Astro City #39
I normally don’t care much for the supernatural-focused stories of Astro City. Although there’s a long tradition of the combination in Bronze Age comics, I’ve never liked the way magic mixes with the more science-fiction-y superheroes. So I was surprised at just how much I liked this issue of the long-running series by Kurt Busiek, illustrated by guest artist Carmen Carnero.
It begins with the origin of the Hanged Man. Think the Spectre mixed with the Watcher, an ominous ghostly presence that floats through disturbing events.
But the story is really about Marta, a successful accountant and mentor to younger employees. She lives in Shadow Hill, the mystical area of Astro City, where magic works and the people there tend to have more old-country family connections. That’s the Hanged Man’s domain. Which is how her mother can keep interacting with her the same way she always has, even though mom is dead.
Although the story is about what it means when the Hanged Man looks at Marta, what I loved about it is how authentic this portrait of an adult woman is. She’s a type mostly ignored in comics, restricted to parent or wife, but Marta has emotions and abilities and a realistic resignation to and comfort with her life. Instead of excitement and adventure, this comic is about patience and discovery and caring for others. She is part of a network of connections, of friends and co-workers and people she knows and those she helps and those who help her. That’s mimicked in the powered part of the story as well.
This is part one of two, so I’m not sure how this story will conclude, but I’ve enjoyed the time I spent with Marta. She realizes that you can’t have it all, but she makes the best of what she has, and she’s an inspiration for doing so.