Astro City: Confession (unnumbered, but third collected volume of Astro City)

Writer - Kurt Busiek

Pencils - Brent E. Anderson

Inks - Will Blyberg

Colors - Alex Sinclair

Covers(all) - Alex Ross

Letters - John G. Roshell; Comicraft

Collects issues #4- 9 of Astro City Volume 2 and Wizard Presents Astro City # 1/2.  This trade paperback was published by Image in 1997.

New Kid in Town: In this story we meet Kinney (no first name yet), who is generally referred to as “Kid” by the several characters he meets. He is an orphan who has arrived by bus hoping to restart his life in the fabled Astro City. He demonstrates, against a version of Paste-Pot Pete, that he can handle himself well in a fight. We also meet the Crossbreed, a super-powered religious order. On the last page we see The Confessor for the first time.

Learning the Game:  Wasting no time, the Confessor offers on-the-job training to Kinney as his new partner, Alter Boy. Kinney soon wonders how the Confessor does some of the things he does, since as far as he knows the Confessor has no super-powers. It becomes clear that Kinney knows nothing about him. The Confessor invites him to investigate him to learn what he wants to know. Before this can be pursued, he discovers an infiltration of aliens. Naming Grandenetti Cathedral after its founder instead of after a saint is pretty hard to believe. Maybe they do that in this alternate reality.

The Gathering Dark:  Mutilation killings have been occurring in the Shadow Hill neighborhood and the super-hero community is taking heat for not stopping them and, in some people’s minds, possibly being behind them. In this story the Confessor addresses Kinney as Brian. At the end of the story Brian finally asks the Confessor if he is a vampire. He says yes.

Eye of the Storm: Honor Guard battles an alien spaceship. A bad-ass cyborg monster-hunter goes into the Shadow Hill neighborhood after the serial killer. We learn the origin of the Confessor, which dates to 1869. At the end of the story it becomes clear that there are more alien spaceships where that one came from.

Patterns:  The bad-ass cyborg monster-hunter comes out of Shadow Hill barely alive and with his mind destroyed. Increasing pressure to outlaw super-heroes keeps building, particularly from the mayor, including armed private troops in force. The Confessor is outed as a vampire. He dies defending the city and killing an alien shape-shifter who is impersonating the real mayor. The large number of private troops are also alien shape-shifters.

My Father’s Son: Everyone, super and otherwise, is in a full-scale war with the alien invaders. The real mayor is rescued from the alien mothership and the aliens are defeated. The prevailing opinion is that the Confessor was the serial killer. Another body is found and the Hanged Man defeats some kind of extra-dimensional creature who apparently is the real killer. Ultimately, Brian Kinney takes on the mantle of the Confessor.    

The Nearness of You*: This story presents us with a man who wonders if he's going insane. It's a deeply affecting look at the collateral damage of a world-shattering superhero battle. Like the Confessor story, The Hanged Man also plays an important role in this story. This is my (and Brent Anderson’s) personal favorite Astro City story.

*If any of you are using the individual issues instead of the TPB you would need Wizard Presents Astro City # 1/2. As far as I know this story has only been reprinted in the Confession volume. http://www.comics.org/issue/58196/

*

The Confessor story was the longest up to that time. The quality continues to be very high. Hints of future stories and visuals of as-yet undefined characters continue to appear. 

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I think "The Nearness of You" is still a free download on Comixology. And I agree, it's a beauty.

The Nearness of You was a great story. This was actually the first Astro City comic I ever picked up. Good intro to it.

In "New Kid in Town," we get to know about Brian Kinney's background. He arrives by bus in Astro City from a small town called Buchanan Corners. His first sighting of superheroes is the group called the Crossbreed, who, when not fighting menaces, spend a lot of time handing out pamphlets on street corners. While trying to get Brian to embrace Jesus they save him from a pickpocket.


Apparently Brian has some money as we next see him in a hotel room listening to a radio. For the first time we hear about the mutilation killings in or near the Shadow Hill neighborhood.


He soon wanders into a bar called Bruiser's and is hired as a busboy by the former superhero who runs the place. A lot of mostly-obscure superheroes frequent this bar, in costume. In particular he sees two members of the First Family, and sees Ironhorse, a steam-powered superhero who the owner says dates back to 1862. He also goes on to say that The Old Soldier and the Hanged Man have also been around a long time.


Brian reflects on his time in the orphanage and his late father, a doctor who had no money because he helped everyone and didn't insist on payment. Everyone, including Brian, thought his father was a loser.


The owner of Bruiser’s thinks Brian would be happier in a different atmosphere and refers him to the high-end supper club Butler’s. Butler’s also seems to cater to superheroes, but they all come in civilian clothes and are generally discrete. One who isn’t discrete, Crackerjack, shows up in costume and hams it up as is his style. On a different day a baddy called Glue Gun, a nod to Paste-Pot Pete, breaks into the club and takes Brian hostage. He is vowing revenge on the heroes who have apparently beaten him over and over again. Brian surprises him and defeats him. After much appreciation from the club-goers he leaves for the day and is set upon by the other busboys, who are jealous. Apparently they are all there to be noticed and get into the superhero life. Before Brian is actually attacked, the Confessor makes a full-page, last page appearance. He says he wants to talk to Brian privately.

I thought of that place as sort of "Club Robin", like a place actors go to be discovered.

