- Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #4 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
- Wednesday Comics #5 of 12, by many hands (DC)
- Irredeemable #5, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
- Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
The third part of Astro City: The Dark Age comes to a close this week. The whole series leaves me with a bittersweet taste, and not just because of the story; The Dark Age is a 16-issue story (I thought it was originally going to be 12 issues) which has come out v-e-r-y slowly, largely (I understand) due to Kurt Busiek’s health issues. While I’m sympathetic to the reasons for the delay and I enjoy Astro City enough to keep with it despite the scheduling issues, a 16-issue story unfortunately suffers more than most from such delays, especially when it’s chock-full of teasers and questions that would be difficult enough sit through a monthly comic waiting to see resolved, and with a year or more between 4-issue parts, well, my enthusiasm has waned greatly over the life of the series.
And alas the story itself has not been one of the series’ best. The emotional center of the series is the pair of brothers, Charles the cop and Royal the small-time crook, who struggle with their relationship as a result of their divergent paths even as they’re united in looking for the man who killed their parents when they were children. Their story takes a significant step forward in this part as they each have cut ties with their previous lives and infiltrate the organization where their target works. Of course, since it’s an underground revolutionary group, that means the stakes are high. They make significant progress here, but with one more part to come, naturally it’s not over yet in this issue.
The problem with The Dark Age is that it’s also chronicling the history of Astro City through the 70s and 80s, so it casts its net widely with a huge cast of characters, and many of them just don’t get the time they deserve. The ongoing Silver Agent story is playing out fairly well, but the superhero group the Apollo Eleven see their story reach its climax in this issue, and honestly my reaction was something of a shrug. Usually Busiek has a deft touch when it comes to working superhero battles into the background of the main story, but something about his approach here makes the battle overshadow the brothers’ efforts, yet the battle itself isn’t satisfying.
I wonder whether The Dark Age suffers from being too ambitious a story for the series’ structure (never mind its schedule). But for whatever reason, I don’t think it’s been a standout moment in Astro City‘s history. On the bright side, artist Brent Anderson’s work is as powerful as ever, filled with a wide variety of character designs and page layouts, and doing a fine service to the various emotional tones that the story paints. If I have a complaint, it’s that I find the nature of the grimaces and shouts that his characters’ faces exhibit get to look a little too much the same one issue after another.
On the bright side, Busiek recently announced that Astro City will be going monthly thanks to positive developments in both his life and Anderson’s work approach, which has to be one of the brightest bits of comics news in years. Given the series’ track record I’m cautious optimistic that they can pull it off, but honestly even if they “just” go bimonthly or quarterly, a regular schedule would be an improvement.
On the other hand, Busiek’s Green Lantern story in Wednesday Comics is pretty dull, and this week’s page is just a flashback to Hal Jordan’s rivalry with the pilot who started turning into a monster a few pages ago. I think we’ve seen Green Lantern for about 3 panels so far, and none of the Hal Jordan stuff has been particularly interesting. Disappointing.
The Superman page has some memories of Superman being rocketed from Krypton. It always bugs the hell out of me when I see – as we do here – Superman’s ‘S’ shield being used on Krypton, and it has ever since the first Christopher Reeve feature film. The shield to me has always been a symbol of Superman’s humanity and heritage as an Earthman, that he’s Kryptonian by birth but that’s all in the past. It’s an indication to me that the writer or editor Just Doesn’t Get It where Superman is concerned. But that’s been the case for the whole story here so far.
This issue has not one but two heroes saving planes from crashing into the Earth. The Supergirl page is a lot more fun than the Hawkman page – the writing on Hawkman is bad and getting worse. Supergirl at least has no pretentions of being more than an amusing little yarn involving her flying pets.
The best stories in the issue are The Flash (as usual), Metal Men (Dan Didio seems to be surprising everyone by writing a perfectly readable story), and Supergirl. I’m intrigued by Adam Strange and disappointed (after some earlier enthusiasm) in The Demon and Catwoman. This week’s Batman page is the best yet, but it’s too bad it took this long for me to find the story more than bizarrely paced.
Mark Waid’s Irredeemable seems to have gotten a lukewarm response from the comics press so far, with comments that Waid isn’t doing anything new with his Superman-analogue-gone-bad yarn, although he’s doing it very well. Personally, I think he’s doing it very, very well, and it’s near the top of my stack to read each week it comes out.
Waid is playing to his own strengths in considering what a character like Superman could do if he decides to go bad. Although there’s been plenty carnage and dead characters (not to mention millions of dead civilians), the Plutonian seems to be playing with his prey, and that allows Waid to consider that such a character can behave like the villain in a horror movie. With his speed, he can suddenly appear and disappear without anyone seeing them. With his superhuman senses he can be aware of what people are doing the world over and bring secrets to light that no one else could know. That we don’t know what the Plutonian’s motives are (Mind control? Parallel-world double? Or just gone bad as the facts suggest on the surface?) make it all the more frightening. He doesn’t seem to be trying to conquer the world, and the notion that he’s trying to get revenge for having been treated badly doesn’t seem believable either.
Although Peter Krause’s artwork is a little sketchy for my tastes – I think he could use an inker who smooths out and solidifies his pencils – his designs and layouts are terrific, with a classic superheroic look but with just enough of an edge to do justice to the premise.
This week’s issue, #5, is only 99¢, and the collection of the first four issues also came out this week, so I highly recommend checking it out. Maybe it’s not a revolutionary comic, but it is a very good comic. And in particular, anyone who enjoyed Waid’s series Empire ought to love this, because it’s even better.