‘Astro City’: The Comic You Should Be Reading This Week, And More Reviews

Senior Contributor
06.06.13


Astro City has been sorely, sorely missed. The beloved series, as we noted, never really stopped being made, it just took a publishing hiatus. And now it’s not only back, it’s better than ever.

We don’t want to ruin the plot for the first issue, except to say that it’s Busiek’s unique spin on an old chestnut: The Everyman winding up trying to explain Earth and humanity to an extremely powerful outsider. It’s classic Astro City, however: Busiek avoids cliche in the plotting while infusing the book with the most genuine warmth and affection for superhero comics you’ll find on the stands. Most writers would put a cynical twist on the goings-on here, but Busiek deftly avoids that while keeping the book intelligent, and maintaining an edge of suspense with an unreliable narrator letting us know something is up.

It’s also a book you can pick up without having to have read anything that came before. Although the book is sprinkled with nods to previous arcs, you don’t need to have read it to follow the plot or understand the characters.

Brent Anderson, meanwhile, turns in art that can make even the most ridiculous of characters fit smoothly into a realistic, or at least grounded, world. Take, for example, American Chibi:

Yes, this book features an anime character. And she’s actually one of the funniest things about this issue, but notice that she’s drawn in such a way that she makes a form of sense; she may be ridiculous, but she fits right in in Astro City.

Funny without being snarky, affectionate without being fanboyish, beautiful without being elaborate, Astro City has been away for far too long. It’s good to see it back, and we hope it stays around for a while.

So, what about the other comics this week?

One of the strangest books DC has put out in recent years continues. J.M. DeMatteis and Fernando Blanco really run with the religious nature of this book; somewhere, there is a thesis about the theology of the DCU, and this book will likely be one of the central documents. DeMatteis isn’t shy about showing us just how ugly the Phantom Stranger’s personal hell actually is, leading to one of the stronger issues of this unusual book.

Fernando Blanco, meanwhile, quietly hands in some fascinating art. He can handle drawing human being stripped of literally everything doing something horrifying and an adorable little Scottie with equal aplomb. This decidedly is not for everybody, but if nothing else, it’s definitely something you don’t see on the stands every week.

Speaking of an exploration of religion, ever wonder how Swamp Thing would have dealt with nature worshipers being persecuted by the Inquisition? No? Then you’re not Charles Soule.

Soule got handed a hard job: Follow up Scott Snyder’s superb run on this book. But he’s more than up to the task, with an arc exploring just what Alec Holland is really afraid of, and now this, setting off an arc with Holland settling some old business even as he’s forced to clean up some old business from the past.

Jesus Saiz, meanwhile, does a solid job with the art, with nice touches like a subtle pattern added to the art on a flashback. In all, a good start to a promising arc.

Hal Jordan takes over the Corps, despite his protestations that this is a really bad idea. Robert Venditti goes on to prove that, yeah, this might actually be a really bad idea. We won’t ruin how, precisely, Hal’s impulsiveness gets him stuck in the hot seat but suffice to say, it’s not good news.

The book itself, however, is quite well done. The opening is Carol dumping Hal, yes, again, but she’s got better reasons than usual. Billy Tan and Richard Friend do a solid job with the art, although one wishes Friend was allowed to do a bit more, with the book relying on the coloring team for some parts where it feels like it could use some inks. Overall, though, a solid launch to the new arc.

I remain on the fence about Gail Simone’s book. I found the first issue to be a bit heavy-handed politically, aggravated not least by the black-and-white morality on display and the dour tone. For a book like this to not come off as a screed, it has to be a bit more deft than it has been so far.

That said, it was just one issue, and the second issue shows more character depth than the first. Still, the book feels shaky; Freddie Williams II feels like he needs a little more time on the art, and the book is still filling in its characters. Nonetheless, it’s worth a third issue.

John Layman introduces Penumbra, a villain that Batman has history with, at least if you’ve read the annual attached. Mostly this issue is interested for the building up of Harper Row, who’s looking more and more like she’s going to be the new Robin, or at least more of a part of the Bat-team. It’s engaging enough but Layman is capable of a bit more than this book turns out to be, especially as the excellent supporting story featuring Man-Bat demonstrates. If you just want a one-and-done Batbook, this will serve you well, but I might recommend picking up some of Layman’s back issues instead.

