Astro City: The Dark Age Vol. 1: Brothers and Other Strangers
Kurt Busiek's "Astro City" has been one of the most sucessful and acclaimed comics in the subgenre of superhero comics that could be perhaps best described as "superhero city" stories. These stories, while taking place in cities where there are plenty of superheroes, do not focus on the superheroes themselves but on ordinary shlubs that have to deal with living around superpowered individuals. Some others that come to mind include Brian Michael Bendis' and Michael Avon Oeming's "Powers" (which I believe I have done a review of) and Alan Moore's "Top Ten." They're usually pretty good, often using their focus to shed a different perspective on the character of the superhero.
Buseik's Astro City is a city somewhere in the Midwest of the US which is a focus of super-powered activities. Most of his efforts have been either short, one-issue stories or relatively brief arcs, which although they often featured superheroes and supervillians focused more on their normal lives rather than their super-powered exploits.
"The Dark Age" decides to break from the tradition of relatively short stories to tell a long and epic one of life in Astro City in the 1970s, as told through the eyes of two brothers, Royal and Charles Williams. Charles is a cop, Royal a low-level criminal, and both have a quite cynical view on life, Royal feeling that everything is random while Charles is incredibly untrusting of the motives of your typical superhero, viewing the lot of them as a bunch of undisciplined vigilante thugs.
Both of their viewpoints are seemingly proven correct, as superheroes increasingly seem to be functioning by their own individual codes (some of them anything but heroic), a few blatantly defying the law (the most glaring instance being the Silver Agent, a Captain American-type hero, being caught on tape murdering a villanous dictator of a Southeast Asian country), causing untold chaos.
The two brothers try their best to keep themselves from being drawn into the chaos, as ordinary people begin protesting one way or another on the various actions of law-defying superheroes, and the city is wracked with catastrophe after catastrophe. Buseik is really able to communicate very well this feeling of chaos and anarchy, making it seem that anything could happen next. It really made me want to keep reading, to find out what happened next.
The two brothers are interesting. Charles is more by-the-book, just trying to keep his head down away from all the chaos around him. Royal also tries to keep himself unnoticed in the criminal community, but his obvious competance keeps on bringing him increasing acclaim. The two brothers are very alike, despite their opposing professions, but also noticeably different. Their relationship really does feel like that of two actual estranged brothers who love each other but don't agree on anything.
I also liked seeing characters who appeared in Astro City before in a very different light. It's been a while, but it still made me happy to finally have the enigmatic phrase on Silver Agent's memorial explained, for instance. Anyone who liked "Astro City" should really like this. Because it's set before most of the events that have been depicted in the series have occured, however, it'squite easy for a newcomer to pick it up, if desired.
All in all, a great example of the subgenre. If you're a fan either of Kurt Busiek specifically or thoughful superhero fare in general, you should definitely check this one out.
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