Astro City #52 – Kurt Busiek, Writer; Brent Anderson, Artist; Pete Pantazis, Colorist
Ray – 9.5/10
Corrina: Grief, In Many Forms
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Ray: After 23 years in single issues with an intermittent publishing schedule, Kurt Busiek’s brilliant creator-owned superhero universe ends its single-issue run with Astro City #52, as the Astro City series transitions to a series of graphic novels. To close out its run, it’s gone back to arguably its most iconic story, the tale of Michael Tenicek. Michael lost the love of her life when she was erased from existence in a cosmic event, leaving him the only person who remembers her existence. He’s moved on from his personal tragedy by founding a support group for those who lost loved ones in superhuman battles, but when a new member of the group exposed him for supposedly lying about his past, he was forced to come clean about the truth. With the group in limbo, we see him continue his one-man quest to make the world a better place – volunteering in relief efforts after one of many supervillain attacks in the series. Flashbacks flesh out Michael’s life since we first met him, showing that there have been some unexplained things going on that he’s only starting to realize.
The idea that the Hanged Man, the one who gave him the choice to forget all those years ago, has been manipulating his life ever since is fascinating, but the emotional heart of the issue comes in his reunion with the group, where he tries to give them a better picture of the tragedy that’s dominated his life. Rose’s reaction is hateful, simply refusing to understand that someone’s tragedy might be extremely different than hers, but the series never lets us hate her for it – showing how even Michael sympathizes with her and tries to ensure she gets help somewhere away from him. The story doesn’t so much end as move on – Michael’s life is going to continue, with him doing good in the little ways he’s chosen. That’s the beauty of Astro City. It’s a series without a main character, because its main character is its city and the people in it both spectacular and human.
There’s so much going on in this world, it’s undeniably one of the all-time comic book masterpieces. I can’t wait to see what plans Busiek has for it in the years to come.
Corrina: This arc may be some of the best in the history of comics in dealing with grief and loss. And, yet, it’s not sad but a hopeful story, showing that even after a loss, helping others can provide solace.
It’s no surprise that Michael begins to feel better after he’s opened up about his loss. He’s kept it bottled inside all these years, afraid no one would understand (with good reason). That’s also how many people steeped in grief can feel in the real world and so it resonates to our world as well.
True, not everyone is sympathetic to Michael and the way he lost his beloved. But enough people are that he feels understood, finally. And that’s enough, at least for him.
Often, in stories that are about what might happen if superheroes were real, the theme is that the world is so much worse.
In Astro City, the realistic aspects of superheroes are shown, both the good and the bad, and this world seems, if not better for it, at least full of hope.
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Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.