Zilla and the Comics Junkies

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Astro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big City

Let me start by saying that i love Kurt Busiek's work on Conan (i've read every issue), but otherwise i'm not all that familiar w/ the guy.  I knew going in that Astro City would be a far cry from the sandal-footed, broadsword-wielding Cimmerian, but i'm not sure i really had any idea what to expect until i actually sat down with it...

Probably the coolest (and most obvious) plus going for Astro City is it's format.  Busiek has written a series of vignettes deftly tied together by a common location, rather than by specific characters or events (though there is some strategically placed crossover between stories; often as simple as a news report of an event from a previous story or a well placed background cameo), each lasting the length of one issue.

Most impressively though, Busiek manages to write the city itself as if it were a living, breathing entity; revered (and respected) by it's inhabitants - good, bad, high class, and low.  Astro city herself is an identifiable character - developed as any (issue by issue) - and this makes for the true strength of the collection IMO.

This first volume contains 5 complete shorts (all taking place in Astro City of course), a few of which i slow-paced and enjoyed, and a couple i sped through in a rush to get to the next (that's the catch 22 of short stories sometimes, you know there is one to follow so it's easy to get ADD at times). 

The first, a heavy, "day in the life" story of one of Astro City's greatest superheroes (think Superman) and his inner struggles, was right up my alley and well enjoyable (a gritty, honest look at the life of a people's champ superhero is always welcome in my camp).

There's also a great short about a woman's desire to escape from her ghetto-esque vampire/demon infested neighborhood into the gleaming (and polar opposite) city center where she works.  She longs to get out of her crummy, oft haunted neighborhood, until she ultimately realizes that the underworld elements of her home actually serve to protect her and her family from the rampant super villain crime that plagues other parts of the city (a good "be careful what you wish for" story).  I didn't particularly like this one until the last few pages...  proves how a good ending can change everything :)

My favorite though is the story of petty criminal who mistakenly spies the identity of a well-known hero (the very cool Jack-in-the-Box) and can't decide whether or not to reveal it (or to whom) while he lives in fear of being silenced.  Great stuff that one, i actually read it twice before continuing to the next ;)

I'm giving a ton of credit to Busiek and gang for creating a living city complete w/ identifiable good and bad parts of town, loads of good and bad guys (though many were a bit corny and/or idealized for my taste) and above all a well developed personality of it's own.   There's a good stock of extras in the back of this TP that let you in on just how much work actually went into creating Astro City before the first story was even written (and some great sketches and awesome, awesome Alex Ross covers).

After just one volume though, i can't help but feel that (although entertaining for sure) Astro City's potential is as of yet unrealized.  Personally i hope that future volumes in the series pick it up to the level of acclaim that this book generally receives...  Not to say you should hesitate though, there are plenty of GOOD reasons to read Astro City Volume 1: Life in the Big CityB


09 May, 2006 19:14, Blogger Rob H said...

Sounds like a pretty good book to be reading. Thanks for the write up.

I've also decided to pick up the ALIAS Omnibus(only $70 at my LCS). Not sure when I'll pick it up but it's on my list.

09 May, 2006 19:36, Blogger zilla said...

yeah rob i hope you enjoy Alias as much as i did (PS that Thor panel you loved was from there too).

for some reason i feel like my Astro City review sucked. i wrote it w/ some serious quickness on a break from work and didn't really edit. sorry guys.

09 May, 2006 21:31, Anonymous CellarDoor said...

I've hear from other sources that the first trade is not necessarily the best. I believe that the others are longer story arcs. The review was good, it convinced me to buy it, but I think it will be a ways down on my wishlist.

09 May, 2006 21:38, Blogger zilla said...

yeah i have to admit Astro City wasn't all that i expected... maybe my expectations were too high though. i did enjoy it (esp the couple of shorts i mentioned in my review), just wasn't floored.

09 May, 2006 21:40, Blogger Mark Fossen said...

Zilla -

I'm a big Astro City fan, myself. In fact the Wizard 1/2 issue (not sure which trade it's in) is one of my top few single issues of anything. Ever.

I think you'd really dig the next TP, Confession.

09 May, 2006 22:29, Blogger zilla said...

mark - i've heard they get better and better and even that this first volume is just the tip of the iceberg... one of the things i love about the short story format is you don't have to love every issue to consider the trade a worthwhile read ;)

10 May, 2006 00:05, Anonymous cmoney said...

I recently (as in today) finished a read-through of all of the current Astro City volumes except "Tarnished Angel" (still waiting for it in the mail). I loved it every bit as much as I did the first time I read it. I don't think the characters are "corny," I think they're just archetypes Busiek uses to explore areas that couldn't really be explored with the characters they obviously evoke. The thing about Astro City is that it has a history, and Astro City's history sort of parallels the history of comics too. It's really a great read, I can't wait for "The Dark Age" story to start up again.

10 May, 2006 07:50, Blogger zilla said...

cmoney - i certainly don't think all (or even most) of the characters are corny, just *some* (which is to be expected given different taste etc.). for example i loved samaritan, el robo, and jack-in-the-box, but found crackerjack irritating :)

i've heard that the Astro City stories get better and better... which volume should i read next (and does anyone have a list of all of them?).

10 May, 2006 11:13, Blogger Mark Fossen said...

Zilla -

Confession comes next, and you'll love it.

Just don't let anyone blow the ending for you.

10 May, 2006 23:07, Anonymous cmoney said...

I believe the order is Confession, then Family Album, then Tarnished Angel, then Local Heroes. I think the first part of the Dark Ages saga is coming out this year as well (supposedly, The Dark Ages is a 12-issue storyline broken up into 3 smaller ones, someone can correct me if I've got that wrong). Dark Ages deals with hints dropped throughout the previous issues about what happened with and to the Silver Agent in the 70s...


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In no particular order:

Criminal, The Goon, Daredevil, Exterminators, Punisher, Hellboy/B.P.R.D (All), Powers, Godland, Usagi Yojimbo, The Walking Dead, Invincible, Conan, Ex Machina, DMZ, Desolation Jones, Fell, 100 Bullets, All-Star Superman, Ultimates 2, Loveless, and Fear Agent.

I'm recently back reading after a 15 year comics hiatus.

Zilla is not my real name.

I'm from Tejas living in VA. I'm married w/ 2 dogs. I'm an IT security consultant cranking the wheel for a big consulting firm in "real" life.

I watch the History Channel, Nat'l Geo, TLC, Mil Channel, ESPN and NFL Network, CourtTV (forensic files, etc.) and the Cartoon Network (love Genndy T's Samurai Jack and Clone Wars Adventures). My taste in movies: Gladiator, Last Samurai, Braveheart, Godfather, Tarantino (whatever), Kung-Fu (whatever), Westerns, Top Gun, Big Lebowski.

I love the outdoors and bs'ing around w/ my dogs.

In addition to being a comics junkie, i'm also a sports junkie especially when it comes to the Texas Longhorns and the Dallas Cowboys.

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