Astro City: Astra Special #1
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent E. Anderson
Colors: Wendy Broome
Cover artist: Alex Ross
Editor: Scott Peterson
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions
One of the more down-to-earth and sweet stories in the history of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City comics was a two-part arc featuring Astra, the youngest member of the First Family, Astro City’s answer to the Fantastic Four. At the time, she was a school-aged kid, and all she wanted was to be normal, to fit in with other kids, instead of the fantasy and wonder that her life as a pre-teen super-hero brought with it. Well, Astra’s all grown up now, having graduated from college, and we get to see just how those early wishes and some more maturity have shaped the young adult. This two-part limited series is shaping up to be an interesting companion piece to that earlier Astra story, so much so that I hope that when the time comes to collect this new story, that earlier, mid-1990s two-parter (already included in the Local Heroes: Family Album trade paperback) is included along with it. Now, this isn’t the strongest or most resonant Astro City story these creators have crafted over the years, but it’s certainly solid.
Astra Furst has graduated from college, and she spends the night after the graduation ceremony celebrating with friends and avoiding the ever-present gaze of the media. Astra’s decided this night is going to be extra special, as she plans to share a unique experience with her boyfriend, Matthew. But as the young couple endeavors to get a few moments alone, they’re repeatedly interrupted — by remote-controlled paparazzi cameras, by royal enjoys from an underwater realm and from other super-heroes looking to offer congratulations and a proposed venture. Never has Matthew seen so clearly just how different Astra’s life has been than his, and how different it will be as well.
The most striking thing about the cover for this comic book isn’t the Alex Ross artwork but rather than the slick, magazine-like design provided by the folks at Comicraft. While the image of a jubilant Astra conveys some of the content, the gossip-mag design offers a flashy representation of the real-world, non-genre challenges the title character faces on a daily basis. The high-end cardstock used for the cover also provides the super-glossy look that makes the design work even better.
Brent Anderson rarely disappoints with his work on Astro City, so the first image inside this comic really made an impact on me. The first page is a splash page, featuring an elated Astra… and her underwear. I realize that this incarnation of the character is an adult, and one could argue that a woman in her early 20s, dancing in a party dress might accidentally reveal more than she intends in the throes of revelry. Nevertheless, it’s a distracting an unnecessary choice on Anderson’s part. Fortunately, the visuals that follow don’t feature any other gratuitous imagery. Anderson manages to maintain a nicely grounded tone, even when fantastic figures appear to Astra and Matthew out in the “real world.” That allows their entry into the realm of the fantastic at the end of the issue to pack a much more powerful and dazzling visual punch.
Busiek uses an other-dimensional journey as a thinly disguised symbol as a young couple’s first sexual journey, and while the point is an obvious one, I like that the script doesn’t get crude or cute about it. It seems to be that the story is about Astra’s decision to share herself with Matthew, and to do so, she needs to share the impossible, magical part of her life with him, now that they’ve spent so much time together in the normal world.
My one concern about the plot is that I got the sinking feeling that the other shoe was always about to drop. Busiek psyches the reader out a couple of times, surprising Astra and Matthew with the sudden appearance of other superhumans. The genre leads us to expect conflict, to expect that a villain or villains will appear to ruin this special moment in Astra’s life. That doesn’t come to pass, but I’m worried it will in the second issue. It feels as though Matthew will be revealed as an insidious figure who’s inserted himself into Astra’s life. His cluelessness and awkwardness in the flashback about their first meeting didn’t quite ring true, so I’m worried that this cliched twist will come to pass. It wouldn’t cast Astra is the most favorable light, and it would certainly detract from the more human, grounded approach in the plot. Hopefully, I’m reading something into the story that just isn’t there. 7/10
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