Astro City is amazing.
This is not news to anyone who has read it, but to those unfamiliar it really needs to be brought to your attention. Astro City is exactly what superhero comics should be. Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, along with Alex Ross and various other artists, letters and inkers, have created an amazing world where they tell genuinely mature stories that happen to have superheroes.
For the most part, mature in superhero comics means the exact opposite of mature. “Mature” comics are usually as juvenile as possible, all blood and boobs. Good comics that could be called mature are almost unfailingly gritty deconstructions. Stuff like Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns. Astro City manages to be as thoughtful and mature as those comics, but not be cynical at all. It is proof that superheroes can be mature and self-aware without losing any of the hope and wonder.
Astro City is an anthology book, taking place in, fittingly, Astro City. The city features a variety of superheroes and superheroines that are analogous to but not identical to popular DC and Marvel character. It is not just popular characters with the serial numbers filed off, but roughly similar characters that fit into the same archetypes. The details of Astro City’s Samaritan are very different from Superman, but they do share similar looks and powers. The reader’s knowledge of Superman helps fill in the blanks with Samaritan, but he is unique enough that he doesn’t just feel like a knock-off. The same is true of the somewhat Fantastic Four like First Family.
What sets Astro City apart is that while the usual sort of big super hero stories are frequently happening in the background, the book is about more human concerns. A story that takes place over a couple of issues features Astra, the youngest member of the First Family, realizing that her life is nothing like that of a normal child and leaves her home to find out what that is like. Her family freaks out, understandably, and go pick fights with their rogues gallery to find her. It has plenty of superheroes fighting, but the focus in on an abnormal girl trying to experience a normal like. Wanting to know is the grass is truly greener on the other side or not is a pretty universal desire. That is where Astro City excels; it takes larger than life characters, but tells very human, relatable stories. There are no simple fights in Astro City, everything is about something real.
It weaves these very human stories together as it also creates a history for Astro City. Each issue shows another character or idea or place that is but a footnote in the current story, but eventually these footnotes build up into a very real seeming history. It creates the feeling of a large universe that the reader only gets an all too brief glimpse at.
Astro City isn’t the only comic that does these sorts of things. All-Star Superman has a very similar combination of true heart and larger than life story. Starman does a similar trick of creating history in dribs and drabs.
I haven’t yet read all of Astro City. I had only read a couple of issues before picking all of the first two series in a Comixology sale. I read those thirty or so issues fast enough, though. I am going to be looking into picking up the rest of the series 20 year history as soon as I can.
Astro City is amazing.