Astro City #51 – Kurt Busiek, Writer; Brent Anderson, Artist; Pete Pantazis, Colorist
Ray – 9/10
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Ray: As Astro City winds down towards its final single issue (heading off to a future of graphic novels and a possible TV series), its final arc picks up on one of its best storylines, dealing with the unique nature of grief in a superhero universe as seen through the eyes of a man who lost the love of his life to a cosmic crisis that erased her from existence. Now he runs a support group for civilian survivors of superhero battles, and Astro City #51 opens with a spectacularly tense and horrific segment as a woman who lost her son and her hand to an alien invader reveals her tale. We were only introduced to this group last issue, but Busiek has done a great job distinguishing the members from each other and giving each of them their own narrative. As life goes on, Michael continues to try to paint his wife’s face and runs the group, making the most of his life. Then, it all falls apart in dramatic fashion.
The series has made a point of showing how Michael’s loss is different from the other survivors. Rather than losing someone traumatically, he became aware of his loss in a confusing, slow fashion that only left him with a gnawing, confusing absence. He doesn’t talk about the loss personally with the group – but when Rose, the newest arrival, confronts him and accuses him of being a predator who never lost anyone and is taking advantage of their grief, he’s forced to. It raises an interesting concept – even in the bizarre world of Astro City, there are some things so strange that even the average person will have trouble believing it. This issue has a lot to deal with, and as a middle chapter, it doesn’t quite resolve anything. But there’s one issue left, and this arc has been the perfect contemplative, melancholy capper to a series that has consistently been one of the most human takes on superheroes ever written.
Corrina: The opening segment of this issue, with Rose’s tale of what happened to her during one of those attacks that only happen with superheroes, is perhaps the most chilling survivor story I’ve read in superhero comics. It had me near tears and that is no exaggeration.
And Rose’s grief is so raw and so strong that you cannot blame her for being angry with Michael’s tale. In this world, there must be empathy vampires, as it were, those seeking to exploit survivors of tragedies. (It happens in our world, too.) It’s not right to compare two types of grief, as each person suffers in their own way, but Rose’s comparison is understandable. It’s interesting that Michael feels guilty about it and never seeks to justify his own grief. It’s as if he won’t let himself tell about the magnitude of his loss, emotionally, and instead relies on recounting the events without letting others see how much he cared for his wife– he’s convinced himself of the truth of Rose’s accusations, that his loss is lesser.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.