Read This Book- Rediscover the 1990s Classic ‘Astro City’

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting older, but time just does seem to feel the same way that it used to.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people my age, and this seems to be a common issue we all have taken note of. When I was younger, years felt significant, and each month seemed to have it’s own flavor.

Now, if you asked me what happened a year ago I’d have to search through photo archives and Wikipedia articles just to tell you what was happening. A person on the radio the other day said we had just passed the second anniversary of the first Covid outbreaks and I almost had to pull my car over because the thought that that much time had passed without me even realizing it made me slightly ill.

Perhaps it’s also a product of our now now now culture, but it just feels like things are not allowed to really get momentum anymore. I remember comics in the ‘90s that, while maybe not the best, were given time to find an audience and grow a following. Heck, Green Lantern/ Green Arrow came about because the book was getting cancelled and they still gave it a dozen issues before relegating the characters to back-up stories in other books.

Now it feels like if a book isn’t an immediate hit they’ll yank it off the shelf before they waste another dime on it. DC has a notorious habit of doing this as of late. Supergirl was two issues from a conclusion when they yanked it off the shelf and said people could read the last two issues in digital or trade format. Lucifer‘s latest run was pulled in the middle of an arc. Wonder Girl’s Yara Flor, arguably the best new character DC has created, with one of the best art teams assembled, was cancelled before it could even reach issue nine.

We don’t give things a chance to grow anymore. Imagine if after it’s awful first season, Star Trek: The Next Generation was cancelled? Or if Doctor Who would have never come back after the failure that was the TV movie? My god, think of the Spider-Man movies that might have been!

Of course, I’m a cynical old man, and I work with teenagers so I’m sure that is colouring my opinions, but still.

In a weird way, I really feel like this is a big part of what is driving ‘90s nostalgia as of late. The ‘90s were the last decade that felt like a real decade. Even the most vapid works from that time period just feel more substantial than a lot of the work that came after them. The result of this attempt to recapture that feeling has been mixed at best, but when it succeeds, boy, does it work out spectacularly.

Which takes us to this week’s review (thank you dear reader for sticking with this old man’s rambling this long), of Astro City by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and of course, the man himself, Alex Ross.

There are actually two Astro City books this week, so double blurbs!

Astro City Metrobook

Astro City Metrobook, Volume 1: A hero dreams of flight. An alien spy prepares for invasion. A young man is mentored by a hero with dark secrets. A street criminal discovers a hero’s identity. And much, much more. Step into a world of heroes and see them from a whole different perspective. These are the multiple-award-winning stories that began the epic series and changed how we think about superheroes.

Astro City- That Was Then: ASTRO CITY returns with an all-new special! Who were the Jayhawks? How did they inspire five teen sidekicks looking for answers to hit the road in a rickety crime mobile in 1969? And how will this affect Astro City in the present? This one-shot special features new and existing heroes and launches a mystery that will drive the forthcoming ASTRO CITY series.

Now, full disclosure – back in the ‘90s when the first Astro City series came out, I was not reading it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, it’s just that 1) I had limited resources financially, and 2) I honestly don’t think I was old enough to appreciate what this book actually was.

See, Astro City is a book that could only exist in comic shops, and only thrive in a culture of literate comic readers who really understood what Kurt Busiek was going for with his stories. If you handed Volume 1 to a young kid who had zero comic knowledge outside of comic book movies, they would probably find it boring or confusing.

Astro City requires work, and it requires you to understand comics. Just like the work of Alan Moore, you have to be literate in the art form and tropes and story telling techniques to really understand what the creative team is doing.

But when you do understand it, well, it’s about the most perfect superhero book ever written.

There’s a lot going on in this series, far too much for me to get into in a single review that is already running on way too long, but trust me, if you’ve been reading comics as long as I have, you’re going to find a lot to love in Astro City. Busiek and his team understand, really understand, comics and each page is love letter to the genre and the fans. It’s full of joy and loss, pain and triumph, and characters that feel real in a way that sadly too few comic characters at the time, or even today can feel.

The characters in these books feel real in the way that they can only feel in the hearts and minds of people who love comics.

Add to that some of the best sequential art in comics, and some of the most gorgeous and epic covers Alex Ross has ever done, and these Astro City books are nostalgic treats that will not only take you back to a different time, but also help set you up for the brand new Astro City series on the very near horizon.

‘90s comics were weird and awful and wonderful and amazing. If you never read the first run of Astro City, pick up the trade (pretty decently priced too for all you get in Metrobook) and if you love it, and I know you will, check out the That Was Then one shot to get you ready for what’s to come.

Until next time, stay safe!

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