Astro City: Life in the Big City (Volume 1) Review

Why would a man who could fly dream of flying?
What’s news in a world where anything can happen?
What should a small time crook do with the greatest of all secrets?
What is it that defines home?
How would our lives look to an outsider?
Is there time for superheroes to take a night off?

 

72111

 

Life in the Big City collects Astro City vol. 1 issues 1-6. This is the complete original miniseries.

 

A tad over 20 years ago, Kurt Busiek introduced the world to Astro City. It was his attempt to tell stories of depth in the medium of superhero comics, as both a celebration of them and to push the boundries of what they were capable of. In his own words from the prologue: “We’ve been taking apart the superhero for ten years or more; it’s time to put it back together and wind it up, see what it’ll do.”

What it did was create wonderful stories in a world of heroes, that answer the question above and tons more like them. This is not a comic about a hero – it’s a comic about all of them. Most of the six standalone stories here star a different character, from heroes to criminals to bystanders. This is a comic about life as much as anything else.

Astro City was an enormous undertaking. Busiek did not want to limit his stories to a single perspective, nor establish a setting that felt hollow or could change to suit events. He created an entire world to explore, with fully realized geography, denizens of all types, and depth and consequences to the stories he tells there. There is a full history to this world, which we get wondrous glimpses of here and there until later trades fill us in. The careful groundwork set up here connects to and is built upon by all the future trades. All the stories (including the individual ones here) read fine alone, but together they have amazing depth and resonance.

Since he was creating an examination of heroes, Busiek used many familiar archetypes. You will see similarities between Samaritan and Superman, Winged Victory and Wonder Woman, etc. But to equate them or dismiss Astro City’s heroes as imitations would be a mistake. Even while using the archetypical nature of these characters as a point of discovery, Busiek makes them compelling, complex people in their own right.

The consistent art is also a strong positive. Alex Ross provides his usual astounding work for the covers, and the interiors are all Brent Anderson. Anderson’s art has a unique style and can take some getting used to. It’s not quite as crisp as the typical comic art, but it suits the stories extremely well and his habit of leaving some details a little obscured pays off beautifully when the scene requires more detail (which he provides in amazing fashion – emotion comes across strongly from his characters). Personally I love it, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Life in the Big City is the start of a truly phenomenal comic and should be read by any comic book fan. The most impressive part is that Astro City would get even better in the second trade…

Rat Queens Volume 3 Review

This trade collects Rat Queens #11-15 and Rat Queens Special: Braga #1. There are a lot of layered story threads in Rat Queens. Best to start at the beginning.

ratqueens3

What a roller coaster this volume was. While the focus was firmly on Hannah and her family, backstory on the other Queens is also woven into the narrative. There’s a LOT of developments in the five core issues here, and a huge shake up to the status quo to close them out.

Previous story points are built on nicely, and a few times I got so caught up in the comic I wanted to scream at the characters. The many outstanding story threads makes the news that only one issue will be published after those contained in this trade before an indefinite hiatus for the comic. Here’s hoping it comes back soon.

I was a little worried about Stjephan Sejic’s departure, but while significantly different Tess Flower and Tamra Bonvillain’s art works quite well to continue Wiebe’s tale.

The stand alone special issue featuring Braga that closes the trade was ok, but raised more questions than it answered and the color palate detracted from the art.

Still loving Rat Queens overall, and I’ll miss it while it’s gone.

Rat Queens Volume 2 Review

This trade collects Rat Queens #6-10. There are a lot of layered story threads in Rat Queens. Best to start at the beginning.

rq2

Continues the momentum built up in volume 1 without missing a beat. There’s a lot of background on the leads here, always relevant to their current character and personality as well as to the ongoing story. Stjephan Sejic joins the art team, and his work is just as perfect for the book as Upchruch’s.

The plot pays off some ongoing threads while introducing more (including a big cliffhanger for next volume). However as good as the general story is, the true highlights of Rat Queens are its characters and their development. Despite how awsome everyone is I am developing favorites: Hannah’s proving to be the surprisingly deep enigma I was hoping for, and everything Betty does sends me into a laughing fit. That said I could keep going with similar compliments for just about every single character. The cast is that good.

