Astro City vol. 3 (#50) – Kurt Busiek

4 out of 5

It’s always good to read an anniversary issue of a series when you’ve read none of that series’ preceding 100 or so issues, right?

Issue #50 is actually the fiftieth issue of the third volume of Astro City, and according to writer Kurt Busiek’s afterword, has some callbacks to some of those volumes on which I’ve missed out. However, it does mostly function as a standalone, which makes the sarcasm of my opening question moderately inapplicable: while my experience reading this would likely be enriched by understanding more context, the issue is also a functional gateway to a new storyline, given you can hop right into AC’s general premise of a superhero-stuffed city, and this fiftieth issue’s focus on the little, unpowered people of said city. Specifically: we check in on a support group for those who’ve lost someone due to hero antics, narrated by the organizer of that group, prepping for a full day of newbies and familiar faces who will wander in and out of the meeting.

And for a comic that’s almost all talking heads and narration, it’s very engaging stuff. Artist Brent Anderson adds a lot of personality to each character, and finds different ways to capture the circle of talkers, both without going overly flashy; Busiek writes snippets of stories that bring people to the group, along with the leader’s self-reflections, and it’s emotional without being maudlin – human without trying to force any overt point. It’s very much slice of life, in a life where the frequently stupendous means normality gets taken for granted.

But what I can’t tell from this issue is whether or not that’s actually a theme of Astro City, as a series, or just this issue. There are some interesting background revelations that land well even within the context of this single book, but it also lacks a “conclusion” that makes this check-in feel like anything more than that – just a stop – and the ending suggests the followup issues will be more typical hero stuff, which further somewhat undermines what we just read.

Still, even questioning that is enough to interest me to find out more, and as those questions don’t start to hit until near the end of the book, any writer / artist that can deliver a dialogue filled, action-less issue and hold our interest for 20+ pages probably deserve some further attention.