Or – “The Evil Empire And The Cold Warrior…”
The 1980’s have dawned in Astro City, leaving Royal and Charles Williams further apart than ever.Â Charles has been recruited by E.A.G.L.E., while Royal finds himself on the run from both the authorities and the militant loonies of Pyramid, whose training facilities he barely escaped last issue.Â Both brothers now know the name of the man who killed their parents, but getting close to a high-ranking agent of Pyramid won’t be easy, especially with Royal questioning the entire plan…Â
Previously, on Astro City – The Dark Age Book III:Â The Williams brothers watched their parents being killed in the 1950’s, struggled through the 1960’s , and barely survived the 1970’s.Â Â Royal’s life as a minor thug and Charles’ life asÂ one of the fewÂ non-corrupt cops on the Astro City PD led them down different paths, butÂ an underworld explosion left Royal in jail for several years, and Charles off the forceÂ on disability.Â Last issue, we discovered Royal working for Hydra-esque bad guys Pyramid, all the while trying to find information on Aubrey Jason, the man who murdered their parents years before.Â When Pyramid discovered the mole in their ranks, Charles threw a Hail Mary pass, leading an E.A.G.L.E. assault on the base, throwing suspicion on someone else, but leaving baby brother out in the cold.Â Knowing that he was almost caught (and probably killed), Royal isn’t sure that he wants to go back undercover.
We open in Astro City, with Royal walking the streets, trying to stay as low-profile as possible, dodging every attempt at communication from either his brother or from his former Pyramid bosses.Â All the while, Charles is being raked over the coals by his bosses, who want to know what the living hell happened to his bher.Â We’re treated to a flashback that explains how Charles made it from Astro City cop to E.A.G.L.E. agent, his long term rehabilitation, and some of the groundwork that it took to place Royal in his secret role.Â Last issue showed Royal’s obsession with his parent’s killer, and this time we see the flip side, as Charles uses all his clearances to dig up dirt on Aubrey Jason.Â With his brother being the only real bargaining chip he has, Charles desperately searches for new information, for some sort of clue that might keep him close enough to Jason.Â Meanwhile, Royal keeps a low profile on the sleazy side of Astro City.Â He remembers their grandfather, a fisherman from Mississippi, and the lessons he taught them.Â Lesson one: you can’t dodge trouble, because it’ll just come looking for you.Â
To illustrate the metaphor, we see the Honor Guard fighting against the Olympians (heroes from another world, ala the Squadron Supreme) and Starfighter fighting against his own evil duplicate in some sort of cosmic battle royale (much like Adam Warlock faced down his evil duplicate, The Magus) while Royal wonderes what all the tension is leading up to.Â In the previous volume of this series, the Silver Agent (travelling through time) left a message that the Honor Guard should meet him on May 3rd, 1982, and as the date nears, the world gets weirder.Â While Charles pores over every report that the can find about Pyramid’s pseud0-Egyptian iconography, searching for the man in charge of it all, Royal takes a crappy job at a seedy bar.Â WhenÂ Charles finally tracks him downÂ to convince him to return, he refuses, and Charles angrily reminds him that Royal never finishes anything, telling his brother that he doesn’t NEED his help to get their parents’ killer.Â Things get even hotter for the younger Williams, as the crimelords of Astro City realize that Royal (a key player in the mob wars of 1977) is back in town, and insist that he pick a side to stand with.Â The issue closes with Pyramid calling in ALL their rogue agents (including Royal) back to active duty.
It’s still unclear what Pyramid actuallyÂ wants (they seem focused on the superhero team called the Apollo 11) but what is clear is that neither Williams brother is going to be able to survive it alone.Â Kurt Busiek’s script manages to remain personal and focused on the main characters, while giving us a grand scope and the superhero-type stuff that Astro City is known for.Â Each concept is more outrageous and awesome than the last.Â Brent Anderson’s art is sublime as always, giving each character a completely unique and recognizable face in every scene.Â Since this series wasn’t solicited until the issues were mostly completed (in order to keep it on target for monthly release) we know that the next part of the story will ship on time.Â This is good, as Astro City issues are always fascinating reads, and always make it to the bottom of the read pile (where I put the good stuff that I want to savor.)Â This issue is another good one, moving the story along without forgetting that the focus is on two men whose childhood was stolen from them by a senselss act of brutality.Â I’m looking forward to the return of the Silver Agent, and the final reveal of his fate, but mostly I’m just glad to see that a series like Astro City that plays the long game is still viable in thie era of secrets, invasions, crises, and infinities.Â Astro City: The Dark Age Book III #2 is a solid 4,5 out of 5 star effort, marred only by what feels like some repetition in the brother’s conflict.Â It’s still a very good issue, and I highly recommend this series to anyone who wants enjoyable superheroics with real consequences.