Or – “Wars Which Are Secret And Infinite Earths In Crisis…”

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The arrival of a new issue of issue of Astro City is always a pleasant surprise for me, as Kurt Busiek’s magnum opus seldom, if ever, hits a false note.  This issue officially takes us into the second half of the Dark Age maxi-series, as the story of the Williams brothers starts moving in a rather unexpected direction…

AC2.jpgPreviously, on Astro City – The Dark Age:  Royal and Charles Williams have taken different life paths, but the root cause of their troubles is the same: the murder of their parents decades ago by an extremely minor super-villain.  The sixties were a time of disillusionment, and the 70’s left Royal deeper in the corrupt side of Astro City superhumanity, and left Charles out in the cold, as his own police department succumbed to the same darkness in Royal’s world.  But as he lay bleeding from friendly fire, little brother Royal gave him impetus to continue living: the name of the man who killed their parents.  “I know who he IS.  The man who killed ma and poppa is out there, sucking in air.  But I KNOW WHO HE IS.”  Several years have passed since that revelation, and we join the Williams brothers as the new decade dawns…

1982 dawns in Astro City, bringing with it the fear of an Evil Empire, an actor in the White House, and one of the darkest Days in Astro City history, as a monster creature called Hellsignor arrives and takes out the First Family and the Honor Guard in one swell foop.  Only quick thinking by a hero with the awesome name of The Point Man turns the tide, as he steals the mystical gem that Hellsignor seeks and uses it to empower a second version Cleopatra (a hero whom we’ve seen in passing throughout the series.)  Still and all, the victory costs the lives of over 125 innocents, reminding the citizens of Astro City what happens when you stand too close to a fire.  “Before, people looked at the heroes as Protectors.  Then, though, it was like they were landmines, and nobdy wanted to get near ’em.”  Of course, the crazy isn’t contained to the city, as Royal finds out first hand, having joined up with a sect of the Hydra-like Pyramid organization. 

Subject to field testing, weapons training, as well as a regimen of mind-altering substances and subliminal conditioning, Pyramid’s agents are trained to become kill-crazy kamikazes in the name of some sort of greater theory of good.  Royal manages to survive, avoiding the drugs through clever obfuscation, and even accesses a data center to search for the information he needs…  A name to go with a decades old memory of a face.  After weeks, he finds Aubrey Jason in the databanks, and we see a flashback to the day Royal got out of prison (doing time for the clusterschmozz with the Deacon and the Platypus in the last arc of this book.)  His big brother, now on crutches, convinced him to go undercover in Pyramid at considerable risk.  When EAGLE (think Marvel’s SHIELD) troops attack, Royal thinks his life is over.  An EAGLE agent pins him down, and the game seems over, until he raises his blast shield to reveal… the face of Charles Williams!  Charles orders his brother to run, but not before telling him that Pyramid knows they have a mole, and Royal flees, amazed that his brother seems willing to sacrifice Royal’s own life for vengeance…

It’s a taut little issue, and the moments where Royal sneaks about the Pyramid compound are claustrophobic and well-handled.  Brent Anderson’s art is note-perfect, especially in the rare glimpses of superhero activity from the Apollo 11 and the First Family.  Throughout the first couple of arcs, Royal is the one we worry about, with stable Charles trying to save his criminal sibling, but here the balance shifts, as we see a competent Royal navigating difficult waters while Charles seems to have popped his cork.  The reveal at the end was surprising, and the “inside look” at a Kobra Hydra Pyramid induction process is an eye-opener.  Kurt Busiek makes a personal search for closure into a pretty good adventure-type story here, and it’s well worth the wait.  Astro City: The Dark Age Book III #1 earns a spiffy-keen 5 out of 5 stars, even if I’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid for years.  In a perfect world, this book would be the weekly dose of Busiek…

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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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2 Comments

  1. hermit
    May 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm — Reply

    man, i love astro city. the first part of dark age was good, but nowhere near what busiek did before with this world. i have every series in trades or hardcover so far, and i will get the omnibus/absolute/deluxe edition if they ever release one. which i’m sure they will since everybody does it with everything nowadays.

    i’m glad to see that busiek is back with a great book.

  2. Matty
    May 16, 2009 at 2:13 pm — Reply

    “In a perfect world, this book would be the weekly dose of Busiek…”

    Agreed 120%

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