The sixth collection of Busiek’s superhero comics, issues 1-4 of Book one and 1-4 of Book two. It doesn’t require reading the previous collections.

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson

This is the tale of two brothers who were both greatly influenced by the superheroes and villains around them as well as the social upheaval in 1970s. They’re black and seeing a black superhero had profound impact. Also, an incident which killed their parents when they were young, was also very influential, of course. But that is shown to us slower over the first issues

The comic is divided into two books and both have several storylines. One follows the brothers’ lives and the other shows us the various heroes and what little we see of their adventures.

When they grow up, Charles becomes a police officer who tries to save and help people, especially in the devastating wake of the battles between super groups. But Royal becomes a petty criminal, taking advantage of people in any way he can. Neither of them likes superheroes much; they both cope in their own way with the disasters the heroes (inadvertently) bring to the human bystanders.

In the first book, the other storyline tells us the tale of Silver Agent who appears to have been one of the first superheroes. He’s caught on camera killing a foreign head of state as well as a few US soldiers. The book is set in 1972, so this incident throws the Vietnam peace talks into chaos and the US government arrests the Silver agent. Watergate and the peace talks color people’s perception of super heroes who make ordinary people, as especially their leaders, feel powerless and therefore resentful.

The second book is set in 1977 during a war between various mobster gang in Astro City. Royal gets a chance to climb the mobster ranks and Charles’ integrity gets a mighty blow when he finds out about police corruption.

The superheroes are also grittier. Some of the new heroes kill ordinary criminals, something that the previous wave of heroes didn’t do. The super hero storyline follows Street Angel and his new partner Black Velvet. Street Angel transforms into far more violent hero and Black Velvet can actually rip out people’s souls, so she’s violent to start with. Also, a new superpowered being hunts and kills ordinary criminals. People start to wonder just what is the difference between heroes and villains.

This isn’t a self-contained album, though. The brothers’ tale will continue in the next collection: book 7, Brothers in Arms.
Astro City showcases superheroes in a more ordinary setting than usual. They’re seen through the eyes of normal people who often don’t know what’s going on and are still victims of various large-scale attacks. Their attitude also changes with times and events. Nixon turns attention from Watergate to Silver Agent’s trial and the racial tensions are seen also among the heroes because there are very few non-white heroes and also very few female heroes, usually just one in a team. (yes, I know this book’s style deliberately first shows us the heroes of 60s and then 70s. But we did get Storm and Ms. Marvel in the seventies and I miss heroines like them. Maybe in the next book… Then again, we do get glimpses of several white female heroines while there seems to be only two black heroes in the whole story.) It was fun to compare the idealistic 60s heroes with the “tougher” (seeming) revenge based 70s heroes, though.

Personally, I tend to enjoy the four-color comics more, especially when they have more female and non-white characters. But this is very ambitious and well-told tale of grittier superheroing than usual.

Definitely recommended for people who want more realism in superhero stories.

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