I think this is the best volume by far. Busiek returns to the narrative structure and tells the story that he's been hinting at throughout the entire series. In past issues we get glimpses of the Silver Agent, statues, anecdotes, and through them all references to some tragedy that befell Astro City in the past. The Silver Agent is like the ultimate hero, but one that was fallen, either because of his own folly or because of self-sacrifice - we were never really sure. Until now. And boy does it not disappoint.
The story encompasses the late 60s early 70s when America was having doubts about itself, chaos and disorder seemed to reign supreme and many Americans feel they lost their sense of purpose and goodness. In front of this backdrop Busiek weaves the story of two African-American brothers whose lives were altered forever when a rumble between masks destroys their family apartment and kills their parents. One grows up to be a cop, to prove that human beings don't need superhumans and that we've made a huge mistake letting them do everything for us. He sees arrogance in the masks, and a sense of superiority, like their gods who think they know best - and a series of unfortunate events gets the American public feeling just about the same as Charles. His brother, Royal, turns to a life of crime, disheartened by the masks inability to save his parents, he loses faith in everything and sees life as a race to get what's yours and nothing more.
What's interesting is that throughout the tale, both brothers play off as mirrors to one another, beginning to question the events and attitudes that led them to their present lifestyles. Charles faces corruption in the police department and Royal faces the ever-growing brutality of organized crime and violence on the streets of Astro City and wonders how far he's really willing to go to just live a financially secure life. The brothers have a grudging respect for one another that is shattered at the apex of the story. What causes this? The radically different lifestyles? No. Not really. It's one of the two dreaded subjects never to discuss with family and friends because it tears relationships apart: politics (or religion).
As we see the brothers trying to live their lives, America's foremost hero, the Silver Agent is accused of murder, and there is overwhelming evidence showing his guilt. To compound matters, the Agent killed someone from another country and the international community puts pressure on America to live up to it's ideals and not give the Agent a simple slap on the wrist. The Agent is sentenced to death and is executed, and Americans in general are behind the decision, believing somehow that the death of the Agent can allow them to reclaim the moral high ground in the age of Vietnam and Watergate.
Or does it? Is the Silver Agent guilty? The tale unravels itself in very unexpected ways and remains unfinished. This is the first of two volumes and ends with quite a few questions raised. This is comic writing at it's finest. It follows the structure of a novel, builds and develops extremely complex characters in a setting that is finely researched and finely tuned to mirror the turmoil within the characters themselves. There is no greater comic besides Watchmen.