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Astro City #2 – Review

ASTRO CITY #2

By: Kurt Busiek (story), Brent Eric Anderson (art), Alex Sinclair (colors)

The Story: Technical support—do you have super-crime to report?  Please hold.

The Review: The idea of technical support for superheroes is nothing new.  As characters like Snapper Carr or Oracle prove, plenty of other writers have arrived at the conclusion that any modern vision of superheroism requires some attention to administration.  It’s asking too much of readers to accept anymore that the only time a hero will leap into action is if he happens to be in the right place and right time.

It’s particularly interesting to compare Busiek’s idea of the Honor Guard call center to Kieron Gillen’s depiction of the emergency call line Prodigy operated in Young Avengers #6.  Gillen uses the concept to poke fun at the clichés of the superhero genre, coming up with ridiculously elaborate emergencies and allowing Prodigy to respond with advice equally as ridiculous and elaborate.  In contrast, there’s not a trace of irony in the way Marella or any of her fellow H.G. responders conduct their business.  Unlike Prodigy, they are driven in their work, despite how much more banal their own phone calls are.

Even though Busiek keeps his conception of superhero technical support completely grounded, and often dives into long, involved explanations of its operations, he has such a matter-of-fact way of explaining things that it comes across as fascinating, not dry.  True, these operators aren’t responding to ninja attacks of alien explosives directly; their job is more along the lines of data analysis, filtering out the hysterical and paranoid and predicting the legitimate threats.  Yet the focus with which they parse the oft-times vague and minimal information given them, connecting the dots to find something worth an Honor Guard response, is awesome in its own way, and actually more impressive than Prodigy’s listless genius.

Your respect comes from the fact that these are truly ordinary people, though obviously talented.  None have superpowers to speak of.  They come equipped only with their intelligence, integrity, good sense, compassion, and ambition, making them completely relatable, so much so that some of you may feel as if Busiek is writing about you.  Even without that extra level of familiarity, you get so invested in Marella’s eagerness to make the big save that when her boss shows up to berate all the overachievers for placing personal glory over their true mission, you feel your ears burning right with her:

“There are 3412 of you on the phones.  There are less than 150 second-level analysts, and the specialty teams are even smaller.  They can’t do their jobs if they’re overwhelmed doing yours.”

Uncomfortable as the scene may be, it only grounds you further in the story’s reality, lending the more fantastic moments a delightful wonder that you usually take for granted in superhero comics nowadays.  It goes to show that just operating in the fringes of the superhero world comes with its own glamour: direct contact with celebrated icons, using the teleporters to have an extravagant girls’ day out in Paris, etc.

It’s then devastating for Marella to have found peace in the ordinariness of her extraordinary life, to have set side her ego for the nobility of her work, only to discover that there’s a thin line between entering a comfort zone and getting complacent.  However, this is where about the only defect in Busiek’s script appears: a failure to make a connection between a young girl’s battered mother and an international piracy ring.  Having Marella blame herself for the incident seems not only cruel, but unfounded as well.

Anderson’s art has evolved significantly even from just the last issue.  His lines are much, much tighter, rendering a cleaner, more conventionally appealing look that’s almost mainstream.  In fact, once Sinclair applies his always dazzling colors to the figures, you have something that nearly resembles a Phil Jimenez comic—no joke.  Although Anderson’s action sequences are still awkwardly choreographed and chaotic, you can imagine this as a kind of reflection of the generally over-the-top nature of superhero action.

Conclusion: Busiek continues to prove the master of finding the universal elements in extraordinary circumstances, and at the rate of Anderson’s artistic evolution, we’ll have a near-perfect series before long.

Grade: A-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - Having recently seen and bought Jiro Dreams of Sushi (which I highly recommend, by the way), I know that if I had access to a teleporter, I’d take myself to his subway sushi shop and treat myself—30,000 yen price tag be damned.

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3 Responses

  1. Good review Minhquan! I have enjoyed nearly every Astro City book / series I’ve ever read. I’m not sure if you’ve read any of the older series (especially the ones from the ’90s), but if so how would you compare this series to those?

    • The tone is definitely the same: thoughtful, introspective, and warmly human. If there’s any difference at all, it’s very subtle–perhaps in the way Busiek seems to have a much clearer direction for the series than he may have had on the first run of Astro City. Otherwise, it feels very much like he simply picked up where he left off.

  2. Gah, gah–I’ve corrected the error. Thanks for the heads up!

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