Crackerjack: The motormouthed acrobat who dresses like Evel Kneivel, one of the first Astro City characters we ever met, way back in 1995… How do passing years affect the life of a superhero in Astro City? Your Major Spoilers review of Astro City #18 awaits!
ASTRO CITY #18
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: John G Roshell & Albert Deschesne of Comicraft
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Previously in Astro City: One of the greatest parts of the story of Astro City is it’s sort-kinda real-time storytelling. In the 20 years since the original AC miniseries, we’ve met dozens of heroes and reg’lar gals and guys of the city, but it’s rare that a spotlight character gets a second full-time appearance. As an important part of the first overarching plot, Crackerjack has been around for some time, and his status as super-heroic jackanapes is one of the most memorable characterizations of the series, even 20 years down the line. But what has he been up to since the Enelsian invasion, and have the passing years treated him?
“THE DIMMING OF THE DAY”
Fittingly for a story about the past of Astro City (the setting), we start in a setting from the past of Astro City (the comic): Butler’s, a superhero gathering place first seen during the Confessor arc back in the 1990s. We open at the retirement party of Honor Guard leader The Black Rapier, with Crackerjack in attendance as a guest. The use of characters in this issue is brilliant, with nearly every page evoking a bit of Astro City lore from the past 20 years, tweaking my own real sense of nostalgia to work in concert with an aging Crackerjack’s realization that he may have his best days behind him. After a brief battle with The Chessmen, Crackerjack and Quarrel retire to their home to bandage their wounds, leading her to remember how she went from dirt-poor girl to one of the most senior heroes in Astro City, thanks partly to her super-villain father. Her story is an interesting one, bringing more bits of lore (including a Steeljack cameo), and it ends with a persistent question, one that we all have: How is it all going to end? It’s mighty existential stuff for a 24-page comic book…
This issue heralds the return of Brent Anderson on art, and it’s amazing how much I didn’t realize I missed his work. Crackerjacks’ wig-and-beard secret identity wouldn’t quite look right from any other artist, and the first (to my memory, anyway) glimpse of Black Rapier’s real face is a beautiful image. Quarrel’s story, with its backwoods setting and rural overtones is likewise excellently handled. This story promises to continue next month, giving us more of Quarrel & Crackerjack, and I’m kind of thrilled, even if a part of me doesn’t like being reminded of how old he (and by extension, I) have become. It’s a strong issue in terms of both story and art, and as with most issues of KBAC, the only real comparison is with previous issues of the same book. As the opening chapter, it ends on a down note, but doesn’t depress so much as it examines the realities behind a physical lifestyle and the toll that it would take on humans. Quarrel admits that she has lost a few steps, while Crackerjack’s refusal to do the same nearly leads to disaster within the story, leaving me wondering where we’re going next.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A GOOD ONE
Busiek and company have been on quite a roll recently, bringing new characters into play while using the full scale of the world as background, but this issue takes us back into places we (or at least, the regal “we”) have seen before, and the effect is like going back to your home town after graduation: Familiar and disturbing all at once. Astro City #18 gets a little bit heavy, if you’re really paying attention, but still delivers a little action, a little human drama and a lot of the usual AC quality, earning a more-than-impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. Even though I feel a bit melancholy after reading it, it’s in the best possible way…