By: Kurt Busiek (story), Brent Eric Anderson (art), Wendy Broome (colors)

The Story: Why chase supervillains when you can eat English muffins with jam?

The Review: I’ve spent a lot of time—some would say too much time—pondering on what I’d do if I had superpowers of my very own.  I’m sadly unimaginative in these daydreams; most involve me cheating my way out of school in one respect or another.*  It rarely occurred to me to use my powers for the greater good, in some kind of costumed capacity.  I don’t know; I never saw myself in spandex.  Indeed, the very idea is too disturbing to contemplate for very long.

I imagine that for a lot of us, our instinct would be to approach our superpowers as we would with any special talent: more for our self-interest than for the public interest.  I mean, as many many star athletes and brainiacs that do end up in non-profits or government work, there are leagues more who decide to apply their gifts towards making a living, the typically profit-driven way.  Martha Sullivan, this issue’s featured Astro citizen, does just that, revealing that there’s a trade-off between glory and peace of mind when you decide to use your powers for something between heroism and villainy.

Martha is yet another of those everyman characters for which Busiek has become rightfully famous.  Like Ben and Marella before her, Martha engages you not so much with details of her personal life, but with the completely relatable qualities of her personality.  She’s centered and down-to-earth, but with enough sass and temper to remain interesting, so much so that Busiek can merely suggest that she’s gay and never have to elaborate.  She’s strong enough in herself to support the weight of her character without resorting to progressive appeals.

There’s just something so unself-conscious about the way Busiek gets right to the heart of matters in the plainest terms.  His directness almost never fails to strike some part of your heart, making it easy to sympathize with whatever feelings his characters are experiencing at that moment.  Take Martha’s juvenile attempts at superheroism: “…it wasn’t thrilling.  It was scary.  Even when I didn’t see any crime, which was most of the time.”  And then the utter sense of failure she experiences afterward when she finally hangs up her (tie-dyed) costume: “It tore me up back then.”

Even though she never does become a hero or villain worthy of her formidable telekinetic powers, she does gain some things few heroes or villains in this genre ever do: self-reflection, and through that, a measure of wisdom.  You can see it in her final scene with Samaritan.  As noble and beloved as he is, you can see how he’s constantly distracted by his work, while Martha has the luxury to appreciate the goodness of her life.  Without ever sounding preachy or defensive, she imparts some valuable lessons about perspective.  You don’t need to wear a cape and mask to show courage and strength, and you don’t need to be on a team of vigilantes to find a community that’s got your back.

Busiek doesn’t need to demean or degrade the work of a superhero to elevate the appeal of a more ordinary lifestyle, but he does enjoy poking some fun at the lamer aspects of the genre.  Majordomo is certainly a caricature of the melodramatic, hopelessly shortsighted villains that plague comics, and through him, Busiek calls attention to confusing code names, logistical silliness, and pointless pretenses (“His henchmen were still getting used to calling him ‘Sire.’  He was new,” Martha observes wryly).

Anderson is gradually refining his work to be less stiff and more natural.  Even though his sense of posture is such that the characters often look frozen in rather awkward and forced positions, they’ve gradually grown more free-flowing in their movements.  Anderson is helped a great deal by the series’ colorists, who apply vibrant, striking colors to the pages that convey the energy of a superhero comic without its usual chaos and oversaturation.

Conclusion: The art is comfortable, though not ideal, but the scripting remains a treasure.  Busiek may be the most cost-effective storyteller in the business, delivering more meaning and substance in one issue than most can in six.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Invisibly snatch the answer key; telepathically glean the answers from the teacher’s brain; use energy blasts/weather control/super-strength to reduce the campus to rubble.  Clearly, I have a love-hate relationship with academia.