I had problems with Astro City: The Dark Age 1. As I mentioned in my review of the earlier AC volume Tarnished Angel, I didn’t like constant back and forth nature of the thought boxes. I thought it was cheesy and annoying, a lot like some of the more schmaltzy Superman/Batman issues written by Jeph Loeb. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember much more than that when reading the second volume while on vacation last week. See, even though I didn’t have fond memories of the first book, I know that Kurt Busiek is one of the more solid writers around and that I want to learn more about the world of Astro City, so I’m always interested in reading more about it.
Even without refreshing my memory, I did remember that the book focused on a pair of non-superpowered brothers, one who went down the criminal path, the other who was a cop. They’re both obsessed with finding the man who killed their parents. That’s pretty much what the whole second book focuses on, now that the brothers have enough experience, technology and firepower to actually go after him. While that’s going on, we also get to see the Silver Agent appear a pair of times, several heroes from the 80s and no shortage of superhero action all of which leads to one focal point that makes for a pretty great battle.
I really liked how subtly Busiek handled the 80s comic trope of grim and gritty. I actually didn’t even think about it at first. He introduced the story as being set in the 80s and then eventually showed that a few heroes had gotten a little more violent. It wasn’t like in the first few panels he showed a Batman-like character snapping a bad guy’s neck, which is about as subtle as some other similar references. The metaphor also worked for the brothers who had gotten more and more grim as the story progressed.
Dark Age 2 probably wouldn’t be the best Astro City book to pick up if you’d never read anything, but I bet you could probably enjoy it. There’s enough familiar territory for superhero fans to understand the basics right off the bat. There’s also the question of Anderson’s art, which really turns some people off. It’s not the crispest art in the world, but I don’t have any problems with it. While figures can be muddy at times, he kills it on the faces, so it balances out for me. Oh, by the way, there’s a reveal at the end of this book, which closes out the Dark Age storyline altogether as far as I know, that explains away the dialog boxes that bugged me in the first collection. I guess this is a SPOILER of sorts, so skip along if you want nothing revealed. We find out at the end that the narration was actually being done by the brothers in modern times to a writer, which was such an obvious explanation I was disappointed in myself for not thinking about it. It’s actually a pretty cool trick that Busiek played by making long time comic book fans think one thing about the boxes and then revealing them to be something else. It’s a trick that can only really be pulled in this format and it was fun.
Overall, I really liked this collection and it made me want to read the first book again, so that’s a pretty good post-reading experience, right? It also made me want to snatch up the rest of the AC books I don’t have yet. I think it’s time to compare what’s on my shelf and in the longboxes to see what I do and don’t have. I love what Busiek’s done with this world and can’t wait to see what he does with it moving forward.