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February 19, 2007


Saxon Brenton

With regards to the character designs, I have to offer up this nitpick: the initial design and subsequent character development for the Thing of the Fantastic Four indicates that monstrous appearance does not automatically correlate to being a villain. However, there's a two-fold problem for the Apollo Eleven in trying to tap into a vibe like that. Within the story setting their character concept is, IIRC, that they're rather remote from humanity and distrusted by it, so you're not likely to see the brains-and-tentacles thing wandering around the equivalent of Yancy Street and getting the opportunity to show what a swell guy he is. And stepping outside the setting, the storytelling style of _Astro City_ more often than not focusing on the point-of-view of the normal people means that we, the audience, are unlikely to see any stories of the A.11 hanging out wherever it is that the hang out, thereby depriving the brains-and-tentacles thing of the opportunity to show what a swell guy he is. (And when you factor in the glacial pace of _Astro City_'s publication, those chances drop significantly).

On a related but vastly more trivial matter, the furball looks more like one of the stupid stupid rat creatures to me.


I'm nearly positive that The Dark Age volume 4 will end--presumably in the mid-80s--with an epic clash involving time travel (perhaps evoking Crisis on Infinite Earths?) and it's at that point that we'll find out what happened to the Agent during that period of missing time. He did, after all, say, "There are tough times ahead," clearly suggesting that he'd seen them firsthand. But the reappearance of the Agent at the end makes sense both thematically (a return to the genuine heroism of ages past, which Busiek has already implied happens sometime around 1986, when The Samaritan first appears) and as a unifying motif.

What's odd and frustrating about the delay is that the current structure provides a perfect opportunity to use fill-in artists on the one-shot specials--and Astro City is one book that seems naturally suited to having a revolving-door art team. In fact, Busiek admitted in a letter column that that was how the series was originally planned. But no, he now insists he won't let anyone but Anderson draw the series. Baffling.


Especially since Anderson's work has been so stiff and unimaginative lately (and presumably a factor in the massive delays).

I wouldn't be surprised if The Dark Age ended with a scene that points to Samaritan's rescue of the Challenger in 1986, drawing the "Dark Age" to a close and setting the stage for the superhero renaissance that Samaritan sparks. Which would be a little self-serving, since that would tacitly praise Astro City's own role in the retro/"reconstruction" fad, even if that happened a decade later in realtime. And I expect we will see more Silver Agent--around 2009.

Saxon, you're right about the monstrous appearance, but the Thing and the Hulk (and Blok, and the Beast...) are still recognizably humanoid and they have heroic physiques. A third of the Apollo Eleven don't pass that test and would make terrible superheroes. That big gas giant guy would make a pretty decent tormented monster hero in the mighty Marvel mold (I hope his name really is Gas Giant--that would pretty much consign him to the Astro City version of Nextwave thirty years later) but the rest violate the premise that these could be actual comic book superheroes.

Jones, one of the Jones boys

Marc, is any of Astro City worth reading? I tried both Life in the Big City and Family Album. Neither seemed any better than anything else I've read by Busiek. Are other volumes better?

Jacob T. Levy

You're right about the Bronze Age's funny status. It gave us a lot of epic universe-building stories that just aren't much fun to read: the Kree-Skrull War, for example. The Satellite Era of the JLA that's now everyone's benchmark for greatness had about one year of great storytelling.

And... shh, don't tell... after everything that's been learned about comics storytelling since then, the Dark Phoenix Saga seems awfully stilted, padded, and weirdly paced...


To be fair, I'm pretty sure Busiek has been stating pretty much since the beginning of the series that in the AC universe, the "Dark Age" ended around 1986 with the arrival of the Samaritan. The "reconstruction" started as wishful thinking in the pages of Astro City, Supreme, and to a lesser degree Kingdom Come, and ended up coming true.


It's more the whole narrative of "dark ages" and "renaissances" that's self-serving--who doesn't include themselves in the renaissance? This narrative is already at least a decade old and I don't need to see another iteration. At least he isn't treating "darkness" as if it were an ontological feature, though the title comes awfully close.

Jacob: The Satellite Era of the JLA that's now everyone's benchmark for greatness had about one year of great storytelling.

I assume you mean Englehart's year, but even if you don't I'll proceed as if you do.

I like Englehart's seventies DC work a great deal. I don't mean to imply all of the seventies superhero stories are disappointments; the later in the decade you go, the more polished they get. (And I have a soft spot for the Dark Phoenix story, although the Proteus story that preceded it was probably the series' high point.) Englehart's DC work in particular joins a Marvel-style interest in backstory with a Silver Age DC polish and self-sufficiency--you don't have to have read a million other Batman or JLA stories because he's adding new pieces to the narrative rather than stretching to accomodate every possible old one. It's a synthesis of the classic Marvel and DC styles that wouldn't be matched until the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans a couple of years later.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, we see almost no seventies DC influences in The Dark Age. (Maybe we'll get an Englehart-style Confessor story after the Deacon comes to power... well, no, we won't; at best we'd get the Confessor and the Deacon moving through the background of Charles and Royal's story.) The exclusive focus on Marvel continuity pushes the series to emulate some the decade's most awkward comics.


As for Astro City, Jones, I think the first series back in 1995-96, collected in Life in the Big City, had the strongest, most consistent work. The longer story arcs, Confessions and The Tarnished Angel, both have great promise that somehow dissipates by story's end. The Tarnished Angel has a wonderful penultimate issue and a disappointing finale.

Family Album... I think that was a catchall collecting one of the series' best-crafted stories (the Junkman) with some of its worst forays into the petty epiphany. Local Heroes collects the very worst, and is best avoided.

If you didn't like Life in the Big City, Astro City may not be for you. But I'll let others weigh in with their recommendations. What do you think?

Stephen Frug

Haven't read the recent Dark Ages stuff, but that aside, of the first five or so trades, Life in the City is pretty clearly the best. If you don't like it I wouldn't pursue other Astro City volumes.

And... shh, don't tell... after everything that's been learned about comics storytelling since then, the Dark Phoenix Saga seems awfully stilted, padded, and weirdly paced...

Very much so.

Bruce Baugh

What the Dark Phoenix storyline has going for it, though, is invention. You're seeing stuff get done for the first time. Despite all its weirdnesses, and some of the early glimpses into Claremont's fetishes that would mess up many a story later, I re-read it every so often and still dig it - not in an ironic "ha ha it clunks and I'm so superior for seeing it" way, but in a spirit not very far removed from what I first felt reading it issue by issue as it came out. I feel much the same way about the Great Darkness story, which has some really weird blips and blivets, but nonetheless has a power to command my attention.


Here is part of the issue with reading comics like this that are so groundbreaking. Marvels was Busiek's first foray into the Citizen-POV story and Astro City was a continuation of that idea. Reading these stories 10-12 years after the fact puts one in the position of likely having read other material that bases itself on the same concept - which was original at the time.

(Same with the Dark Phoenix Saga, BTW - that episodic storytelling style that jumped from scene to scene became more polished as the writing craft in comics in general did so)

At any rate, if you didn't like Life in the Big City, then - as indicated previously - KBAC is not for you. I find it to still be a wonderful read, but mostly because I've been there since the start. It was my favorite comic book for the first 5 years or so and then they stopped making it with any regularity. I agree that it would be fun to see other artists on the book, but I doubt that Brent Anderson's work is in any way slowing down the book's schedule. It's not as if he has so many gigs that he doesn't have the time to do the book.

Just my 2¢

Pax, harmonia,
Brian G. Philbin

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