Or – “This One Is In My “Stuff That Makes Me Cry” Shortbox…”

There’s a certain magic to comics books that is seldom found in other media, a combination of the written word and a pictoral image that often amplifies both to a higher level.  Sure, you can watch a movie over and over, but you can’t pore over each lavish image for as long as you want, and it’s nigh-impossible to catch every nuance of language.  Likewise, prose novels may have epic language and story potential, but sometimes the author has to labor to try and explain to you what a particular image looked like in his or her mind, dragging you out of the enjoyment of their lovely words.

And every once in a while, a comic comes along that is so perfectly crafted, so intricately formed, that you just sit in awed silence and absorb every page in stunned silence.  It’s a rare comic that moves me to emotional displays, but I’m a big enough man to say that I can’t read this one without getting a little misty-eyed, Faithful Spoilerites…  Books like this are why Retro Reviews exist.

KURT BUSIEK’S ASTRO CITY #1/2
Script: Kurt Busiek
Pencils: Brent Anderson
Inks: Will Blyberg
Colors: Wildstorm FX/Alex Sinclair
Letters: John Roshell
Publisher:  Wizard/Homage Comics

Price: Mail-Away With Coupon From Wizard #62, Currently $7.00 to $15.00 in NM Condition

Previously, on Kurt Busiek’s Astro City:  The denizens of Astro City (formerly Romeyn Falls) live side-by-side with the one of the largest superhuman populations anywhere in the multiverse.  From the First Family’s headquarters on Mount Kirby to the mysterious Shadow Hill, home of The Hanged Man, nearly every block of Astro City has it’s own protector, each struggling with truth and justice and like that, while also dealing with the problems of a real, fully realized character.  In the hundred-plus years that Astro City and it’s heroes have been around, there have been many utterly life-threatening crises.  Invasions from space, creatures from beneath the ID, super-villains in search of power, profits and glory, even a few nickel-and-dime thieves looking to get their cut of the big time…  This is the story of one of those life-threatening extinction-level crisis events.

Sort of.

We begin with an utterly ordinary man.  His name is Michael Tenicek, and like many of us, he has inexplicable dreams…

Dreams of a woman he’s never known, a perfect woman that he is absolutely certain does not exist.  It’s a recurring pattern for Michael: Go to bed, dream of Miranda, wake up perplexed and unable to get back to sleep.  Every aspect of his life suffers as he finds his thoughts completely monopolized by the strange ongoing dream, not a nightmare, but completely inexplicable and completely inescapable.  Mike tries everything to figure out where he knows her from, alienating his friends, his coworkers, and eventually resorting to medication to get any sort of rest at all.  At his lowest point, Michael even considers taking ALL his pills to finally rid himself of his “dream girl.”  That’s when he comes face to face with the OTHER side of Astro City…

The Hanged Man shows him a day long past, a minor battle between the All-American and his nemesis the Time-Keeper, two simple costumed mystery men of years past.  Thwarted over and over again by the heroes of Astro City, the Time-Keeper finally tried to go back in time and keep the heroes from every having existed, and causing a massive temporal disturbance.  The heroes of all times finally come together in a massive effort to rebuild the damaged timestream.  Worlds lived, worlds died, and lives were changed blah blah blah fishcakes.  It’s the Astro City version of Crisis On Infinite Earths, or the Infinity Gauntlet, or one of the half-dozen world-changing Image Comics events.  And, awesomely, we only see glimpses of it in a two-page spread, beautifully rendered by Brent Anderson.  I look and imagine the 24-issue maxi-series that never was, even gasping at the appearance of the long-lost Bouncing Beatnik…

But that’s not important right now.  Because this is the story of Michael Tenicek and his wife Miranda, whose grandparents met after the Astro-Naut fought the Barnstormers on a Monday.  Miranda, whose grandparents never met, since the rewoven timestream had that battle taking place on a Sunday, instead.  Miranda, who was never born in the repaired reality.  The Hanged Man offers Michael a boon:  Since his memories could destabilize the timestream again, The Hanged Man can help Michael to forget her, to finally escape his recurring dreams and return to a normal life…

“No one forgets…  No one.”  Still gets me, EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.  Kurt Busiek has a knack for choosing the perfect language, for staging the most affecting moments in comics, and this is no exception.  The notion that this perfectly average woman not existing could create an imbalance that could destroy the universe is a wonderful one, underlining my firm belief that everyone matters in the greater scheme of things, that everyone is important, if only to the people who loved them the most.  As for Michael, his life hasn’t changed at all, but the “sense of understanding” Hanged Man promises stays with him…

And I’m tearing up, yet again.  DAMN YOOOU, KURT BUSIEK!!!  This issue was originally sold by coupon as a Wizard Magazine #1/2 issue, a scam that I never had any stomach for.  (Wizard’s tendency to create collectibles is one of the major factors that led to the industry’s near-collapse in the 90’s, if you ask me.)  I didn’t send away for this issue initially, which led to me having to pay nearly twenty dollars for it when I finally found one (the silvery logo variant, which may explain the elevated price point) but I don’t regret it for one second.  This issue is a masterpiece, and stands as the simplest explanation I could ever come up with for anyone who asks what’s so special about Astro City.  I am fascinated by the fact that the huge universal crossover event takes place in between panels here, putting the focus instead on its effect on one man.  That’s the magic of Astro City, and it’s the main reason with Astro City #1/2 is simply perfect, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  If you’ve never read this story, you should.  (I believe it’s collected in the “Confession” trade paperback, and I happen to have a couple in the back issue bins at Gatekeeper Hobbies, Huntoon & Gage, Topeka!)

