Or – “It’s Always Darkest Before It Gets Pitch Black…”

AC11.jpg

Anymore it seems like late books are pretty much an accepted fact of the comics industry, both to the publishers and to the readers.  When Superman and Wonder Woman have story arcs that just STOP, finishing up months later while the title goes off on a new arc, or when it takes a year to get an issue of All-Star $&@%&! Batman, I wonder if we’re really any better off than the days when ‘Dreaded Deadline Doom’ would stick a reprint or filler story right in the middle of Captain America’s run-in with the Secret Empire or Johnny Blaze’s big fight with the Hulk.  On the other hand, we have Astro City, a book that we don’t EXPECT to hit a monthly schedule, but the quality is worth the quarterly schedule.  The Dark Age is projected, if memory serves, as four linked miniseries, so we’ve not only hit the end of this book, but the mid-point of the story proper.

AC1.jpgPreviously, on Astro City: The Dark Age Book II #4:  The Williams brothers, Royal and Charles, have grown up in completely different circles.  After the murder of their parents by an agent of Pyramid (think AIM without the beekeeper hats) Charles became a police officer, while Royal became a petty criminal.  Still, their lives are remarkably similar, both being forced into illegal activities that they’re not comfortable with and ending up way in over their heads.  Charles’ refusal to accept graft costs him his standing in the department, and his wife, while Royal is drawn further and further into the underworld of Astro City.  While swimming in that particular cesspool, Royal meets a familiar face, one Aubrey Jason, a Pyramid operator called in as a consultant, whose face continually rings a bell.  Before he can tell his brother, though, the entire city erupts in violence, and Charles’ partner Lannie betrays him with a bullet in the back.  What caused it all?

AC2.jpg

“Calm-Talking Man, and Man-With-Treats.  They say you bad, not do what you told.  They say kill you.  Bring back heart.  Get TREATS.”  The bisected killer advances, but Black Velvet is not without her defenses, tying Jitterjack (GREAT name) up with her darkforce powers.  She sends tendrils down his throat, wrapping around his heart and threatening to squeeze it and kill him.  Jitterjack, strangely, understands completely.  “Not… not good.  Heart… breaks.  But… is good thing for Jitterjack… HE HAVE SPARE!”  The madman lashes out with his hand, pushing it entirely through her chest, causing her power to explode across the city…

AC3.jpg

As the people rioted, the masks of Astro City come out, and we see the superheroes trying desperately to stop the rioting, with one notable exception:  The Street Angel.  (Not THAT Street Angel.)  Having worked with Black Velvet for several years, descending further and further into violence, S.A. is understandably despondent.  “H-how many?  How many did I kill?  Didn’t think…  I just hit…”  He stands on the edge of a precipice, literally and psychologically, but he’s not the only hero having problems…

AC4.jpg

The creature that was previously the Hellhound rampages out of control, and things look like they’re as dark as they’re going to get.  But, as any Hallmark Card or Jean Teasdale column will tell you, every cloud has a silver lining… or in this case, a Silver Agent.  But, wait, you say.  Wasn’t the Silver Agent executed in Book I of the saga?  Why, yes…  yes he was.  Nonetheless, before Street Angel can take that final step, an argent-gauntleted hand stops him.  “Hold on, son.  There’s no call for anything like this…”

AC5.jpg

Of course, long-time readers know that the Agent can’t fly, either, and he HAS made other appearances, including one immediately after his death, all cryptically referencing time travel.  At the Down Under Club, center of the criminal empire of the Platypus, Royal’s boss is panicking, realizing that he’s been set up.  He sends Royal to fetch “The Tunneler,” an escape vehicle that he’s kept in reserve at one of the weapons caches they maintain around the city, but before the Platypus can follow, his right-hand man Deke arrives.  He asks Deke is he has any idea who might have undermined the crimelords of the city, and Deacon calmly explains that, logically, it has to be a person on the inside, a person with ambition, a person with backing…  Platypus ever-so-slowly puts two and two together and adds it up to 38… caliber.

