Issues of the Day: “Astro City” #1 (2013)

July 3, 2013

In his afterword to Astro City #1, writer Kurt Busiek remarks that this issue is actually the sixtieth in the ongoing series, returning from a lengthy, sporadically interrupted hiatus. Busiek tells readers who may not have read those previous issues not to worry: “we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know as we go, just as we did in this issue.” Did they? Is Astro City #1 a great introduction to the city where superheroes of all stripes are an everyday occurrence? Let’s ask the SFC’s Dan and Mike to weigh in…

Is the issue a good introduction to Astro City?

Dan:  Yes, yes, yes, yes… I love Astro City. I love Kurt Busiek’s writing. I love Brent Anderson’s illustrations. And I love Alex Ross’ designs and covers. This relaunch of the title is a good (though not the best) Astro City story. It shows off some of the diversity and richness of Astro City and helps get the reader prepared for more adventures in the true capital of superheroes.


Mike: Absolutely it does, in several ways. Our narrator, an enigmatic but engaging (albeit possibly insane) character called The Broken Man, “breaks the fourth wall,” directly addressing readers, drawing them into Busiek’s fantastically creative city. The story begins in the middle of fast-paced, high-stakes action that sparkles (check out that two-page splash of superheroes and military flying machines assaulting the closed doors in the sky). Return visitors will meet heroes they remember, as well as figures everyone’s getting to know for the first time, like American Chibi (“I’m not sure about her,” The Broken Man dryly remarks. “She might just be enthusiastic or she might be an idiot”). And if all that weren’t enough, Busiek sets up an emotionally interesting human drama, as Ben Pullam quietly wrestles with a mid-life crisis that leads him to accept a Close Encounters-esque summons to adventure. Busiek is an unerringly confident storyteller, and readers should have no problem following his firm, narrative hand. Pullam’s journey across a wondrous threshold into a new world may is the perfect metaphor for what readers will experience as they open this issue.

Does the issue conform to canon?

Dan:  Yes. As Busiek notes, this issue is a continuation of the Astro City title from where he left off when it ceased publication in 2010. This is not a reboot, and all canon established beforehand is still standing. Sure, this is a #1 and a new volume, but it could also be the next number from where the first volume left off years ago.

astro city samaritanWith that being said, I am glad that they included the Samaritan in this issue, as it said to me, “Yes, he’s still around; yes, this is your Astro City; yes, faithful reader, you do not need to worry—all the pieces are where they should be.” He is probably one of the most prominent heroes in town, and likely the one that will remind you most of Superman.  I think this same point is made by the inclusion of Ben Pullam, just a regular guy who we had met earlier as he contemplated if living in Astro City was a good choice for him and his family. The issue really does feel like a continuation of where Astro City last left off.

Mike: I have to confess, while I own almost all the Astro City trade paperbacks, I’ve only actually read the first one, along with a handful of recent single issues. But it’s obvious the series is Busiek’s love letter to superhero comics, so I can’t imagine he’s contradicting himself! The issue certainly sits squarely within the conventions of the superhero genre, as well as some of its specific highlights. The emergence of gigantic Telseth from behind those huge doors, for instance, struck me as an homage to Galactus’ many visitations in the Marvel world—not just an homage, of course, but certainly a little “Kirby crackle” wouldn’t have been amiss! At the same time, it tweaks comic book tropes: Telseth initially speaks in fat, inch-high letters, before “turning down his volume” so that his dialogue becomes a more reasonable font size!

What did you like most about the issue?

Dan:  I like that Astro City is back.  Again, this is not the best Astro City story I have ever read, but that is a pretty tough hierarchy to crack into with a single issue of an arc within the history of one of the best comic book series ever written.  Yeah, I said that! Mike, thank you for introducing me to Astro City. It has given me hours of entertainment, story and issues to think over.  I think it is impossible for you in our relationship to outdo the solid you did me the day you suggested I look into Astro City.

Mike: Wow—greater love hath no comic book guy than this, huh? You’re welcome—although I’m a little embarrassed you’ve read more in a few months than I have in a few years! I have serious catching up to do. But I did know from the first trade, the one I have read, that Astro City was quality stuff, and I’m glad you agree.

Dan: In the afterword, Busiek discusses that he had been ill for a long time, which was one of the reasons that Astro City left publication. But now that he and the team are back, with issues banked for future publication, this powerhouse creative team is back and running full force.

