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Astro City #39 Review

Part of the charm in Astro City is how Kurt Busiek infuses each issue with strong character work. It’s rare to pick up an issue and not feel some human connection with a character in every single issue. He’s able to do this when, for instance in this issue, a hero known as the Hanged Man is floating about the city. Issue #39 is out today–is it good?

Astro City #39 (Vertigo Comics)

So what’s it about? The Vertigo summary reads:

In this week’s issue of ASTRO CITY, Marta Dobrescu, a friendly and kind lawyer, reflects on her life living in Shadow Hill, a unique section within Astro City. Though she seems quite normal, Marta has a unique gift to connect with the supernatural including ghosts, demons and more. Her unique gift will soon attract a specific entity—the Hanged Man.

Why does this book matter?

This is a two part story, so even if you’re not in it for the long haul, or just new to the series, you can pick this issue up expecting a definitive end by the next issue. This is also an intro of sorts as the Hanged Man and main protagonist are introduced here.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

Kinda creepy how he just floats there.

This is a fantastic introduction to not only the Hanged Man, but Marta who is a lawyer in Shadow Hill. In just two pages Busiek and guest artist Carmen Carnero establish how the Hanged Man was created (and it’s a creepy origin indeed) allowing for much of the rest of the issue to explore Marta. And explore we do, from where she works, to her difficult relationship with her mother, to how she got her practice off the ground floor. Busiek makes her feel real and natural even when you find out she communicates to her very dead mother every day. She can commune with the dead, which makes her connecting with the Hanged Man all the more intriguing.

I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but the connection between Marta and the Hanged Man is an intriguing one. I found myself interested in where this might lead Marta and whether or not the Hanged Man has ulterior motives entirely.

Carnero’s art is strong, capturing the real life details of Marta’s office and surroundings while delivering a very relatable Marta as well. The Hanged Man has the perfect amount of mystical otherness when he appears on the page (wisps of smoke and light along with a whipping rope are creepy). The color art by Peter Pantazis helps convey this mystical nature, along with a grounded tone throughout. The color and simplicity of what Marta sees at the end of the issue helps convey the reality of superheroes before us as well.

It can’t be perfect can it?

When the issue ends I dare you to not feel some form of frustration. It’s not that the story is told poorly, but that it stops at a strange place. The reader needs a bit more information to start piecing together what is to come and you’re left wanting more. A few visual cues give the reader the sense of what is up, but not with any certainty. Basically, it ends somewhat abruptly, as if we’re missing the cliffhanger or hook to the next issue.

He looks so sad.

Is It Good?

A special connection between the Hanged Man and lawyer is made in this issue. By the end you’ll feel like you know the characters and want to see where their newfound relationship will take them. It ends abruptly though and without issue #40 you’ll feel a bit naked!


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