Rating: ★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Which stories have emotionally affected you the most?

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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16 Comments

  1. January 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm — Reply

    Why don’t you guys do a podcast discussion about Astro City sometime, like soon? There are tons of other things to talk about besides Marvel, Marvel, and more MARVEL!! God, I hate Marvel…

    • January 9, 2011 at 9:51 pm — Reply

      Take a jump into the archives. We talked Astro City a while ago.

    • January 10, 2011 at 6:22 am — Reply

      Why don’t you guys do a podcast discussion about Astro City sometime, like soon? There are tons of other things to talk about besides Marvel, Marvel, and more MARVEL!! God, I hate Marvel…

      We talk about whatever strikes our collective fancy, and a pretty large portion of the time, that’s not Marvel, or even one of the Big Two. That said, there’s a lot of content in comics, and sometimes the Big M will come up…

      • J Michael T
        January 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm — Reply

        The Astro City podcast is the one that got me back into comics after a 10-15 years hiatus. This book opened my eyes to the alternative stories available outside of the Big Two and brought me back into the fold. Astro City should be on everyone’s “must read” list.

  2. Justin Gerlach
    January 10, 2011 at 8:17 am — Reply

    Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Which stories have emotionally affected you the most?

    It’s hard to get that attachment, since characters that are killed off, seem to find a way back (superman, captain america). We’ll see what happens with the FF4, and if that holds it may pull up some emotions. But for emotional responses, I having started my collection on the mid 90’s, what comes to mind are the situation revolving Blackbolt in the Inhumans (Paul Jenkins) where he is unable to use his voice, and must communicate with his eyes. The death of that yellow bastard was also memorable.

    • Noobian74
      January 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm — Reply

      Thanos Quest by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim. Besides way that he acquired the Infinity Gems (the fight against Champion was a classic), it was a classic example of getting what you want, but not what you NEED.

  3. Robot Rooster
    January 10, 2011 at 10:46 am — Reply

    This is a prime example of the medium of comic books at its best!

  4. Allen Jones
    January 10, 2011 at 10:58 am — Reply

    I remember back in the day when it was finally re-released, I had heard so much about this issue being so great, and when I finally got to read it, it hit me very hard.

    To answer the question, it’s this one and “I Kill Giants”. If there’s a story I wouldn’t mind hearing you guys cover its that one for sure.

  5. hermit
    January 10, 2011 at 11:08 am — Reply

    every book, every pages, every words of Astro City is pure awesomeness. but it’s so well done and low key that it goes pretty unnoticed for the Super-Hero crowd.

    i love all of them, almost equally. the Dark Ages book were not the best, but were still better than most super-hero stuff i’ve read in the last couple of years

  6. Rob (fka Smith)
    January 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm — Reply

    The one comic that still hits me every time I read it is part of Identity Crisis. When Tim loses his father, it may be that Tim’s my favorite from DC, but that moment just hits hard even through re-reads.

  7. Stefanie
    January 10, 2011 at 4:56 pm — Reply

    This issue is a PERFECT example of why I think Kurt Busiek is the best Comic writer ever!!!!

  8. Robbie
    January 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm — Reply

    Well said, Matthew.

    That book makes me cry every single time I read it.

    Or even a review of it, it seems….

  9. James Collinge
    January 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm — Reply

    I am ashamed to live in a world where Green Lantern: Rebirth is reprinted in the ‘Absolute’ format before Astro City.

  10. Adam
    February 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm — Reply

    I haven’t read any Astro City, but I am intrigued. From your review, I see this story as a comment on the whole idea of personal continuity. The first Crisis, while awesome, asked you as the reader to “forget” a lot of old stories. Certainly, we all felt slighted to some degree when we were told that some story that touched us or was important to us “never happened” and that we should “forget it”.

    The truth is, no reader ever chooses to forget a story that was a meaningful part of their life. Like the character in this story and all the others that had something taken away by their world’s “Crisis”:
    No One Forgets

  11. Damascus
    March 23, 2011 at 4:04 am — Reply

    I’m just amazing that a 1/2 issue had worth, goes to show that Astro City must be quality all the way to it’s core. Any time I got a comic through Wizard or if it was a 1/2 issue or #0 issue, the comic was really thin and usually horrible and never held any value. It was like getting a Promo card if you collected sports cards back in the 90s, they’d be really flashy cards with foil and embossed and all that, but they weren’t seen as official numbered cards and they’d be worth nothing.

    I still haven’t read any Astro City, though I did pick up a largish stack of AC at the Mid-Ohio con this past year from somewhere in the middle of the run. It was in the 5 for $1 bin I think, or maybe the $1.00/each bin, either way, due to Major Spoilers I bought a bunch of books I would have otherwise overlooked completely.

    • Damascus
      March 23, 2011 at 4:06 am — Reply

      Busiek was there, and I got to meet the man, I should have had him sign some of the Astro City stuff. Instead I think I had him sign some crappy copy of Amazing Spider-man with the villain the Looter on the cover.

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