Or – “Astro City!  Qu’est que c’est!  Fa fa fa faaa fafa fafa fa faaah.”

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(Five points to the Spoilerite who identifies the source of this review’s header quote, which has been boiling around in my head for over a decade, thanks to faithful Spoilerite Bruce/Prisoner.)  Once again, we have an issue of Astro City in our hot little hands (Is it Christmas?) and this one is doubly compelling, covering one of the most unusual heroes of the AC universe: Beautie, the walking Barbie fashion doll.  I am on record now as saying I will not be making any of the obvious Dream House jokes, nor will I be calling the issue “Beautie-ful” in an ironic fashion.  Astro City deserves more respect than that.  Even though I’m sure some readers (maybe even some of the ones reading right now!) looked over this issue as silly, or thought the character’s look or the mostly pink cover made it a “Girl Comic,” but those readers should always be haunted by the lost awesomeness of the tale herein…

Previously, on Astro City:  The heroes and villains of Astro City (formerly Romeyn Falls) live in a very peculiar world, and unlike many comic universes (wouldn’t you expect Lex Luthor or Reed ACC.jpgRichards to have perfected the flying car by now?) the existence of heroes have shaped technology, culture, and history into very different forms.  The primary superhero team of Astro City’s Earth is the Honor Guard, a JLA-Slash-Avengers-type grouping, whose members include familiar archetypes: The Black Rapier, a dark detective.  Samaritan, a powerful strange visitor from another time, with blue hair and a cape.  The N-Forcer, an armored corporate spokesman.  MPH, a super-speedster.  But, among the archetypes we find the most puzzling of all the quirky AC supers:  Beautie, a human-sized doll in a spangly pink costume, whose superhuman strength tends to put her (somewhat disconcertingly) right in the middle of the punching action, sort of like Wonder Woman had she been created by Andy Warhol.  From her very first appearance, I’ve been wondering what the deal is with her, (apologies to Jerry Seinfeld) undoubtedly part of the reasoning behind her unconventional design.  Finally, after 13 years (REALLY?  Has it been THAT long?) the truth behind Beautie is about to come to light.

We start the issue in the toy aisle of a prominent department store, with the endless pink and purple abyss that is “girls’ toys.”  I know Stephen doesn’t have this problem, having a boy child and all, but I have to tell you, when Molly and I cruise the local toy sections, the overload of pink is rather hard on the stomach.  A young stock clerk asks if he can help the strange woman in the overcoat, and she quickly hustles out the door with a brusque ‘NO!’  The clerk notices her unusual gait and proportions, and asks, “Is that…?”  We cut to The Black Rapier calling for backup.  “Beautie!!”  I love Kurt Busiek’s work on Astro City, the dialogue, the transitions, the character work…  This is what I wish every reading experience was like.  Having seen her visiting her sisters incognito, we’re now treated to the sight of Beautie ripping machinery to pieces with her bare (well, gloved) hands, and when the Honor Guard returns to their floating citadel, she finds herself, as before, alienated and feeling very outcast.  Only MPH, the speedster of Motor City notices her melancholy, but before he can try to talk her out of it, she abruptly leaves.  Later that night, Beautie, dressed in an exquisite pink dress, enjoys a Cosmo at a mostly deserted bar.  She wonders to herself why she even bothers to go out, as a man sidles up and asks to buy her a drink.  “What do you say?” he asks, and seems kind of sincere, but Beautie seems to have turned off her tact filter.  “I say this, Mitchell.  My skin is ferro-styrene over an omnitanium frame.  My breasts and buttocks are rigid.  And I have no genitalia.”

Wow.  That was…  what’s a word that means “harsh,” only to the infinite power?  Is ‘sarcastibitch’ a word?  Even Beautie realizes that she went overboard (although she doesn’t feel bad about it, like she did with the poor toy clerk) and heads home to her apartment, above a gay bar.  The next morning, she flies away to once again investigate her origins.  She returns to the first memory she has, flying towards Astro City over a pastoral meadow, but can’t quite make anything new come to light.  She’s once again overcome by ennui (look it up!) and we flash back to the first day she remembers, when she saw a young girl falling from a building.  She had no way of knowing that the girl was escaping kidnappers, she just responded by flying up and saving her.  She spent most of a year contemplating her history before being captured by a villain as part of his plot to take over the world.  Beautie singlehandedly defeated him, was offered Honor Guard membership, even came to an agreement with the toy company that owned her character likeness to serve as spokes–  er, doll.

Beautie found herself comfortable playing the role of superhero, the role of spokesperson, but never really figured out what to do when NOT playing a role, until 1978.  When a group of psychos called the Lawmen attacked a gay-pride parade, and she stopped them cold, only to find that the participants cheered, and thanked her in a way most people never did.  She moved into her apartment above the Range Rider soon after, and almost found herself comfortable there.  Her friends didn’t worry about substance, and they understood her difficulties with self and self-image and trying to fit in.  But still the question remained: How can she be anything but hollow to others when all she knows of herself is surface?  She goes to the library to investigate, but leaves almost immediately, and a librarian ominously remarks to an unidentified man that she comes in every couple of years, looks for the same information, but never really knows how to find it.  As she tries once again to come to grips with her sense of self, a human-shaped blur rushes up, and MPH (out of costume) offers her all the information they have in Honor Guard files on her.  She starts her “rigid buttocks” spiel again, but MPH (the same man from the library) is horrified that she thinks it’s all about her looks.  Beautie stop, apologizes, and takes the information, as graciously as she can, as Mike reminds her that they’re teammates and friends. 

