I haven’t entered the world of Astro City in quite some time, but with a gorgeous cover depicting my favorite character on the cover how could I resist? I check out issue #36 to answer the question, is it good?
Astro City #36 (Vertigo Comics)
So what’s it about? The official Vertigo synopsis reads:
When the original Jack-in-the-Box died, it shattered two families and gave rise to new heroes…and new villains. Now, the true secrets of that day are revealed-and they may end the Jack-in-the-Box dynasty forever. Also featuring: The Drama Queen, Chekov’s Gun, the Weirdies, the Trouble Boys and more. Part 2 of a 2-part look into one of Astro City’s most popular heroes, illustrated by guest artist Ron Randall.
Why does this book matter?
Writer Kurt Busiek has created a world that’s fresh with an old school mentality. The series is one of the longest running outside of the big two and it’s rife with intriguing characters. This issue focuses on one of the coolest, Jack-in-the-Box, and we get an interesting flashback that harbors a self contained story for new and old readers to enjoy alike.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
A clown as a hero. Wait what?!
Something writers don’t get enough credit for is the pace and balance a story requires to feel satisfying and interesting all the way through. Busiek does a great job with this with a lot of his comics and Astro City #36 is no different. The book opens with the now and then seamlessly cuts to 1958 where it all started between Jack-in-the-Box and the villain known as Drama Queen. The flashback tells a tale of a man who has been pushed to do the wrong thing for the right reasons making for strong character development along the way.
Their pasts involve parents and what ends up happening when revenge and obsession get in the way. Drama Queen’s dad gets a full backstory that involves failure at the root of his turn into becoming the bad guy and how that changed her life too. Busiek humanizes all of these characters – none of them are flat evil jerks – and that makes for captivating reading. When we flash back to the present it all adds up and the story plays out accordingly.
At the same time the very concept of Drama Queen feels fresh, yet pulled back from an older Golden Age time when villains were a bit silly. Her henchmen are pretty freaky and add to the dramatization of the character. The message is loud and clear too: Think before you act and don’t let anger get in the way of understanding.
Time to flash back!
Artist Ron Randall draws in a measured detail style that’s not the customary superhero detail, but very competent in framing a scene. The heroes and villains, when suited up anyway, feel larger than life and as you might expect them to appear in the real world. Much of this issue involves average people living ordinary lives – probably the big secret as to why this series works – and Randall’s pencils help personify that. If we’re talking about art we might as well mention Alex Ross killed it on the cover. Right?!
It can’t be perfect can it?
There isn’t a lot new to the backstory in the grand scheme of things. It’s told very well, but it’s your classic tale of a bad guy letting obsession get the better of him. The classic superhero feel is very much a part of this series though so it’s not much of a fault.
Is It Good?
It’s a wonder how you can pick up a comic and just enjoy the thing even if you haven’t read the issue’s that came before it. This issue is no different. This is just good reading for new and old fans alike.