Astro City #13 Review

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Some believe that Friday the 13th, is an ill omen, as 13 is (*whisper*) bad luck.  Where I come from, though, we believe that if life gives you proms, you make promenade, so we’ll double down with a #13 issue as well!  Your Major Spoilers review of Astro City #13 awaits!

AstroCity13CoverASTRO CITY #13
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: John G. Roshell and Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously in Astro City:  Once known as Romeyn Falls, the municipality now known as Astro City changed its name in honor of the sacrifice of a hero known as the Astro-Naut some years ago.  Home to many superhumans of all backgrounds and natures, it’s also the kind of place where nothing is entirely as it seems.  Though many of the heroes may seem to be familiar, you can count on a different take on the familiar heroic archetypes.  In short, if you’ve read superhero comics for years (like I know *I* have), you’re still not going to be jaded by the goings-on here…

…and if you’ve read Astro City for decades (like I know *I* have), you’re still not ready for this issue.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

It’s weird; every time I sit down to review Astro City, I freeze a little bit.  Part of it is the knowledge that merely breaking down the pros and cons of plotting won’t really give you the inexplicable whole that is this book, and part of it is the feeling that I’m a chimpanzee banging a bone on a rock at the base of the monolith.  This issue takes the premise of Astro City (that is to say, the world of superhumans as viewed through the an uncommon lens, with a focus on the ripples super-dupers make in the metaphorical ponds they walk across) and confuses matters even more by telling the story in anachronic order.  Each of it’s 24 pages represents one hour in a very unusual day, with multiple storylines crossing and recrossing throughout the day, thanks to a visit from an extraplanar entity known as the Dancing Master.  Anderson masterfully renders the Dancing Master’s segments in archaic forms reminiscent of wood-carvings, and the always-excellent lettering/production team gives his captions an equally ancient and otherworldly feel.  The arrival of the Dancing Master causes everyone in Astro City to act in a peculiar manner, with his “music” running through them and causing them to act on their deepest feelings.  The super-villain known as Gundog is part of the tale, as are a nice young couple of scientists with opposing schedules and a slowly-freezing love life, but as the issue progresses in its back-and-forth way, the question becomes more acute: What caused the Dancing Master to appear?

I’M ON MY THIRD READ-THROUGH

I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge, you’ll have to put in some effort to break this story down and wrap your linear mind around it, but Busiek and Anderson make it worth every moment.  With meaningful appearances from Volume One stars Jack-In-The-Box and The Hanged Man (with tantalizing bits of detail revealed in both cases), as well as some utterly wonderful bits and pieces about the affected population of Astro City and how they respond to having their music restarted.  The real trick is, if you assemble the issue in order, it’s still a pretty wonderful bit of story, featuring more than one exhilarating romance, and at least five moments that left me smiling and inexplicably happy.  Brent Anderson’s absence last issue is more than made up for in these pages, as he imbues even random background characters with personality, and makes it clear the joy that they’re feeling because of The Dancing Master’s arrival.  I don’t always praise cover art in comics, what with the tendency towards meaningless glamour shots these days, but Alex Ross nails this one, with a Peter Max-inspired piece that perfectly prepares you for the odd beauty that awaits inside the issue.  And as for what called out the Dancing Master?

THE BOTTOM LINE: WHOA…

That would be telling.  But it’s a really wonderful reveal, as the last page of the issue takes place first in chronological order, and makes what comes before that much more unique and special.  There’s really no sense in futzing around with this: Astro City #13 is another wonderful standalone story, albeit one that stands out even among its brethren, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.  What Busiek, Anderson and company have done with this book is simply extraordinary, and you owe it to yourself to read this one (three or four times, actually.)