As she goes through the files, she realizes that her construction looks like the work of Dr Gearbox, and old Honor Guard foe, and suddenly has a flash of memory, of her creator, talking about how “he’ll love you!”  She finds that Gearbox had a daughter, but as soon as she resolves to look for L’il Gearbox, she suddenly forgets what she was doing.  The next day, she once again discovers the same information, and again her mind goes blank.  She writes down an address, but the next day can’t recall what it means.  Finally, after days of the same recursive memory loop, she paints the words “He had a daughter” on her apartment wall.  Finally, with the address and the mysterious message, Beautie puts two and two together, and flies in the direction from whence she came, until she finds a house that triggers a memory, and it all comes flooding back.  Dr. Gearbox’s daughter created her, as a gift to her daddy, but when the old man came home, he roared that her creation was “the stupidest thing he’d ever seen!”  Beautie remembers everything, including how crushed the little girl was  She lands behind a now-grown up L’il Gearbox, and quietly says, “Mother?”  The moment is heartbreaking, and it’s about to get worse.  “Oh, not again,” replies the now-middle-aged woman, and suddenly Beautie remembers the enraged girl ordering her to fly away, and telling her to “Forget Forever!”  A few quiet words send Beautie away… but this time, she has friends. 

MPH races up, and remarks “If you don’t mind me saying, that was pretty cold, lady.”  She explains, through tears, that her father didn’t think that science, that mechanics were any place for a girl, ordering her to stick to her silly dolls.  When she did exactly that, she still didn’t convince him of her worth.  Worst of all, the mechanisms and improvements she created for Beautie could have saved her father’s life, when HIS designs failed on him years later.  MPH listens, then finally points out the obvious.  “Maybe you never had his approval, but you can’t do anything about that, not any more.  But your DAUGHTER’S still around.  And she needs her mother to tell her who she IS, and to tell her it’s okay…  She needs from you what YOU needed from him.  Think about THAT, the next time she comes back.  Because you KNOW she will.”  The last page of the issue is nearly identical to the first, with Beautie haunting the toy aisle, visiting her sisters, but this time, when she’s approached, she simply responds that she’s “just browsing.”  Beautie leaves, remembering how she has plans tonight, and a barbeque with friends this weekend, and how something in her life changed, recently.  She can’t quite remember what, but just the knowledge that she knows SOMETHING, even if it’s not quite clear, is enough.  She walks away, finally starting to figure out her place in the world…

This is a powerful issue, even for Astro City.  The big ol’ fist-fights have never been the point of AC, it’s the hearts and minds of the characters that matter.  Beautie’s search for herself is as touching a story as we’ve seen since the father/son dynamic of the Confessor storyarc.  The art, by Brent Anderson, though quirky in spots, is dead on, making certain that Beautie’s proportions and joints work exactly the way the doll who inspires her does (trust me, I have a four year old, there’s a B—– doll six inches from my foot right now…) and I simply love the hero designs he and Alex Ross create.  (Yes, that was a compliment to Alex.)  One of the best things about Astro City is the way characters look like they come from certain times, whether or not that character would still look “contemporary” or “cool” in the present day.  Kurt Busiek’s story really knocks one out of the park, taking a character so outre as to border on ridiculous, and grounding her with a character depth and a touching story of family ties unraveling.  I almost teared up myself when Ms. Gearbox turned Beautie away through her tears, and the subtle humor (like the awesome “rigid buttocks” speech) was top-notch.  Astro City: Beautie #1 ranks a rare and deserved 5 out of 5 stars, and I highly recommend you go check this one (and pretty much ALL the Astro City you can find) out immediately.

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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.

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9 Comments

  1. February 21, 2008 at 3:24 pm — Reply

    Ah, the Talking Head’s “Psycho Killer” — you’ve got taste, mister.

  2. wrighty
    February 21, 2008 at 3:47 pm — Reply

    psyco killer—-talking heads???

  3. Scar
    February 21, 2008 at 4:43 pm — Reply

    Fa fa fa fa fa etc
    Was the British Airmen’s attempt at speaking French in the old UK sitcom ‘Allo Allo’.
    I used it as my catch phrase during part of High School.
    What’s my prize? :D

  4. February 22, 2008 at 1:04 am — Reply

    Dr. Pants for the win… You get seven points, redeemable for one thingie when I figure out what it is.

  5. Scar
    February 22, 2008 at 6:38 am — Reply

    Damn.
    Just one of those giant cosmic conincidences then.
    Any chance of No-Prize anyway? :P

  6. February 22, 2008 at 8:52 am — Reply

    I’m never EVER dissapointed by Astro City. I always know I’m in for a helluva story that does what so few comics can do these days: I want more.
    Thanks for the wonderful review. I am so glad Major Spoilers is back and I’m enjoying the podcast immensely.

  7. February 22, 2008 at 12:34 pm — Reply

    “Just one of those giant cosmic coincidences then. Any chance of No-Prize anyway? :P”

    Well, since the No-Prize is owned by Marvel Comics, I cain’t give ya one of them, but I can certainly hook you up with one of our patented ‘Bronze Blok’ awards, for Spoileriting Above The Call Of Duty.

    BlokAward.jpg

  8. Salieri
    February 23, 2008 at 2:32 pm — Reply

    Better – run run run run run run run awaaay! OOOOoooo, yi-yi-yi-yi-yi…mmm…

  9. Scar
    February 25, 2008 at 4:17 am — Reply

    It’ll still on my office desk with pride. :D

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