It has been nearly four years since Astro City delivered its final issue under the Vertigo label with Astro City #52. At the time it was hard to believe the series was ending at all given its long tenure and history bouncing around different publishers. In a bit of destiny, the series has returned to Image Comics after starting there way back in 1995. Given the fact that the series has always felt entrenched in history with a complex world and even more complex characters, it seems fitting it is returning this week at Image Comics.
Astro City is also returning with most of its original creators with Kurt Busiek writing, Brent Anderson drawing, and Alex Sinclair coloring with Comicraft lettering. It’s as if the series never even took a break. This time, going by the name Astro City: That Was Then… Special, the creative team takes a somber look at teenage superheroes and the complexities of growing up in a world that continues to make the same mistakes.
Astro City: That Was Then… Special opens with a group of teen heroes on a road trip that involves campfires, weenie roasts, and a hard look at their future. It takes a little while for the story to begin to make sense as we hear from each of these colorful and super retro characters. Bugleboy, Majorette, Sunshrike, Rally, and even robot hero Rivets, the Robot Kid are all reflecting on their superhero lifestyles as well as the recent passing of an entire teenage superhero team.
If you’re a fan of Astro City you’ll adore how Busiek draws you into the lives of these heroes and uses their superhero lives to reflect on real-life fears and threats. As the characters recount the loss of their friends we soon get a flashback featuring their brave and bold natures encountering racists in Alabama. They rush into a fight that they unexpectedly can’t win and yet they did what they thought was right. You’ll be drawn into each of these characters in part because we’ve all been through times of questioning our own actions and those of others as we grow up.
There’s also a key hero from the Astro City universe hat pops up that adds interesting context. Through this character, Busiek seems to be reflecting on kids’ need to find their own way even if it means making the same mistakes. Given the state of the world today it’s easy to relate to their sentiments and reflect on how humanity is forever doomed to never progress past a certain point. That’s my take, anyway, but it’s clear there is a deeper exploration of our society at work here.
Anderson delivers good art that’s custom to the series as if he didn’t miss a day. The superhero costumes designed by Alex Ross have that retro feel that suits Astro City. There is a level of confidence and certainty in the art that is unmistakable. The art style may be strikingly different for new fans, but I imagine most folks who pick this up are longtime fans who want to dive back into the universe.
Astro City: That Was Then… Special is a good reminder of how impactful and emotional this series can be. This is a strong one-shot, although it does take some patience to find its meaningful layers. Casual fans should likely start with the new Astro City Omnibus also out this week, but make no mistake, the creative team has not lost a beat in their return to the series.
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