Twenty-two pages fills up fast. There’s no denying that. Action sequences often eat up huge chunks of a book, and you can only fit so much dialogue on the page before it becomes cluttered, not to mention how much of the probably excellent art you’ll be covering up by doing so. So, understandably, most writers will have their stories run in arcs, often using well over 100 pages to let it unfold. It’s not hard to see why, but the tendency to keep expanding the story is part of what makes it so rewarding when you come across a single issue that manages to not only exemplify what it is you so love about that particular book, or even comics in general, but that manages to do so with an impressive economy of storytelling. One Shot is meant to take a close look at why those issues work as well as they do, the way they do.
Kurt Busiek’s Astro City has been going on for a good long time now. Busiek and series-regular artist Brent Anderson have used the titular city to examine every conceivable era and archetype of comic book characters. From the heart-breaking look at the effects of a Crisis on the ordinary man in “The Nearness of You” to the means and motivations of an aging supervillain in “I’ll Show You All”; from using the superhero myth to examine reform for criminals in “The Tarnished Angel” to using it to display the beating America’s national identity took in the 70’s in “The Dark Ages”, Astro City has used its world to stay relevant in all the ways mainstream comics desperately wish they could.
Astra Furst is the daughter of Astro City‘s Fantastic Four analogues, the First Family. Born of a union between her mother and the monstrous (reformed) son of one of the world’s greatest villains, Astra has grown up in the spotlight. Last featured as a little girl sneaking away from the ultra-high tech compound on which she grew up so that she could attend a normal school, Astro City: Astra Special #1 now finds her graduating from college and facing all the challenges that come with it… and then some.
Brent Anderson’s pencils remain a little stiff and cartoonish, quite different from what has become the norm for mainstream comics, but his artistic sense and design is so pervasive to the setting that it’s hard to imagine it any other way. Anderson’s weakest point here is in the facial expressions, but that hurts the book less than you’d think, and his strongest suit – creating a memorable sci-fi setting, costumes and imagery – is so vital to the book that the rest is easily forgivable.
Astra’s story is simple, but, as always, there’s more going on than meets the eye. As a recent graduate without direction, I found Astra’s story especially relevant. Does she join an up-and-coming superhero team? She has invitations from think tanks, grad schools and massive corporations, but Astra thinks they’re more interested in her family name (and money) than in her brain. She has an unlimited number of options, but no direction.
It’s a fun issue, and it does a fair job at appropriating the superhero myth to a couple different purposes – child celebrities growing up, and graduation, specifically. Even without those themes hovering in the background, however, Astra Special #1 (of 2) offers the beginning of a quick, enjoyable adventure. It isn’t perfect, but it lives up to Astro City‘s reputation of smart, engaging superhero stories.
– Cal Cleary