Kurt Busiek


This trade tells the story of Carl Donewicz aka Steeljack. He’s a super villain who has an indestructible steel skin and super strength. At the start of the story he has just got out on parole after twenty years at Biro Island prison. However, he has a very hard time getting a job and even then he gets only minimum wage jobs where his strength is a handicap (washing dishes…). People look at him with fear and suspicion except on his old, poor neighborhood at Kiefer Square. Many of the people living there are also super villains or their families. Steeljack has decided to keep his nose clean this time but when an old illegal jobs fixer, Ferguson, gives Steeljack an offer, it’s hard to resist.

However, soon a group of villains’ families come to Steeljack and tell him that some of the old super villains have been murdered. They know that police doesn’t really care to investigate the death so they want to hire Carl to look into them. Carl hesitates; he’s no detective. However, he’s also broke so he agrees.

Carl goes around talking with the families of the murdered villains and hear their depressive stories. All of the villains had dreams to make it big but none of them could make it happen. So, they live with their families in poverty much the same way as Carl himself. They do get money from crimes but then they seem to always waste it on something.

Goldenrod’s daughter also wants to follow in her dad’s footsteps into a life of supposedly lucrative crime. Carl tries to talk her out of it but she doesn’t listen but beats him up. Otherwise, the people seem pretty depressed and accept their fates in endless poverty.

Ferguson takes Carl to listen a former hero’s story about his golden days and fall from grace. Then we hear another, a bit more successful, villain’s story.

This has again an aged protagonist who thinks he is past his prime. We get to see a little bit of his earlier career. Carl is a very sympathetic protagonist even though he himself thinks that he is a loser. He also thinks of the heroes as angels and himself as their opponent and opposite. He has many regrets and is often on the verge of giving up altogether. However, this is a story about human spirit and how even a convicted criminal would like to do the right thing.

A very human and moving story even though not as great as Confession.

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In the familiar Astro City style, this is a collection of one or two comic stories where the main character is a normal human (or a retired super in one case) living in a city full of super humans and villains. We see how the heroes influence the lives of other people around them.

Newcomers: the main character is a veteran AC citizen who greets people at the Classic hotel. He remembers how he first came there and his encounters with the supers. He also sees the reactions of the newcomers to the city; how they react to meeting the heroes.

Where the action is: Sally Twinings is a comic book writer who writes about the real heroes in imaginary situations. Sally wants to check the facts first and not to just invent stuff. However, her boss Manny has been in the comic book business for a long time and he wants to continue with stories that sell better. However, the heroes aren’t necessarily thrilled about how they have been portrayed. Contains probably a huge amount of industry injokes.

Great Expectations: a soap opera in this world requires a super hero in order to be more realistic. (That already blew my mind. :)) But then the actor playing Crimson Cougar is part of the team that stops a robbery from happening. Here we see what happens when a TV hero gets to have a chance to be a real hero.

Shining Armor: an old woman remembers when she first came to AC full of determination to find her own job and also the best man for herself. She ends up as a reporter and falls for Atomicus, the greatest super hero at the time. A sort of retelling of the Lois and Superman story from their earlier and sillier times.

Pastoral: a girl from AC is forced by her parents to go to the countryside. She’s convinced that she’s going to die of boredom but finds out that even the country cousins have their own superhero: Roustabout.

Knock Wood and Justice Systems: a two-part story where a down on his luck lawyer has to try to defend a mobster. The lawyer is working at a time when the supers have just started to get a wider influence and he decides to take advantage of that.

Old Time: retired superhero Supersonic is practically forced to defend his city against an old enemy. Supersonic knows that he isn’t as good as in his best days and he relives some of his adventures.

All the stories are once again enjoyable but I guess I’m more used to stories that have a continuous main character(s). These are charming and nice, though.

By Busiek, Anderon, Blyberg,

This trade has four distinct stories and their only connection is that they happen in Astro City.

In the first story, a man and his two daughters move to Astro City from Boston. They are trying to get used to seeing all of the super folk and the super level fighting around them. The man, Ben Pullam, and his daughters are all normal people and Ben feels quite inadequate compared to the super people, at least at first.

The second story centers, finally, around actual super people: Astra who is the 10-year old, super powered girl of the First Family. Astra and the rest of the First Family live in their own place with lots of technological gadgets and away from other people. Astra wants to know other kids and to play ordinary kids’ games, so she decides to go on her own adventure in a nearby school. Unfortunately, her parents are worried sick about her and think that she’s been kidnapped. We also get the First Family’s brief background story.

Then another one issue story which is about supervillain called the Junkman. He was a successful toy designer until he was put on retirement and decided to design gadgets for his own good. His first robbery is a success but somehow that’s not enough for him.

