Monday, May 19, 2014

Rereading Astro City

The Astro City books are not books on my forever-and-always-reread shelf (yet, anyway); they're books I keep wandering back and rediscovering. "Oh, Astro City," I'll say to myself as I wander through the library, "I rather liked those."

And then I'll pick them up, and wham! There I'll be, immersed in them, admiring them, and daring anyone to say bad things about them—or even ever-so-slightly-critical things1.

Why do I love them? For starters, they're about the city, the whole, big, wonderful, bustling place. That means I get to wander around and find all sorts of places, and even better, the narrative wanders. Various stories are told from the point of view of: a doorman as he watches city life go by, speculates on which of the tourists might come back to live, and remembers the time he was a hero (not the super-powered sort; the other kind); the boy who becomes the Confessor's sidekick; a former would-be super-villain trying to build a new life; a grumpy alien trying to decide whether or not his people should invade Earth; a heroine who looks like a fashion doll and cannot remember who made her—you get the idea. It's a varied list, and it has texture. Oh, and I love Shadow Hill, a place so strange even most Astro City folk look at it sideways.

For another, Busiek knows how and when to go small: The alien is grumpy when he shows up. Not menacing, not overwhelmingly powered or mystical, but every day, common grumpy. He kind of likes Earth, but then again, people can be so annoying… He's an ordinary alien, just someone doing his job. That doesn't make him harmless, but it does make him—real? Relatable? (Kind of scary, when you think about it, but pretty awesome, too). And Crackerjack, one of the superheroes, is just plain old vain. A friend (the one who introduced me to Astro City, in fact) once asked why I liked that so much. It's because then—and even now—most heroes tend to have outsized personalities; they brood more intensely than anyone else; they don't just get a bit touchy, they have berserker rages; on bad days, they destroy cities. Even the modern, "realistically" flawed superheroes tend to go overboard in a movie-star kind of way. It's nice to see someone who is just plain vain, a nice, ordinary, annoying kind of flaw.

Also, they're beautiful. The superhero designs are as varied as the heroes themselves, picking up a variety of backgrounds, times, and purposes. The art is lovingly, lavishly, carefully crafted. These are people here, not archetypes. They have different body types, varying postures, different expressions, and a variety of ages. It's a one-of-a-kind series.

So I don't know why Astro City is not on my forever shelf. It probably should be. On the other hand, it's kind of nice this way. I get to fall in love with the series all over again, every time I find it.

Edit:Somewhere in an early draft, I mentioned I was borrowing the Sparkly snuggle hearts category from Gin Jenny at Reading the End. Then I edited. Now I'm editing it back in. It's a very good category.

The complete list:

Astro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 2: Confession by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 3: Family Album by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 4: The Tarnished Angel by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 5: Local Heroes by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 6: The Dark Age Book One: Brothers and Other Strangers by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson
On GoodReads, at any rate, this does not show up in the regular "Astro City" search; neither does Vol 7. Shining Stars, however, does show up as Vol. 8, leading to a "huh?" moment. I have not read this one yet, nor Volume 7. I plan to remedy this lapse as soon as possible.

Astro City Vol. 7: The Dark Age Book Two: Brothers in Arms by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 8: Shining Stars by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson (Illustrator)

Astro City Vol. 9: Through Open Doors Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson

Astro City Vol. 10: View from Above by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson (Illustrations) Coming Sept 2014.

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