesting characters and plots, so long as talented creators like Busiek and Randall are at the helm.