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Book Review: Astro City – Life In The Big City

January 30, 2011

Life In The Big City (Astro City, Volume 1)

Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent Anderson (artist), Alex Ross (covers)

So, you say you don’t like comic books, especially superhero comic books?  They just aren’t your thing?  Maybe you view them as juvenile adventures and adolescent power fantasies?  Then Astro City is the book for you.  True, it still has super-powered heroes flying around and fighting villainous threats to the general population.  But that’s not really the focus here.  Kurt Busiek has crafted an imaginative world that is all of his own creation.  True, there are analogues for well-known characters from both Marvel and DC, characters resembling either the powers or the personalities of Superman, the Fantastic Four, and Daredevil, to name a few.  But these analogues are always fleshed out and examined in a way that you will never see over at the Big Two comic publishers.  Busiek has the freedom to do whatever he chooses with these characters because they don’t carry the weight of decades of continuity.  But the centerpiece of his storytelling is always the collective human condition.  And since no single character is the focus of the series, but rather this entire world, Busiek has the freedom to tell all kinds of stories from ever-shifting perspectives:  a reporter learning the impact of journalistic integrity, the secret dreams of a superhero too busy to slow down and live his own life, or the decision of a young girl straddling the line between the world of superheroes and her own familiar ethnic neighborhood.  It is really an anthology of storytelling.

Brent Anderson brings to the book a very grounded, detailed artistic style that breathes life into the characters.  His faces are always extremely expressive and emotive, conveying their thoughts and feelings, their hopes and desires.  And he excels in the “ordinary” events of this world just as much as he does in the super-powered aspects.

And of course, Alex Ross’ fully painted covers are always a beauty to behold.  Especially with this series, with such a heavy focus on ordinary citizens and less on the heroes themselves, Ross diverges from his typical superhero posing in his work and captures some truly unique man-on-the-street perspectives of this fantastical world.

This is a collection that demands repeat readings to fully appreciate all of the minute details and expertly crafted narratives.  You don’t need an advanced degree in the history of comic books to enjoy this book.  Just an active imagination and a love for good stories.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    January 31, 2011 8:49 am

    “Analogues”?! You just used this high-sounding word to justify indulging your adolescent desire to continue reading comic books, didn’t you! 😉

  2. luminousvignettes permalink*
    February 7, 2011 7:10 pm

    No, Chris, no, I maintain that this book was an excellent read, illustrating a the dichotic view on both the power of mythology-building stories and the meta-textual narrative of the human-condition, extrapolated to such an extent that… Aw, who am I kidding. Yeah, I’m using big words so I can feel good about reading comic books. You got me on that one, Chris. 🙂

  3. Chris permalink
    February 7, 2011 9:06 pm

    Dude, you could make a wicked liberal theologian with that vocabulary!

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