By: Kurt Busiek (story), Brent Eric Anderson (art), Alex Sinclair (colors)
The Story: The Trinity of Astro City come together and just barely avoid a trademark violation.
The Review: The brilliance behind Astro City is despite its cornucopia of heroes and villains, the focus is rarely on the supers or their endless battles. There is, however, one distinct benefit to being a superhero in Astro City: civilians come and go, entering the spotlight for an issue or so before moving on, but the capes are constant. No matter how powerful each Astro citizen’s story, it’s the ones in costume that remain recognizable over the course of the series.
This is especially true for Samaritan, Winged Victory, and Confessor, who are as much icons for the Astro City universe as their forbears, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, are for the DCU. While mostly useful as stand-ins for more famous, but copyright-protected figures, this particular trinity of heroes does occasionally bear intriguing stories of their own, as character-driven and relatable as any tale from the Astro citizenry.
Busiek’s emphasis on accessibility has an interesting reverse effect on the title’s superheroes as it does on the title’s more ordinary protagonists. Most issues are about finding the epic in a normal human experience; issues like this one are about taking the epic and humanizing it to a scale that we can connect to. Despite the fantastic context behind Victory’s problems, their underlying tension is appreciably recognizable:
“Her fate…trusted to men. Well-meaning men, perhaps. But men. Men in authority over women. Men making the decisions, backed up with the threat of force. For someone who’s fought so long to give women power over their own lives, it must be a bitter pill to swallow.”
Victory is forced by circumstance to be more accommodating to these men than she might otherwise be inclined, but even this degree of cooperation, to an ultra-feminist, is tantamount to retreat, and retreat is just a fancy way of saying that she’s being forced to run away. At least this withdrawal is involuntary, compared to the humiliating flights she engaged in as Lauren Freed. But the echoes of her former weakness are still there, rationalizing the control she’s just ceded to several men: “They’re just doing what they do, and you—you’ve got to let them. You don’t have the leverage right now. Don’t have—”
While Busiek makes a strong case for a super-centric arc through Victory’s inner and outer turmoil, the other aspects of the story are conventional superhero through and through, particularly where Samaritan and Confessor are concerned. Their brief spar, motivated by misunderstanding and a little ego, is very World’s Finest. You can easily imagine Batman in Confessor’s place as he mocks Samaritan, enjoying the challenge of pitting himself against an indisputably more powerful being. Samaritan’s stern annoyance as he pushes through Confessor’s various tricks is pure Superman. It’s a well-written scene for what it is, but it also feels strangely foreign in a series that usually avoids such clichés.
Anderson is obviously a gifted artist in many respects, but he does struggle when Astro City’s more traditionally superheroic elements come into play. The battle between Confessor and Samaritan is fine, but affected by an awkward flow and somewhat clumsy posing. Sinclair, a mainstream comics pro, has no such problem living up to the razzle-dazzle that makes for outstanding superhero stories, at least where colors are concerned.
Conclusion: Astro City has always had a somewhat confusing relationship to its superhero side, which reveals itself in this issue. Still, there’s enough of Busiek’s usual spirit here to make the story worthwhile.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I can’t help noticing that Meg cheers on Samaritan during his duel with Confessor. Guess she’s not quite the purebred man-hater she makes herself out to be.