A bit longer story centers on Jack-in-the-Box. He meets his three sons which have all come from a possible future. One of them has modified himself through cybernetics in order to kill his father. The son is embittered and somewhat insane because his father died before he was born. The second son is also just as embittered and somewhat insane. However, he has studied Jack, and what Jack has said and done has become a religion to him. The second son is out to bring bloody justice to every law breaker and when he realizes that Jack doesn’t want him to kill anyone, he teams up with the first son and tries to kill their father.

Jack realizes that his eventual death will have dire consequences to his family and has to re-think being hero all over again.

The final short piece is about an animated cartoon character Leo and his sad story in Hollywood and outside it.

All of the stories were at least interesting. I enjoyed especially Astra’s tale because of the obvious parallels with Fantastic Four. I was a bit surprised that she looks completely like a human, though, when her grandfather is the prince of Animal-Men and her father looks like Ben Grimm. Then again, all comics’ women look the same, even when they aren’t mammals.

By Busiek, Anderson, Blyberg, Sinclair, Ross

This trade has one long story arc and one unrelated story. Busiek combines many classic elements here: a young man coming to big city and growing up, mysterious hero, citizens and the authorities being suspicious of superheroes, and aliens. He manages to pull it off enjoyably.

A teenage boy Brian Kinney comes to Astro City head full of stories of heroes and dreams. He becomes a waiter and sees the heroes up close in their bar. However, he soon gets a ticket to a more upper-class place where the heroes wear evening jackets instead of masks. When a bitter villain attacks the place, Brian gets a chance to show a little bit of the hero inside him. Soon enough, he is recruited by one of the city’s most enigmatic heroes: the Confessor. The Confessor teaches Brian detective skills of seeing the patterns around him and finding what is out of place. Brian puts the skills to good use as the Altar Boy, the Confessor’s sidekick.

However, soon there’s a tide of suspicions against the heroes. One of them is accused of turning into a villain and another’s anti-religious statements are used against her. Things start to look bleak for the heroes.

While non-powered Altar Boy and his mentor the Confessor battle mostly muggers and looters, there are glimpses of more cosmic and large-scale battle going on in the background. I don’t know whether to be pleased or frustrated by this. 😉 I do like my cosmic battles but then again I don’t like just battles all the time with no character development (hi there, Marvel!).

At first I thought that the Confessor was just a redone Batman and I was mildly amused that his relationship with his sidekick was the opposite of the closeness of Bruce and Dick. Boy, was I blown away when his secrets were revealed! Very nicely done.

Although, I was quite frustrated how very few female heroes this world, too, seems to have when even teenage boys without any powers at all can put on a costume and battle muggers.

This trade has six individual stories and each of them has a different main character. They are connected by the setting: Astro City and some of the characters in them. Astro City is home to normal people, superheroes, and super villains. The villains are actually seen only a couple of times and then at a distance; they never rise to be the main point of a story.

In Dreams: the first story deals with the life of Astro City’s premier superhero, the Samaritan. He never has time to live when he has to rush from one emergency to the next in his solo hero career, battle villains as a member of the Honor Guard, and at the same time he’s trying to keep up a civilian identity as a fact verifier. There’s more than a slight resemblance to another, far more well-known superhero. But Samaritan is a more tortured character: he longs to have peace and to have a civilian life which he has no time for.

The Scoop: a veteran journalist who owns his own paper, the Astro City Rocket, tells about his first big story. He trails the Silver Agent and sees something extraordinary.

A Little Knowledge: a small-time crook stumbles upon the real identity of a superhero, Jack-in-the-Box. He thinks he can get a lot of money out of the secret.

Safeguards: Marta lives in the oldest part of the city where the inhabitants have to protect themselves every night with wolfsbane, crucifixes, and magical signs. She works in the city, however, and sees the heroes who inspire her. One of her colleagues needs a roommate and she has to make a decision about her life.

Reconnaissance: this is a story about a little old man who walks around gathering information about the heroes and seems to hate all people. But then there’s a fire in his house and his secrets are in danger of being exposed.

Dinner at Eight: two of Astro City’s most famous heroes get together for a date: Samaritan and Winged Victory. Both of them have been so busy that they are quite awkward at first and they go to a restaurant in their superhero identities but they are so swamped by autograph-hunters that they have to leave. They end up eating at a fast food place in their civilian identities. They tell each other their origins and about their ideologies.

I liked most Reconnaissance because I had no idea what to expect and the story came as a complete surprise. It was humorous and a bit tragic at the same time. Safeguards was another very good story. None of them were bad, either. I think that anyone who enjoys superhero stories would enjoy this trade, too.

However, I was expecting something a bit more unlike most superhero stories and these are very much in the spirit of Marvel and DC.

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