It could’ve been very easy for Kurt Busiek to write a standard story about protest, and write in some analogous argument to real-world events. It’s not as though we’re at a lack for protests and marches right now, after all. Instead, however, Busiek welcomes back Astro City co-creator Brent Anderson for this month's issue, which looks literally at the spirit of protest, and what inspires it.
This time, the creative team follow a reporter who travels from protest to protest around America, in part for her work but in part because they offer her a connection to her absentee father, who was an avid supporter of taking to the streets to protest for issues he believed in. This brings her into the path of an apparent being called "Resistor," who appears whenever protesters are in danger and shields them from harm. The conceit allows the creative team to touch on current events, connecting with causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement, in order to create a little superhero wish-fulfillment in current society.
It’s confusing, however, to see the story touch on these real-world movements when the focus of the narrative is instead on the origin of Resistor. In the real world, protesters don’t receive the protection of superheroes as they march against inequality or prejudices -- so it's hard to work out what the point is of having Resistor show up here, and the greater thematic message Busiek is trying to bring out. It makes for an interesting approach certainly, and the creative team are certainly able to keep the mystery of Resistor going right up until the end. In creating that mystery, however, there seems to be a few steps missing: despite having all the tools to make the lead character intriguing, for example, there feels a lack of depth for her and her emotional connection with her father doesn’t quite reach any kind of emotional height. There’s just a slight lack of chemistry in the way her story is told which pushes the reader back a few paces. It's just one small step behind where it could be.
There’s always a little reorientation required when jumping onto the series for one of these standalone stories, and this time round things aren’t as immediately accessible as Astro City usually manages. However, that depth certainly does hold up as a strength for long-term readers, bringing in a sense of context which ties the story just close enough to the ongoing world of Astro City that there’s a feeling of purpose to the narrative. Overall the comic finds a way to drive to some interesting places, and explore -- as is the way for Astro City -- aspects of a superhero universe which nobody else would even consider. Anderson and Busiek remain the consummate team, breathing life and authenticity into every page, and colorist Peter Pantazis makes the design for Resistor into a, no pun intended, arresting sight.
Resistor is an interesting concept, and the comic sings strongest when it focuses on how it came together. Even though there are parts to the story which don't have the emotional pull you'd hope for, this still stands as a strong issue. Issue #49 isn’t a failure by any means -- even a standard issue of Astro City flies high above the competition -- but without landing that greater feeling of context and importance, it feels like more could have been brought out of the central concept. It's a good issue of the series, if not one of the great ones.