AC6.jpg

Royal hears the gunshots, and just keeps going, heading to the weapons stash.  Of course, he had long ago sold the location to the cops for some folding money, and arrives to find a surprise: his brother, bleeding out from Lannie’s bullet.  Royal tries to get help, but nobody answers, and Charles whispers that the police will only respond to major problems.  “Not… mad at you, Royal…  You’re….  you’re my brother…  glad you’re here…  Just… glad I’m not dying… alone.”  With that, Royal makes the only decision he can.

AC7.jpg

Hellhound’s rampage continues, and more and more pedestrians rage in the streets, with the First Family and Simon Magus getting involved (and some interesting foreshadowing occurs regarding the “Innocent Gun,” a mystical device that Simon insists cannot be used by anyone but ‘the rightful user.’)  While most of the heroes fight the crowds or one another, the Silver Agent has another agenda…

AC8.jpg

As the police arrive at the site of Royal’s disturbance, they see a downed officer and immediately cuff ‘im & stuff ‘im.  The cops check, and find Charles alive, while above the city, The Agent uses strange energy (that looks remarkably like the Empyrean Fire of Samaritan, another Astro City stalwart) to give Black Velvet a peaceful end, and quell the rioting.  He scoops up Jitterjack, bringing him to an ambulance for assistance, only to be recognized by the passersby.

AC9.jpg

More foreshadowing of the coming issues, I suspect.  The cleanup begins, and Royal is allowed one bit of special treatment: a trip to see his brother, but his unique perspective on the situation makes him the only one aware of the quiet threat of the Deacon, but he doesn’t care right now.  “They bent the rules a little.  Let me in to see him before taking me downtown to book me.  Figured that with what I’d done to get their attention, I’d earned the right to say goodbye.  But I wasn’t there to say goodbye.  He was ready for that.  I wasn’t.”  Royal has another message, one much more important.

AC10.jpg

It’s a nice moment, finally bridging the gap between the Williams boys, and it sets up nicely the next phase of the story.  After all, the killer (Aubrey Jason) is now working for the new crimelord of Astro City, and more than that, is protected by Pyramid.  Whatever happens now should be interesting.

It’s always nice to see another issue of Astro City, as there’s nothing like Kurt Busiek’s work here.  An Astro City tale is always unique, even when it references existing comics (as this run references happenings in 70’s issues of JLA, Avengers, Hero For Hire, and others, as well as the strangeness of 1970’s Fantastic Four) and couldn’t be told without the unique perspective of the characters.  It’s superhumans from a totally human perspective, stories told with the combination of awe, fear, and idolism that you’d expect if we really saw superheroes every day.  Brent Anderson’s art is fascinating, making ridiculous characters like Platypus look awesome, and awesome characters like the Silver Agent look absolutely sublime.  Regardless of how long the break between issues is, Astro City is always a quality read, and this issue ranks 5 out of 5 stars, mostly on the strength of Royal’s character.  Criminal or no criminal, he’s still a good man inside, willing to give up his own freedom to save his sibling…

5stars.jpg

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

Previous post

Steve Rotterdam Joins DC

Next post

JLA Woes Get Worse

2 Comments

  1. October 1, 2007 at 1:40 pm — Reply

    Astro City , in any form, has never hit a dead spot for me. I know that that creators have to eat and so put the bigger money books first ,but I wish that we saw Astro city more often.

  2. Mokin
    October 1, 2007 at 8:24 pm — Reply

    Astro City is never dull…in fact, eventhough it’s late, I always anxiously await each issue…

    …in fact, this is the only book I have that’s signed (I have a copy of the 1st TPB, “Life in the Big City”, signed by Busiek, Alex Ross and Anderson…it’s number 80 out of 10 000…)…and I’d burn my whole comics collection before I let go of this book…

    …I know…I’ll get a life, somehow, somewhere, sometime…but not now…hé hé hé…

You know you have something to say, say it in the comment section