When I first began kicking around ideas for Halloween-y books to pull off my shelves and read this season, Astro City: Confession popped into my mind almost instantly. However, when I went to said shelf, I was surprised to see that this was one of two volumes from the series’ early run that I didn’t have. To Amazon I went and now I’ve got a nice hardcover version from DC’s sadly defunct Vertigo imprint. I’m not sure it’s possible to really talk about this book without getting into spoilers, so consider yourself warned and go out and read all of the Astro City you can find!
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.
SPIDER-MAN NOIR (Marvel)
Written by David Hine & Fabrice Sapolsky, drawn by Carmine di Giandomenico
Spider-Man is one of those characters whose regular comics I find generally indecipherable. I know it’s because I’m just not all the familiar or interested in his comic book adventures. I was a DC kid growing up and everything I heard about Spidey’s books while coming up just didn’t sound that interesting. Aside from burning through the first 100 or so issues of Ultimate Spider-Man (which I found super boring and over-written) I don’t think I’ve ever even read a full Spider-Man trade. People say the same thing about Superman and that’s cool, it’s just how things is. But, I am a sucker for alternate universe stories featuring familiar characters and I do like Spidey in every other medium (cartoons, video games, one movie), plus I like the idea of noir superheroes. And, for the most port, I liked it. It’s way less jokey than the Spidey you probably know and love, but it’s still a fairly quick moving story that kept me interested and art that moved the story. It’s not a life-changing story, but a good read. I tried reading the X-Men one and just couldn’t get into it. I do think it’s interesting that Marvel made this and the other Noir trades a little bit smaller than a regular trades. It’s not quite digest size, closer to a Mome I guess. Anyone know what the reason for this is? For what it’s worth, I’ve got a great idea for a Thor Noir, if anyone’s interested.
WONDER WOMAN: RISE OF THE OLYMPIANS (DC)
Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Aaron Lopresti & Bernard Chang
It’s kind of funny for me to think of myself as a Wonder Woman fan. I read John Byrne’s run on the book and didn’t really like it (why I didn’t drop the book is beyond me), I’ve enjoyed the first two volumes of the retro Diana Prince: Wonder Woman (check out reviews here and here) and I’ve mentioned how much I like Gail Simone’s run on the book before, so I guess I am a fan. It’s too bad such a big time character doesn’t have more epic stories to point to, but I feel like Simone’s run might be one of the best. This trade (which collected Wonder Woman #26-33 and a segment from DC Universe #0) shows Wondy throwing down with a god called Genocide created by a group of mad scientists while Zeus resurrects a group of dead men to become the new Amazons. There’s all kinds of fighting and drama, but what I like most about this particular volume is that it changes the WW status quo by adding men into the Amazon picture. Sure, there’s all kinds of conspiracies and what not going on, but it seems like an at least fairly permanent change (you know, as much as you can have one of those in a comic). Lopresti’s art is sick as always and I hope this book starts getting some more attention soon. I will say that Rise isn’t a great jumping on point for new readers. I highly recommend going back and checking out all of Simone’s run and, if you like that, it might be worth it to check out the first trade of this series which sets the stage for everything going on here (like why Diana has an alter ego and all that stuff that wasn’t around before the relaunch).
ASTRO CITY: THE TARNISHED ANGEL (WildStorm/DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson
Astro City’s one of those books like Hellboy, Sin City and Jack Staff where I really fell in love with the universe along with the characters. I first heard about it from reading Wizard back in the day and then finding them at the library while visiting my grandma in Cleveland. I read them out of order and lost track until I started at Wizard when I was able to get caught up. Kinda. I’m way behind on all the newer stuff. Anyway, one of the more revered of the Astro City books is Tarnished Angel (along with Confessions), which collects Astro City Vol. II #14-20. The story follows Steeljack, a super criminal who gets out of jail only to go back to his same old crummy neighborhood where everyone’s either a henchman or related to one. Turns out someone’s killing these black masks and the neighborhood hires Steeljack to find the killer. Not being much of a detective, Steeljack has to rely on some hints along the way and dogged determination. Busiek has become known for stories like these that take a look at the world superheroes live in from the ground up, zoomed way in on a particular character or group and this is a prime example of that. You really feel for this mook who’s just trying to make things right. The story might be a bit long (note that this collection also includes a one-off story about a guy called the Mock Turtle that ties back in, but isn’t SUPER relevant), but overall I think it’s a well told tale. The one thing that I don’t necesarily like and the element that has turned a lot of people off to the Astro City comics is Anderson’s artwork. It’s kind of muddy and maybe over-inked. Overall it’s fairly inconsistent, at times it’s spot on and works really well and at others it looks pretty bad. Not being a super-art oriented comic reader, this doesn’t bother me as much. I really urge you to push through and give it a shot anyway. Also, as I’m sure you know, Alex Ross did all the covers in this volume and they’re top notch, from when he was really on top of his game. Now I just need to get my hands on Confessions, Local Heroes and everything after the first Dark Ages trade which I read and found to be way too slow and written just like the schlocky Superman/Batman issues where Jeph Loeb kept having Superman and Batman thinking about each other in nearly identical ways.