Comic Books & Graphic NovelsOpinionReviews

ASTRO CITY offers to take us Through Open Doors

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  • Title: Astro City: Through Open Doors
  • Writer: Kurt Busiek
  • Artist: Brent Anderson
  • Cover Artist: Alex Ross
  • Colors: Alex Sinclair and Wendy Broome
  • Publisher: DC Comics (Vertigo)
  • Release Date: April 2014
  • Includes: Astro City Issues 1 – 6 (not to be confused with Kurt Busiek’s Astro City)
Astro City Cover by Alex Ross
Astro City Cover by Alex Ross

When I was a kid I liked Gilligan’s Island. Gilligan’s Island was canceled in 1967, two years before I was born, so I didn’t see the episodes in the sequence in which they originally aired which, of course, didn’t matter. You could depend on events to return us safely back to the status quo before 30 minutes were up.  While each episode dangled the promise of a rescue before the castaways, they always ended up exactly where they started. This scenario mirrored most of the comics that I read as a kid.  Eventually, Superman got his powers back and Peter Parker was still down on his luck and Bruce Banner failed to find a cure for his Hulkish condition.  Even when things in comics seemed to change you knew it was temporary.  Almighty Death is but a momentary setback for our heroes.

But what about everyone else?  What about the reporter that sees aliens invade or the firefighter that has to go into the building crushed by a giant or the woman that finds out her husband is a supervillian?  What happens to them after the hero flies away?  How do these larger than life events affect the people that populate the super-hero universe?  Welcome to Astro City.

Stories set in the Astro City universe have been coming to us since 1995 with the same writer (Kurt Busiek), interior artist (Brent Anderson) and cover artist (Alex Ross).  The city itself is a Metropolis/New York City stand-in, and many of the characters are fairly recognizable analogues for more well known superheroes.  For example, The Samaritan, Confessor and MPH are pretty clearly based on Superman, Batman and the Flash.

The hallmark of Astro City is the way that events affect our heroes and the world around them on a human level.  What is it like to work tech support for Honor Guard (think Justice League) and know that your decisions may save or risk lives?  What if you have super-powers but you just don’t want to be a super-hero or a super-villain? What would you do if the promise of incredible power was dangled in front of you?  Would you take those powers to get everything you ever thought you wanted or would you pause and look to see if you already had everything that you needed?  Would you look at what you might gain or what you might lose?

The covers by Alex Ross are incredible.  He is one of the most talented painters in the comic industry and has the amazing ability to make you feel as if this fantastic world is really happening around you.  His angles are usually taken from the viewpoint of the ‘man on the street’ and somehow manage to ground the ethereal. Brent Anderson’s interior art doesn’t wow me like Ross’ covers, but I don’t think they need to or even should. To me, Anderson conveys the emotion and the action so effectively that he tells the story without you really noticing the art.

What brings me back to Astro City time and again, though, are the stories and the feelings that they evoke from me.  The story of a character is frequently told for just one or two issues and you might not ever see them again, but in that short time, Busiek manages to connect me with his protagonist.  Whether hero, villain or bystander, I see something of me in each of them and vice versa.

Gilligan’s Island always restored the status quo but what makes Astro City special is that even when the world as a whole goes back to the way it was, the characters that inhabit it are changed.  They are dynamic and I feel that by reading Astro City, I am changed as well and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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