By my reckoning (and Kurt Busiek’s), this comic is three years overdue. It was plugged as coming out in 2010, but such minor matters as WildStorm Press being wound up once Jim Lee went in as Co-Publisher at DC, and Busiek’s ongoing debilitating health problems that have played hob with Astro City‘s publication schedule this last decade and a half, have forced a postponement until now. But Astro City is finally back,now from DC’s creator-owned imprint, Vertigo Comics, with a third volume of stories. Busiek assures us that by this time, either 11 or 12 issues will be ‘in the can’, so we’ve got at least a year of new stories to look forward to.
So what of Astro City (volume 3) issue 1, “Open the Door (Part One)”?
To be frank, my intial reaction is disappointment. What we have here is very different to the Astro City we long-timers have come to love. It’s deliberately so. This might be issue 60, if you tot them all up together, but it’s very much a relaunch issue, aimed in large part towards the nascent Vertigo audience, and Busiek has aimed so determinedly at not shutting them out with the expectations of the old audience that he’s gone to the other extreme by pushing anything too familiar out.
Whilst there’s a handful of existing figures, and our old buddy Samaritan gets seeral panels of dialogue as the unofficial but acknowledhed leader of the heroes assembled, Busiek’s emphasis is upoin two strange, new, deliberately unfamiliar characters, American Chiba – a Japanese anime superheroine figure to whom we are deliberately refused access and explanation – and The Broken Man. This latter narrates the whole issue in the biggest and most overt exercise in metafiction the series has ever run, making reading of this book a conspiracy against some shadowy, unimaginable, infiltrative threat. The Broken Man offers no clues as to himself, although the final page features a limp lapse into cliche when he’s revealed as a strait-jacketed patient in an asylum.
This is no more than the first part, which adds to my sense of deflation. All it is is set-up, and the trappings are extremely comic-booky, so much so that it has already built up the onus on Busiek to surprise us, to come up with what is new, fresh, unpredictable about this framework: set of doors mysteriously appears in the sky, heroes try to open them but fail, out steps emissary from star-spanning organisation, here to negotiate with Earth over irs admission, yawn, snore.
The one twist so far is that Earth’s representative to go through those doors is Ben Pullam: that’s right, the anxious divorced father of Astro City (volume 2) issue 1, newly-divorced, newly-arrived in Astro City with two young daughters in tow and massive concerns over what to do for their best. That was seventeen years ago (inside and outside the comic): he’s done not to bad for himself, the girls are women, with promising and exciting lives, He’s the one that the Broken Man manipulates (with our assistance) into volunteering as emissary for the ordinariness of Earth.
Thus ends part one, with very little having happened.
Now having expressed my disappointment at the thinness of this gruel, let me immediately qualify that by ponting out very specifically that this is Part 1. We don’t now how long this story is (if it were a conventional comic, I would sniff the wind of what Busiek has hinted at so far and put the month’s rent money on six issues, though I’d like to see Busiek and Co. bring this in at three, tops: they don’t do bloated in Astro City), and we won’t be able to make a proper judgement until we’ve read all the story, by which time I could be eating my words.
Oh,the nostalgia of it! It’s not just having this series back, it’s the going into Forbidden Planet and buying a contemporary single comic book, and I haven’t done that since Dave Sim abruptly shut down Glamorpuss.
But the best thing of all was this full-page add, just before the end of this issue, for another return series that will have me buying single issues again, and which came as a total surprise on every single level: 100 Bullets: Brother Lono issue 1, due out next week. Sorry, Busiek, Anderson and Ross, I mean no disrespect but if Azarello and Risso are doing 100 Bullets again, that sweeps every other comic off the table.
I’ll be blogging that series as well, by the way, but for now, and the return of Astro City, despite the disappointment of this initial offering, I’m glad to have it back. Roll on the next episode.