A Universe in One Comic Book: Astro City (Vol. 3) #15


Last month, I excoriated issue 14 of Astro City as being well below the standard of invention and innovation Kurt Busiek has displayed in the two decades it has existed. I also accused the issue of making its second part, issue 15, entirely predictable.

These were my exact words with regard to that:

“Yeesh, it’s an awful story, and so is issue 15, which anyone who has read more than half a dozen mainstream comics already knows will go like this: Fred and Ellie will be betrayed by whoever’s pulling Fred’s strings: Ellie’s ‘Friends’ will break her out of jail: they will release her from her conditioning that has concealed from her that she actually used to be a genius-type super-villain (almost certainly the ‘Vivi Viktor’ who, in the Seventies, was taken out by Mirage and The Point Man) and her robots actually buried those memories: that Ellie and her now potentially lethal ‘friends’ will wreak vengeance upon the manipulator, saving Fred into the bargain: and that Ellie’s conscience and her love for her mis-treated friends will win out, and she will not go back to her villainous past.”

So here’s the crunch: was I right or have I made a complete fool of myself?

And the answer is that I wasn’t right, not on every single point, and not on the major one, but then again I called so much of what appears in issue 15 that I think I’m entitled to call it a high-scoring draw.

What I definitely missed out on was that Ellie was never a supervillain, and wasn’t Vivi Viktor. No, Ellie was a scientific genius and every bit as much an idyllist as her modern persona suggests, but it’s her genius that has gone into all these robots, and it’s her robots what do break her out of jail so she can escape the programming she’s suffered under for decades, programming instilled in her by the aforementioned Vivi Viktor (a real name), who is the villain behind all this.

And once Ellie allows her memories to return – in a manner that suggests she could have let them return any time she wanted, which of itself raises moral complications that simply do not get considered in this story – she quickly and easily exposes Vivi because, as Ellie has been pointing out since the beginning, the Robots – ALL of them – are her friends (I may barf).

So where does Vivi Viktor come in to all of these? Why, she’s Ellie’s old room-mate, friend and scientific partner, except that where Ellie is open hearted and sunny and believes in everything being good and nice, and all fluffy bunnies, Vivi was insecure, defensive, self-directed and badly traumatised due to an horrific childhood incident. Which is why she nicked all Ellie’s designs, and Ellie’s brain.

So, I missed out on the major point, but got everything else right as filtered through the fact of Busiek having displaced the culprit into a rather thin and cliched technological villain, complete with cardboard dialogue. It’s still not good enough to live with Astro City‘s past. The whole point of Astro is and always has been that you don’t know how it’s going to work out, that you’re presented with the outline of a familiar scenario and then Busiek opens it up to show you glorious alternatives that you’d never imagined for yourself. That’s not what happened here.

There’s not much else in the story, and what there is is mostly echoes of existing stories. Ellie’s brainwashing into a dumber person has Identity Crisis and why-Dr-Light-became-a-moron smeared all over it, whilst the final scene, of heroes coming out of the woodwork to praise the genius Eleanor Jennerson and bring her into their world with a vengeance is a replay of Samaritan and Sully the ‘Sideliner’ in issue 4. The only original of itself element is Ellie telling nephew Fred not to be such a weak, easy way out nebbish any more.

And that really is it. As you may be able to tell, I can and do enjoy ripping the piss out of certain things that are crap dressed in tinfoil (like 24 – Live Another Day), but I don’t like doing it to something I respect and like, and which I desperately want to see doing well. So in future I’m going to keep my opinion of Astro City to myself. I’d like to think that at some point I’ll find the series restored to its proper glories and that I can honestly praise it in the way I want but, having regard to the preview of issue 16, I don’t think that will be happening in October of this year.

Thanks to to Astrozac, for his comments in recent months, which have enlivened this increasingly burdensome series of blogs: hope you stay enjoying this more than I do, buddy.

2 thoughts on “A Universe in One Comic Book: Astro City (Vol. 3) #15

  1. I liked 15 a little bit better than 14 as it gave us more insight into Ellie and why she acted the way she did in 14.

    Like we’ve talked about I’ve found the stories since the relaunch overall to be solid but not spectacular. Sully’s story has far and away been the best. And i do see where you’re coming from. I know I’ve said before, I’ve felt somewhat like that at times since the launch of Local Heroes in 2003 after the first hiatus. That the stories just seem quite as good as before and don’t have that magic to it.

    But there have been times where I’ve felt the giddiness and excitement about the book where I can’t wait for the next issue. During Winged Victory’s storyline I caught it and couldn’t wait for the next month.

    And I guess I’m just fairly optimistic over the next few months. I like Honor Guard and super teams, so 17 should be interesting. The Starbright story could have potential. I’ve always liked the idea of what happened to the next big thing (like in sports) and why they flamed out and never became the next big hero/star, if the story goes along those lines. And then the Quarrel/Crackerjack story arc should hopefully give us a different look at street level crimefighters and aging, as well into their relationship

    Likewise I hope you keep with the book and gets back on track for you.

    1. I’d like that too.
      I’m hopeful for the Quarrel/Crackerjack story, which is long overdue (but then so many things are long overdue!), but over the last year plus, my expectations have been worn down. Maybe it’s me: since ‘Final Crisis’ I’ve all but given up on superhero comics of any kind, so ‘Astro’ is no longer a contrast but a default norm.
      I’ll stick with the book yet, it’s just that I won’t comment about it. Like I said, it’s fun to hand out a spanking to something that’s a piece of crap, but not to something you have high hopes for.
      Thanks for commenting so regularly, it’s been a pleasure.

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