Mike: From cover to cover, this issue entertained and intrigued me. I probably liked best the way it uses the very experience of reading as an essential element. Those splash pages I mentioned earlier, for example, come just after The Broken Man instructs us, in his purple text boxes, “Think about the doors. Fill your mind with it. The Doors. The Doors. The—”—and, turn the page, there they are. Or look at the issue’s end, where The Broken Man warns us, “Skip the next page. That’s an order. I don’t want you contaminated…” Ever since I read The Monster at the End of This Book as a little kid, I’ve been fascinated by stories that aren’t afraid to embrace some “meta” dimensions of narrative, so Busiek won me over with his choices here. (Well, he really won me over with the first Astro City trade; I should say he won me over again!)

What did you like least about the issue?

Dan:  Oh, this is easy. I do not like that I currently do not have issue two or the collected trade of this arc in my hand!  I have questions, many questions, right at the moment. Who does Teleseth represent? Who is the Broken Man working for? What role does regular guy Ben Pullam play in this tale?  Is there a reason that both Teleseth and the Broken Man both have dialogue/thought balloons bordered in purple?  I want to know, and I am used to reading Astro City in trades so I don’t have to wait.

Mike: Good catch on the potential purple connection—I missed that one! I honestly had no objections, and can’t recommend this issue highly enough—not only to anyone who enjoys superhero comics, but also to anyone who might need to be convinced that the genre is capable of intelligent and fun storytelling. If Astro City doesn’t make believers out of them, I don’t know what will.

Do you see spiritual applications in the story?

Astro-City_1 Open the DoorMike: Well, how can a sci-fi Christian see the image of a door in the sky and not think of the door in the air that leads to “real Narnia” at the end of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle? But Lewis didn’t invent that image. The door is a frequent image in Scripture for the boundary between earth and heaven, the mundane and the miraculous. In Revelation, for example, John the seer “looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!” (4.1). He didn’t open the door himself (just as the super-powered beings and the military officers can’t force the doors over Astro City open)—God opened it for him, to allow him a glimpse of eternity. I wonder if Ben Pullam will see some things behind Teleseth’s doors that help him place his life in a cosmic context. Teleseth, of course, is only an intermediary—the “ambassador plenipotentiary” of the Kvurri to Earth, but an ambassador just the same. When God opens the doors of heaven, we deal, not with an ambassador, but with the One who called himself the door through which his sheep, his people, enter into eternal security (John 10.9).

Granted, I’m most likely reading Christian symbolism into a story element where Busiek intends none; all the same, doors are inherently images of transition. To get from one side of any door to the other, one has to take a journey—and the best journey stories are journeys of the spirit as well as the body. So I suspect Pullam’s journey through these doors will resonate with the journey of faith in at least some ways.

Dan:  Everyone matters. Everyone. That is the first lesson that pops out of the book to me. The Broken Man is looking for someone, someone who will have a major role in this unfolding story. Astro City is a city of heroes, special people. You can run up to Mount Kirby (how awesome is that) and find magicians. If you shake a stick you will hit a super hero or masked vigilante. And the Broken Man surveys it all. The Samaritan is not selected, and neither are any of the powered heroes. Pullam is chosen to meet with the alien ambassador Teleseth. Much like Samuel’s anointing of David, the least is chosen:

“Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”  But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah (1 Samuel 16: 7-13, NIV).

And Paul underscores in Corinthians that we all matter:

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,yet one body (1 Corinthians 12:”14-20).”

Yes, Ben Pullam, you matter!

Will you be sticking with it?

Dan:  I have read every issue of Astro City through trades. I came late to the party. I will read every issue of Astro City that Busiek, Anderson and Ross produce. I have not decided if I will take up that task through collected trades or single issues.  But I expect that this series will continue to deliver monthly at a high level of quality, a level higher than (gulp) Aquaman, Fables, or honestly any other series I may enjoy.

Mike: Not even a whisper of wanting more ninjas this time, huh? As I say, I’m going to catch up on those trade paperbacks, and I am going to read the current volume in monthly issues, since I didn’t have the pleasure of doing so with past volumes. Everything I know about Astro City makes me think it will not disappoint that investment.

Sounds like Dan and Mike agree: If you like comics, and you are not reading Astro City, you are not doing yourself any favors!   

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2 comments on “Issues of the Day: “Astro City” #1 (2013)

  1. Daniel Jul 3, 2013

    You would be shocked to hear, I don’t believe that this story could be improved by Ninjas! And that is a rariety!

  2. Man, I haven’t picked up a comic since Marvel’s Civil War (or the Firefly comics… can’t remember which is more recent), but this has me interested. Maybe I can find a trade paperback.

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