James Robinson makes an odd choice in this book to have an action scene we don’t see with Captain Steel. Robinson’s affection for the JSA regularly shines through in this book, but essentially we have a lot of build-up and then… we cut to Hawkgirl fighting guys riding giant rats in a graveyard.

It’s an odd choice, although Yildiray Cinar and Rob Hunter do some lovely, detailed work on the book that make it a fun, well-paced read. It’s a solid, if lesser, entry in this series, but little beyond that.

A special issue with guest art that we discussed in an interview earlier this week, this issue is interesting if for no other reason than the continued character growth of Emp, our heroine and increasingly one of the most smart-assed superheroes out there.

The book is a mixture of gorgeously rendered full color art from John Staton and pages drawn by Warren which basically feature Emp destroying the logic behind superhero fight cliches, mixed with callbacks to the previous books. And, of course, the book has a twist at the very end. It’s a fun short story, although it just makes our longing for the next volume that much more intense. An idea book for fans.

Man, poor Abe just cannot catch a break.

Mike Mignola and Scott Allie oddly decide to pay off the final issue of this fairly quiet and lingering series with a massive action sequence. True, it illustrates that Abe is right to be worried about how humanity will take him in light of what’s happening in the other B.P.R.D. books, but it’s an abrupt tonal shift to the book.

Sebastián Fiumara and Max Fiumara, though, continue to hand in some top-notch art. Their work has a texture that gives it a sense of place and a realistic feeling that lets the story flow. It’s some gorgeous work, and we hope they stick with this ongoing for a long, long time.

While I’m back and forth about whether Mr. X, as a series, was best left in the past, it’s undeniable that this miniseries has taken a compelling turn. Dean Motter has apparently decided to give us a few clues about where, precisely, the enigmatic architect has come from, if the cliffhanger of this book is any indication.

Meanwhile, though, Motter’s artwork continues to be the best thing about the book. A mix of ’50s style and clean, spare design, it’s attention-getting and gorgeous stuff. It’s worth picking up this book just to enjoy its sheer sense of style.

In case the food lines, violence, death, and economic collapse that opened this book didn’t clue you in, things are really, really bad in the universe of the Victories. But, this being a superhero book, things can get worse, and a supervillain breaking out of jail developing a sudden cannibalism streak is definitely a lower point.

What stands out the most, though, is the quiet moments. There’s a sad moment in the book that drives home how bad things are in two pages, that’s simply a man accepting his lot in life and getting ready to walk, across the country, to see his son again. Michael Avon Oeming is really building out his unique superhero world in a way that pulls in new readers, and if you’re looking for a gritty superhero book, this will fit the bill.

After two somewhat lackluster issues, this miniseries has finally picked up. Chris Ryall finally pays off a whole bunch of plot threads in rather spectacular fashion, ending this book on a cliffhanger that makes me actually want to read the next issue right now.

Drew Moss, meanwhile, continues to deliver a good mix of cartoony and gory that suits the tone this book is striving for, and is fairly funny in its own right. He’s been the best part of this book and that continues with plenty of action sequences. In short, it was a slow burn but this book is finally taking off.

If you’ve ever seen Ren and Stimpy, you know what you’re in for with John Kricfalusi. Honestly, this collection of comics pages tends to blur the line between funny and grotesque, juvenile and troubling. Whether or not you like this book is going to depend fairly heavily on where you fall with toilet humor, but if that’s your thing, here’s 162 pages of it!

Fred Van Lente continues to make this book better and better. This is possibly the most hilariously ridiculous issue of the book yet, with aliens, puerile humor, Emily Dickinson quotes, family reunions, gunplay and… well, we don’t want to ruin the last panel of the book, but suffice to say Van Lente will want you to keep reading.

Pere Perez also does a wonderful job with the art, balancing the comedy and the action quite nicely. You will believe a scientist can freak out on the verge of wetting himself. In all, a book worth reading.

Question: How do you make zombies scarier?

Answer, according to Justin Jordan: Put them all under the thrall of a snarky, evil hive-mind, namely Baron Samedi. Jordan neatly inverts the usual zombie story and puts our hero at the head of a horde, and it’s a lot of fun to read, if a little brief. Nonetheless, a solid entry in a good reboot.

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