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

The Story: Never mess with a man’s data wall, especially a Broken Man’s.

The Review: In the short time that it’s returned to the living, Astro City has quickly gotten us back into its rhythm of done-in-one’s and two’s, so much so that you’ve nearly forgotten that there’s an overarching plot lurking around somewhere.  It’s been four months since we last saw the Broken Man and his ranting and raving about Oubor and nothing we’ve read so far has given us even a hint about what’s happening on that front.

Here, Busiek makes up a bit for lost time, even against Broken Man’s will.  True to the purple-skinned man’s name, however, the information receive is fractured into vignettes, each of which sheds a little light, a mere candle-flicker, onto this thing he’s striving against.  The pieces aren’t such that you can fit them together into a coherent picture, but you can at least get some sense of what we’ll ultimately be dealing with here.

Our first story, featuring Caleb “Cal” Tarrant and his Blasphemy Boys, lays out the scope of Oubor, although no one actually refers to it as such.  As Hunky, Cal’s teammate, says while under possession, “I feel it in my brain.  It’s so big.  So old.  It’s terrifying, but it’s so…it’s everything, Cal, everything…I gotta gather you in, Cal.  Gotta gather us all in.”  This all sounds like big talk until we see that even in death, Hunky’s spirit can’t escape whatever has captured him.  It may or may not be “everything,” but its reach stretches pretty far, evidently.

Given the terror visited upon Hunky’s soul, Oubor at first seems like a more esoteric, intangible sort of being.  Our understanding of its nature is subsequently shaken by the second story, featuring a Chicago working man playing the prophet in a jungle backwater called Lakhimpur.  As “the Serpent’s Tongue,” speaking on behalf of “the ancient, bloodthirsty god,” Benjamin Naparski doesn’t contradict Hunky’s vision of Oubor, but then he slips behind the curtain to reveal a large, reptilian creature in a glass container, at which point Broken Man leaps in, screaming, “Are you mad?!  It’ll see you!!

He’s very intent on limiting the amount of information you get on Oubor, no matter how scant or indirect, claiming that mere “contact” is enough to get it in your brain.  Looking at poor Hunky, that’s a fate best avoided.  But what’s the point of enlisting our “help” if he won’t let us in on what he wants?  It doesn’t seem quite fair to rely on our insatiable thirst for stories to gather information for his own ends, but refuse to let us poke our nose into his affairs a little.

Even when he throws us a bone, it’s a bare one indeed.  The third story, of Dame Progress’ rivalry with the easygoing Mister Cakewalk, is far more substantial than the other two, but lacks their insight into Oubor.  The only connection among them is the dame’s search for “the Star of Lahkimpur,” the same Lahkimpur that Naparski had expatriated himself to.  No word on what the Star does, only that it’s crucial for Dame Progress to defeat one of her major rogues.  But it’s such a fun, interesting story, with the kind of quirky character work* and smart plot twists (“transporting colored men and women—free colored men and women—back to Revolutionary times, where he was selling them into slavery!”) we’ve come to expect from a typical Busiek issue, that we don’t notice we’ve been cheated out of more details on Oubor until it’s too late.

Anderson has always produced admirable art for this series, but you can never shake the feeling that he’s just on the cusp of real greatness.  He lacks just a touch of tightness to his linework, a smidgeon of organization in his action panels, that renders his work less striking than it has every capability to be.  Sinclair’s almost glossy colors help, but they don’t put the art over the edge into classic territory.

Conclusion: A lot of story for not as much usable information.  Although Busiek and Anderson’s skills are very much on point, it’s not quite as meaningful a product as previous issues.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * In almost any other context, the characterization of Mister Cakewalk would be provoking an outcry from the NAACP right about now.  “Well, Lawzy, Missy Progress—”  I mean, really?

– As someone who spent a lot of time in Chicago, I appreciate that Naparski, a “Polskie Wille boy from old Chicago” likes to call any group of men “Joes.”