This series is one of the most highly touted that I have read. It was first released in 1996, so it has been out there for a while. The covers were drawn by Alex Ross, who was the artist in Kingdom Come and one of my favorite artists, so they are top notch. Kurt Busiek has been around for quite a while and has worked on a ton of comics in his career, in fact he has practically worked for every publisher and with every character in the biz. He also has a truck load of awards to go along with his career.
Astro City is about a fictional city somewhere in the US where a group of superheroes keep its citizens safe, pretty cliché but don’t worry it gets better. Sounds like any other comic you pick up right? Well this one is quite a bit different. Kurt creates a whole new world, which is not that uncommon, but he also creates a whole new group of superheroes to protect the city as well. There are heroes that resemble those that you are use to reading about (having similar powers) but they are all different characters and have equally different personalities.
The thing that separates this series from any other superhero comic is the fact that the reader gets to see how the normal citizens of the city live. You get to see what their lives are like and how they deal with having super powered beings watching over them. I think this aspect gets lost a lot of times in most modern comics. Although, I think the Marvel Frontline series was a great series along these same lines, but that is a whole other review.
I wish I could comment more on the story but there is not that much more to say. The book is comprised of 5 chapters and they are all over the place, which is not a bad thing. But it was not quite what I was expecting. I expected to have a continuous story about the superheroes and what not for 5 chapters. Instead of the 5 stories only a few focus on the heroes and the rest just have to do with some average people in the city. Again that aspect of the story is neat but at the same time I felt some of those chapters were a little boring, not much was going on. There is somewhat of a fine line between building this city and the people that live in it vs focusing on the heroes. The other thing that was hard to get past was that none of the chapters had anything to do with the previous or the next. Each one was a standalone story. I assume the idea here is to continue to build the world and show the different lives that are involved in the city, so that is kind of cool, but I would have liked to see a little more of how the stories were connected. If does not appear they are, which is fine, but to me it just seems like a jumbled mess of randomness.
All that being said there was one chapter that I thought was very interesting. There was a chapter where the Samaritan, a Superman type hero, and what I thought was the Astro City equivalent to Wonder Woman, go out on a date. That was very interesting, you never see that in other comics, or at least I never really have. I have seen in other comics where two heroes were dating, but this one was different. This story involved the first date and it was interesting to see the two of them interacting. Superheroes can save the world but the opposite sex is tough to figure out, and if they struggle imagine what it must be like for us normal folk. The other interesting aspect of the book is that in other super hero books all the heroes seem to really know each other. In Astro City they don’t seem to have that friendship or comradery that other groups like the J.L. or the X-Men seem to have. The heroes in Astro City seem to be more or less strangers that know of each other. That is why the first date between the two characters was interesting because it was more or less a blind date between two superheroes, maybe they are not so different from us?
The artwork in the story is pretty good, not great. The cover art is phenomenal as it was done by Alex Ross as I mentioned above. It reminds me of an older style similar to what was in 7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison. It is not bad by any means but nothing to brag about either, it gets the job done. The page layouts are pretty standard, again nothing that is going to knock your socks off. Although there were a few cool scenes throughout the book. The colors in the book are average. I felt there was too much shading going on, too much black. Everything was seemed to have a dark outline that I feel dulled the colors quite a bit. I think this has more to do with the art style than the colorist. One other thing to mention is that at the end there are a few pages with all the cover art as well as some sketches of the heroes along with some commentary from the author. It is interesting to hear what he has to say about how some of the characters were created. I also wanted to say that there are about 8 trades out there that are in this series. I do not know much about them other than they are out there, so if you really like this one I would check out the others.
Overall this is a neat book and a great change up from the normal Superhero genre. There are a lot of interesting ideas going on and there is a lot of creativity that went into creating a whole new superhero world. The artwork along with the page layouts and colors are average, but you are not reading this book necessarily for the art. If you are looking for a change up from the normal superhero book check this out, it’s an oldie but a goody.