Astro City: Life in the Big City

Astro City: Life in the Big City cover

Astro City: Life in the Big City is a Valentine to classic Silver Age comics, collecting the original six-issue miniseries. Each story stands alone, but together they make up a tapestry of a new world with a long history. The threads are familiar, evoking other universes and heroes, but with a modern, knowing twist. It’s written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Brent Anderson with covers by Alex Ross.

The series attracted attention from the start by capturing feelings many readers had speculated about. The first issue explores the dreams of Samaritan, a Superman-like hero who’s always busy with rescues and disasters and good deeds. Busiek’s put more thought into what the real lives of these characters would be like than the creators of the originals he’s inspired by, and a story about flying could have no better artist than Anderson, who beautifully captures the joy and poetry of a man soaring through clouds.

The second story evokes the book that was the breakthrough for both Busiek and Ross, Marvels. The tale is told from the perspective of a reporter in this town full of amazing events, flashing back to one of his early jobs. Two issues in, and already Busiek has brought us two generations of heroes.

Astro City: Life in the Big City cover

It can be a little frustrating. You just know that every hero that appears in the background of a panel or every codename mentioned in passing has her own story. There’s so much more here than we’re able to explore, an astounding accomplishment for a brand-new universe. There are a variety of perspectives, too, from typical supporting character types to the heroes themselves. This is a love letter to the comics those of a certain era grew up with, four-color and larger than life.

There’s an interesting subtext of the need for knowledge and the importance of facts running through the stories. Samaritan’s day job is as a fact-checker, and the reporter is admonished to stick to what’s verifiable. The third story turns on discovering a secret identity and how one can best handle dangerous knowledge. The fourth story, set in an older suburb where more mystical beings roam, deals with knowing the “rules” of a particular location to stay safe. Then there’s an alien researcher, and the most classic type of superhero knowledge of all, the origin story, to conclude the book.

If you like this, there are other volumes. Confession is one long story about a boy who runs off to the big city to be a sidekick to the Confessor. Family Album contains a group of short stories, including a charming tale of the youngest member of the First Family of superheroes, while The Tarnished Angel follows a down-on-his-luck former supervillain.

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