Atomicus Interruptus

Astro City Volume 3: Confession: written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Brent Anderson, Willie Blyberg, and Alex Ross (2000): The third collection of Busiek, Anderson, and Ross’s postmodern superhero opus brings us one previously introduced storyline (the imminent alien invasion of giant shape-changing cockroaches teased in a story collected in the previous volume, Family Album) and one major new one, the story of crime-fighting duo Confessor and Altar Boy, as told by Altar Boy.

Told from the POV of Altar Boy, who comes to Astro City looking to become a superhero and ends up being trained by the mysterious Confessor, an urban vigilante who may or may not have superpowers, Confession is a solid story of this odd world of superheroes. It hints at revelations about the past that are still to come, most notably the mystery of the Silver Agent and Astro City’s Dark Age of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Confession also sketches in some of the quasi-mundane details of life in a city teeming with superheroes and supervillains. Not only are there superhero bars and hangouts, but there are such bars and hangouts for specific types of superheroes and supervillains.

Tensions reminiscent of the Dark Age begin to multiply in Astro City as mysterious killings begin to occur periodically in and around the city’s supernatural borough, despite the best efforts of heroes supernatural, super, and unpowered to apprehend the killer or killers. Some people begin loudly agitating about the failure of the superheroes. And Altar Boy begins to have doubts about his mysterious mentor. All the threads get tied up in a satisfying climax that sheds new light on the history of the city and its heroes. Recommended.

Astro City Volume 5: Local Heroes: written by Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Brent Anderson and Alex Ross (2004-2005): After two straight collections of book-length stories, Astro City returns to one- and two-issue outings both in the city and far beyond it, in the present-day and decades in the past. There’s a charming story about the sort of superheroes found in small towns and rural areas. Another story deals with retirement and aging by looking in on a former superhero who operated in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and his reasons for retiring.

And there’s a sad but metafictionally astute story that riffs on the bizarre pas de deux of Superman and Lois Lane during the 1950’s and 1960’s, when it seemed like half of all Superman stories involved some combination of Lois trying to discover his secret identity and Superman doing weird and often dickish things to throw her off his trail. Busiek’s writing and the art by Anderson on the interiors and Ross on covers and designs are all very satisfying. Recommended.

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