More great stuff. Can’t wait for volume 3.

Rat Queens Volume 1 Review

“Did you seriously pack candy and drugs for dinner?”

This trade collects Rat Queens #1-5.

rq1

This volume’s subtitle, “Sass and Sorcery,” is as good a summation of Rat Queens as there is. Wiebe’s cast is three-dimensional, relatable, and diverse in appearance, attitude, and actions. Upchurch’s art is a perfect match, bring everything to life in an appropriate and powerful way.

The comic is violent and vulgar, but it seems right for the characters and situations. The Queens are the toughest group of women I’ve ever read about, without being “Mary Sues.” They’re far from perfect, and aren’t entirely good either, but are incredibly likable because they feel real and charming and it’s impossible not to cheer for them. Put such a strong set of main characters into an equally interesting take on some sword and sorcery cliches turned on their heads and it all adds up to a magical, fun read.

Every bit as impressive and awesome as I’d heard, Rat Queen is a must read for fans of the fantasy genre who can handle an in-your-face approach to the material and its “booze guzzling, death dealing battle maidens-for-hire” protagonists.

ODY-C Review

This trade collects ODY-C #1-5.

odyc

The Odyssey in space in a universe where nearly all the people and Gods are women. Sounds much more interesting in premise than it ended up in execution. Fraction’s re-imaginings of Greek myth and parts of Odysseus’s journey are brilliant, but suffer under too grand and abstract a vision. The comic isn’t particularly cohesive and it’s often unclear how the scheming of various Gods behind the scenes is affecting the main(?) story of Odyssia’s trip home.

Odyssia herself doesn’t connect with the reader well, and other than being told she’s a hero I’m not sure why we’re supposed to be cheering for her successful return (especially since we’re also told she might or might not even want to go home in the first place).

I found the art extremely variable. Like the story I think it tries to hard to be abstract, leading to muddled coloring and hard to follow sequences. On the other hand some pages and panels are truly beautiful, capturing the trippy and alien feel they seemed to be going for.

ODY-C is a comic I expected to, and wished, I liked more than I did. As a huge fan of both Greek mythology and science fiction this comic seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately I don’t think it worked well nor achieved even close to its full potential.

“He Saw It In A Dream.”

This trade collects Jupiter’s Legacy #1-5.

jupiter

Disillusioned and reeling from the 1929 stock market collapse, Sheldon Sampson follows strange dreams he’s been having to an island where he and his companions are given superpowers. These heroes and their children could shape the world …

There’s been a lot of criticism about the derivative and cliched nature of many of the themes and plot points here, but the quality of stories always primarily depends on what’s done with the ideas it uses. I think it’s all blended wonderfully in Jupiter’s Legacy and it doesn’t bother me in the least that I’ve seen some elements before.

The execution isn’t entirely perfect. In refusing to shy away from graphical depictions of violence Millar and Quitely go over the top a couple times to the point it breaks the immersion. The ideological differences of certain characters would have been much more interesting with a few small changes  and some more shades of gray worked in.

But Jupiter’s Legacy is excellent as it is. This exploration of power and the long reaching consequences of the associated choices could become a classic depending on what the rest of the series brings.

MPH Review

“As debuts go, it was a complete disaster.”

mph

Roscoe is a low level drug dealer in Detroit aiming for better than his current situation. He may have his chance when exposed to a drug called MPH which bestows him with superhuman speed.

Interesting mixed bag here. Millar provides an intriguing tale of sudden opportunity against a backdrop of political and social commentary that somehow both leaves a couple nagging questions and wraps up the main plot point almost too tidily. The plot turns include the fantastical and the predictable, but all fit well enough to keep the story moving well.

The art is good but the faces of the characters don’t look consistent to me from scene to scene, which is rather distracting.

I feel like there was a significant amount more potential for the concept of super-speed pills than what Millar chose to do here, but there’s nothing wrong per se with the direction he chose or his execution.

Decent enough overall.