I know, I know, some of you are tired of birthdays. But let’s take them for what they are: a flimsy excuse to celebrate the works of people we really like — in this case love. For those of you unfamiliar with the works of Kurt Busiek, I slowly shake my head and say “tsk, tsk” like a serial killer who can’t finish his ominous sound effect whilest stalking unsuspecting teenagers. Kurt Busiek is, in my humble — but extremely well versed on the subject — opinion, the future of the super-hero genre in comics.
Though Busiek is an industry veteran who has worked on such notable DC and Marvel properties as the Avengers, Green Lantern, Iron Man, Thunderbolts, Aquaman, and Superman, he is also known for a number of more independent work such as Shockrockets, Arrowsmith, and Astro City. Today whenever anyone asks me what the best comic book out today is, I answer, “Astro City” without hesitation.
In Astro City, Busiek gives us a basic thesis. According to the genre’s most derisive critics, super-heroes have been used to express crude concepts such as adolescent power-fantasies and the emergence of America as a new “super-power”. Even if that were the sole truth of super-heroes (and it isn’t) those are fairly complex concepts. If super-heroes can convey concepts that complex, then the super-hero as a literary device can deliver other complex concepts. Enough with the deconstruction of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, let’s put this car back together and see where it’ll go!
This is where Kurt went (so far)
Any of the Astro City TPBs are great, and they don’t have to be read in order. Confession is just a personal favorite because it reminds you about how much you wanted to be a super-hero as a kid, even if only just a sidekick. The story-line of Confession is one of choices, acceptance, and redemption. It also gives us the best one-liner for any would-be detective since Sherlock Holmes:
"Look at the patterns, and see what doesn’t fit." — The Confessor
Astro City also features some amazing artwork by Brent Anderson (whom I met at ComiCon and is a totally cool dude), and awesome cover art by Alex Ross. The only drawback to AC is that Busiek will only do it when he’s in sufficiently good health — which isn’t all that often.
In Marvels, Busiek took all of the collected madness of the myriad continuity of Marvel Comics since it’s inception during World War II, and showed us what it was like to see it from the ground; from the point of view of one photo-journalist who observed the whole thing. From Namor’s attacks on New York City, to the Death of Gwen Stacy, and so on, we see the fear, hope, and basic pathos of the average person who is a part of the larger story of the history of the world we know a Marvel. The art of Marvels is entirely hand-painted Alex Ross. Ross’ realism is the perfect touch to Busiek’s very realistic and nuanced human emotions.
Remember what I said about how myriad the continuity of Marvel Comics was? Imagine if someone actually took the established stories, as they are, and strung them all together in a way that made sense. This story is simply amazing, and an absolute must for any Avengers fan — especially if you like the Kang stories.
JLA/Avengers (or Avengers JLA)
This is simply the most hardcore geek-gasm of a limited series comic book you will ever see. Seriously, if you’re a super-hero comic-geek and you haven’t read this (which would be like a film-geek who hasn’t seen "Citizen Kane") make sure you read it with plenty of snack food and water. Don’t OD, man. It’s not worth it. This comic answers a lot of questions you always wanted to know like: who would win in a fight between Superman and Thor, or Batman and Captain America. Let’s just say that Batman is better served in his intellect than the Man of Steel. This is the straight geek-shot, neat with no ice, water, or soda. This is a fiarly good one to share with your kids. Fair warning: if you’re not 100% on your Marvel and DC continuity, then you’d better study up on Wikipedia before sharing this with your kids.
The Untold Takes of Spider-Man
Of all of Busiek’s work, this is the best one to share with your kids. These are the old Lee and Ditko stories, re-told with new, but complimentary continuity that nicely fills in the gaps. It recaptures Spider-Man’s awkwardness as a new super-hero, and shows a little more about how he became the accomplished super-hero we all now know him to be.
Not everything this guys does is super-heroes. Arrowsmith is an amazing alternative history based upon the idea of magic being the primary shaper of the modern world instead of technology. Arrowsmith focuses primarily on how this shapes warfare, much as it did in the modern world, with a new kind of warfare so powerful that no one knows how to wage it or how to stop it. Of Busiek’s work, this is the least sharable with your kids. Still, give yourself a treat. This is simply an amazing work of comic-fiction. The art by Carlos Pacheco is also simply stunning.