Wow! Three 5-star reads in a row. I'm lucky this summer. I love Kurt Busiek (he wrote my favorite Superman story of all time). I have to say that my summer comic reading started off disappointing with the Grant Morrison Batman stuff, but I've learned to stick with what I know is good. Astro City is a love letter to comic books. It's a self-contained universe in which Busiek is not restrained by continuity and character history and can basically do as he wants with the superhero genre, and boy does he do it right.
Astro City has a 75 year history that Busiek gradually delves into throughout the series. In this first volume, collecting issues 1-6, Busiek tells the story in one-shots that highlight certain superheroes and establish their backstory. Each story gradually crosses with the story of the others in the background and the back panels, preserving continuity and the sense that there is a larger story being told. I'm usually not a fan of anthologies, but Busiek manages to thread the needle superbly.
What's great is that the whole thing is sort of campy, but totally real at the same time. Just look at the names of the heroes: Samaritan, Crackerjack, Jack-in-the-Box, N-forcer, Winged Victory, just to name a few. All of these characters have analogs in the established world of comic books (Samaritan is Superman, Winged Victory is Wonder Woman), but they are presented in fresh new ways.
Story 1 is probably my favorite in the series so far: It centers on the main hero, Samaritan, and his dreams. In his dreams he flies, and it's all he wants to do in the world, and though his job requires him to fly around the world in just seconds to avert crises and disasters, it's not the sort of care-free flying that he wants to enjoy - flying for himself. The whole story is a sort of day-in-the-life that is touching and also raises serious questions about the personalities, rather than the 'character', of superheroes. What do they want for themselves? How do they make the crushing decision to serve over their own ambitions and goals? It's wonderfully done.
The final story is in the same vein and also centers around the Samaritan. In this story members of the Honor Guard (cough, cough Justice League), see that he is overworked and set him up on a blind date, with Winged Victory. The whole story follows them on their date and their constant stress over the fact that while they are taking time off the world is falling apart. It's quaint, romantic, and very, very fantastically written.
There are stories in between these highlighted ones that focus on the citizens of Astro City and how their lives intersect with the heroes who are inspirational, inconveniences and life changers. Focusing on how ordinary people would live in the world of superheroes is a novel idea. Most authors keep trying to bring superheroes into the "real world" and making them dark and having them deal with normal problems you or I deal with. Busiek flips that convention by forcing us to think about how we
would live in the world of superheroes, and the stories that generates are genuine and innovative.
I can't wait to continue this series.