Astro City Review – Trade Waiter
Astro City won its first Eisner Award two years before the founding of Google. No wonder it’s recognized as an institution.
When I first picked it up the series, five years ago, it blew me away. The stories are so personal and specific. They concern people’s work and their lives instead of some monster of the week. Astro City, the place, feels like a real city in part because the people there are as likely to be doormen and secretaries as they are to be cosmic juggernauts.
This book is about what it’s like to love a difficult person, what it’s like to get older, and it’s about punching evil doers dressed as chess pieces. Like the rest of the series, it documents details and specifics, it tracks and builds consistent evocative settings without feeling small or atmospheric. It adds to a terrific body of work.
The more you read and pay attention to the Astro City series the better it gets. But, importantly, you don’t have to read or remember every detail to enjoy it. Astro City empathizes with its characters to a degree that’s rare for a superhero comic. It models excellent comic character development for others.
Often the big two “important” comics cited by fans as the twin pillars of the medium are The Watchmen and Batman Year One. I don’t have a hot take on these comics, I agree they deserve their good reputations, but their influence on comics broadly has often been negative. Grim and gritty repeat endlessly as the watchwords for comics, which reviewers love to tell us are “not for kids anymore.” There’s nothing wrong with dark comics, but far from exploding the tired tropes of the genre, they have created even more insufferable tropes than the ones they replaced: the flawed hero, the girlfriend in the refrigerator, and the bloody, bloody blood.
I recommend this book more often than any in my collection. It just works for so many people, adults and kids, alike. Because it’s exciting, well crafted and deeply felt, it works as well as a gateway drug for comics as it does as a treasure for comic super fans. Cross-medium comparisons are always dangerous, but I can’t help comparing it to a movie like Jurassic Park.
I feel two ways about the art. The setting, which is so important to the book, is largely constructed by the consistency of its depiction in the panels. The look of the different neighborhoods and cities of the series world are thoughtfully constructed and feel real. At the same time, there are some ugly panels here. The faces can be all over the place, sometimes they just don’t look like faces or, better said, they don’t act the emotions of the story in a convincing way. That said, I think the cartooning style is so right for the tone of the book. Art is deeply subjective, it’s probably enough to say that these interiors are not for me.
The character design is another issue entirely, Astro City is full of striking superhero designs. By now, it should be almost impossible to make a superhero that looks classic, compelling and original, Superman was invented almost 80 years ago and there have been legions of superheroes since then. So while I wish the art were stronger in the small moments, it always looks iconic and powerful in big moments.
The most recent Trade from Astro City contains plenty of both. The main story follows a couple of second-tier heroes, the “glue guy” characters who, here, get their chance to step out of the shadows and take center stage. I would say it’s a great story to give you your first taste of the series If I didn’t feel that the very first edition was one of the best trades ever put together. The series is so good you could almost start anywhere.