Or – “To Our Eternal Shame…”
Any longtime Astro City fan probably remembers The Silver Agent as a Captain America archetype (at least that’s how I remember him) whose fate was implied to be horrible, and whose statue in Astro City bears the insignia “To Our Eternal Shame.” The secret of what exactly happened to the Silver Agent has been one of the cornerstone unanswered questions in Astro City history, a question finally answered by the Dark Age miniseries over the last couple of years. Pulled to the future by a group of aliens inspired by him, Alan Craig is travelling backwards in time to stop a great tragedy, but what happens when he makes that final leap home?
Previously, on Astro City – The Silver Agent: Years ago, a young man named Alan Craig discovered a strange silver creature in a cave outside of Astro City. After his exposure to it’s strange energies, he became empowered as the Silver Agent, a two-fisted purveyor of justice to those who would threaten the American way. The Silver Agent remained active as a superhero until the 1970’s, when he was framed for the murder of a villain known as the Mad Maharajah, and was sent to prison. During this stay, though, Alan was teleported out of his cell by the Silver Centurions, a futuristic group of aliens who were inspired by his heroism, and served in their ranks for some time. Eventually, though, Alan knew he had to return home to meet his fate, and began a journey backwards in time, bouncing from era to era of Astro City history on his way back to the 1973 and his date with the electric chair. During his travels, the Silver Agent kept a journal of his life and times, which would paradoxically inspire those who came back to save him, allowing him to keep a journal of his life and times, which would then paradoxically inspire… Y’know what? I don’t have time for an Abbot and Costello routine here, kid, let’s just skip it and get on with the review…
We open with the Silver Agent in action, saving innocents from a disaster at Mount Kirby (the home of Astro City stalwarts The Honor Guard) and watching as a monstrous creature of Earth rips the ENTIRE MOUNTAIN up and threw it into orbit to eventually become the asteroid base of the Silver Centurions. Continuning to bounce backward, he remembers his first days in the future, meeting the Centurions, and seeing his own memorial for the first time… We learn the truth of his travels, discovering that his time-bouncing isn’t all about fights, and occasionally the Agent was allowed to rest on his journeys and wonder why HE of all people was the inspiration for all these various worlds and people. His only real answer comes in the vague sense of “something silver” as he travels. Not only that, but his journeys are imbuing him with a strange energy, giving him the more Superman-like powers that he showed in his first (chronologically last) appearance in The Dark Age.
There’s even time for a little family bonding, as he unexpectedly meets his nephew at one of his stops, and gets to find out what becomes of his loved ones. During their visit, Alan finds out that he doesn’t ever stop and tell his beloved sister the truth (something that he plans to be his last stop on the cross-time tour) and that his fate as legendary martyr has made his a household name. Timesliding continues, we see him making all the various stops we’ve already seen in the past of the future of the past, and Alan ends up meeting his nephew again, discovering the truth about his sister, defeating the Incarnate, and returning to jail. The Silver Agent returns to his prison cell and consents to go to his death for a crime that he didn’t commit. At the moment that the electric chair is turned on, he releases all of his stored silver energy, releasing his powers into Astro City, forward and backward in time, and maybe even becoming part of the reason that so many heroes stay there. As we fade to white, we find that Alan has somehow transformed himself in very “2001: A Space Odyssey” fashion, and possibly even see the origin of the creature that gave him his powers… Possibly. The final panel of the issue pans in to the base of his memorial, landing squarely on the word “Eternal.”
I really like this issue (and the previous one) for tying together so many overt and hidden references to comics’ Silver Age. Alan’s origins remind me of Green Lantern, his secret identity of The Flash, his modus operandi of Captain America and Batman… But more than that, his journey to the future evokes Tom Welling and his super-future friends, and his death after rocketing backwards in time is somewhat reminiscent of Barry Allen’s own fatal journey. (The main difference, I think, is that in Astro City they appreciate a good ending.) The Silver Age was more than just Stan and Jack and Julie and Kurt and all the rest of ’em creating the icons that guys like Bendis and Johns can’t get enough of, it was an age of wonder and science and doing the right thing because that’s what good people do, at least if you’re looking at the positive aspects of it all. This issue reminds me of everything that I love about Astro City, telling a story that’s not just about a superhero or a big ol’ fighty-fighty, but a story about what superheroes represent, why they’re powerful, a story about comics creators and comics history and everything that we really like about this hobby of ours. If you don’t like the Silver Agent, my friends, then you are nothing more than an alien transvestite robot, and I pity you. Astro City – Silver Agent #2 is a homerun, and the worst parts of it are better than the majority of comics published this week, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Can anybody else remember the precedent for Silver Agent’s time-imbued soopapowers?