A Universe in One Comic Book: Astro City Vol. 3, #24

Having celebrated Astro City‘s previous issue for demonstrating the series’ long overdue longevity, it fels incumbent to review the second half of the story, just to record how disappointing it was.

The set-up, if you don’t recall, was that Sticks, a soldier from the secretive Gorilla Mountain, had escaped and come to Astro City to pursue his dream of becoming a drummer in a band, but found this impossible due to the hassle of people wanting/expecting him to use his ‘powers’ as a superhero.

How does Busiek square this circle for his forlorn talking gorilla? Initially, Sticks succumbs to the inevitable and joins the hip, young team, Reflex 6, but after six months he leaves: it isn’t what he wants, it’s not what he is. He tries to go back to his human friends and their band, but it’s just the same as before. Moping on a rooftop, he meets Samaritan, who offers help: there is always a way. At which point, Sticks gets an idea.

This is a familiar moment in an Astro City comic, when this month’s central character is struck by inspiration and comes up with an ingenious plan, and mentally we sit back, waiting for Busiek to dazzle or amuse us with the lucidity of his idea. Except that the great idea of Sticks of how to live his life and pursue his dreams without everybody on his back, trying to force him to become a superhero and fight is… to become a superhero and fight.

Granted it’s as Tuxedo Gorilla, an immaculately dressed gorilla in a tuxedo, complete with anti-gravity spats, and Sticks is working solo, off his own beats, but it’s still a very disappointing conclusion if the only way you can prevent being a round peg stuffed into a square hole is to become a square peg. I mean, Martha Sullivan (who’s mentioned in passing) has superpowers but hasn’t had to take up superheroing.

As for the music side, that conclusion is also pretty banal: Sticks forms a band with other superhumans who are interested in music. I hope they’re happy.

What depresses me about this issue, whether Busiek intends it or not, is that it’s message is that being superhuman trumps everything, that all your choices in life are suborned into being a superhero, that all individuality is overridden. I’m not happy with that.


3 thoughts on “A Universe in One Comic Book: Astro City Vol. 3, #24

  1. My prediction was right on, that Sticks would end up making some kind of compromise in regards to his situation.
    But I didn’t take it as being a hero trumps having the normal life Sticks wanted. He’s not Martha Sullivan or one of the sideliners who could quietly live a secluded life being a musician. Sticks knew he was always going to stick out. I think the realization was that in order to live the life he wanted he was going to have to live in the public eye.
    I saw it as more a Kardashian(I don’t know what would be the equivalent across the pond) or Paris Hilton maneuver to use your celebrity and time in the limelight to your advantage, in order to get the life you desired.

    1. Add: I enjoyed the issue a little more than I thought I would have, but it wasn’t as strong as the first part. And the progression made sense to me, even if Powerchord winds up being a novelty band, Sticks has an opportunity to do what he always wanted with the compromises we all have to make in life…

  2. Fair comments, both of them, and on the intellectual level I agree with you. It goes back, as everything with this volume has, to that underlying feeling that a certain level of ingenuity has gone out of Astro City. That, before ‘The Dark Ages’, Busiek would have come up with something that would have given Sticks what he wanted without having to compromise in such a fundamental way.

    As I’ve said before, probably me, not him.

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