In “Learning the Game,” we see Brian in action as “Altar Boy,” the kid sidekick of The Confessor. Apparently he is the first. It’s not really clear how much time has elapsed, but he is fighting dangerous crooks alongside The Confessor. Brian is making mistakes that could be deadly while The Confessor saves him and instructs him at the same time. After they take down a car-jacking crew, out-of-view of Brian The Confessor makes a leap that shouldn’t be possible. He then mysteriously compels a very uncooperative gang-leader to give information on his higher-ups. Brian is starting to wonder how he does these things since he doesn’t seem to have super-powers.


They are head-quartered in Grandenetti Cathedral, which encompasses fourteen city blocks(!). It was conceived and built by Cardinal Enzo Grandenetti in 1869 and continued to be built for 40 years thereafter. We learn that The Confessor has arranged for Brian to stay at Sprang House at Robinson Prep (these names are a lot of fun for me) and to start taking classes there. We hear of more mutilation killings.


Altar Boy asks The Confessor whether they should go after whoever is killing and mutilating people in Shadow Hill. He is told that Shadow Hill has its own protectors. Altar Boy finally asks The Confessor where he disappears to and who he is. The Confessor says they are detectives and that he should investigate for himself. He goes out alone and sees Crackerjack, who had been seen on video robbing a store. Brian is inclined to think that Crackerjack is honest. He follows him and sees an oddity: his billy club scepter morphs to grab a pole instead of wrapping around it . “Crackerjack” enters another store to rob it and is attacked by Altar Boy. Brian suspects that “Crackerjack” is actually a shape-shifter. When Brian surprises him with smelling salts he is distracted and revealed to be a very ugly alien. Just in time to save Brian, the real Crackerjack arrives and clobbers the alien, who later escapes. He of course takes full credit with the press. The Confessor suddenly appears to Brian and tells him he’s learning.

I remember telling my LCS owner way back in the day that this issue did in 16 pages what it took twelve issues for Crisis on Infinite Earths to do. I think now, I would say that it shares the personal side of what it took twelve issues of CoIE to do. This would easily be in the top five of single issue stories for me.

Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

I think "The Nearness of You" is still a free download on Comixology. And I agree, it's a beauty.

It's been several years since I read this trade paperback, so I'm stretching my mind to remember what happened in it. Of the ASTRO CITY books, this was one that I had a few problems with. Maybe because I was reading it as an allegory for Batman and Robin and I didn't think it fit.

I believe I decided in my own mind, as I was reading it, that the Confessor's church shouldn't be read as the literal Catholic church but rather as some analagous church peculiar to this reality.

The names are probably a clue to how we are to read the book. Dick Sprang's relationship with Batman is kind of obvious. but what about Jerry Grandenetti gives his name a resonance in this book? Maybe it's his association with the Spirit--and the Spirit is probably another inspiration for the Confessor. The Spirit was in Wildwood Cemetary so . . .

Brian Kinney's name had no meaning for me when I read the book. But now I can't stop thinking about the Kinney Parking Company that merged with Riverside, a funeral home company. Kinney diversified from parking and funeral homes when it merged with the National Cleaning Company to become the Kinney National Company, headed by Steve Ross from the Riverside company. Ross led the newly branded company into acquiring several operations, including National Periodical Publications.

So the tie between DC and funeral homes is there in the Kinney name. There were also connections with organized crime and financial misdeeds.

I always thought Grandenetti's association with DC's "Mystery" titles was reason enough to name a gothic cathedral after him.

I missed the "Kinney" connection.

In “The Gathering Dark,” we are told that a blond eighth-grade girl has become the eighth victim of the mutilation killer. The public is starting to get riled up, the implication being that it is because she is the first white victim. More about this in a later comment.


In subplot land, The Confessor and Altar Boy are after a costumed killer called the Gunslinger. So far he had killed five victims. More about this in a later comment.


As was touched upon in the Astro City: Life in the Big City discussion, Shadow Hill is a community of immigrants. It is implied that many/most of them are from Eastern Europe and that a big part of the Shadow Hill neighborhood is the spookier parts of fantastic stories (can you say Transylvania?).


When the general public becomes enraged, they direct their rage against the already-unloved Shadow Hill neighborhood and against the superheroes and police who are perceived as not caring enough. Some of the public are ready to blame one or more of the superheroes for the actual crimes. As was seen in “Learning the Game,” , at least some of the heroes are being impersonated and seen to be committing other crimes and/or making unpopular statements. When the Honor Guard group of heroes has to go off and stop a danger that would affect the whole world, many in Astro City perceive this as their not caring about the mutilation killer. A mob is ready to attack the Shadow Hill neighborhood itself and has to be talked out of it by some of the heroes.


The mayor is giving press conferences. He announces that he is hiring Mordecai Chalk, a veteran monster hunter, to do what the superheroes and the police can’t seem to do. He has lost parts of his body to previous monsters and they have been replaced by iron and silver. The mayor also announces superheroes, especially “mystic” ones, will be registered by the city, and that the organization E.A.G.L.E. (a S.H.I.E.L.D. take-off) will be arriving shortly to assist in the registration. (I earlier mischaracterized them as private troops.) By the end of the story the mayor has moved on to characterizing all of the heroes and their secrecy as such a problem that he vows to bring them all down if necessary.


Meanwhile, The Confessor and Altar Boy are still pursuing the Gunslinger. When up close, the Gunslinger fires directly into The Confessor’s chest to no effect. The Confessor then crushes both of his guns with his bare hands. The Gunslinger has some rudimentary rocket boots which get him to Shadow Hill. He figures that no one will follow him if he enters the neighborhood. The Confessor tells Altar Boy to stay behind while he follows the Gunslinger into Shadow Hill and easily captures him. By this time Altar Boy has followed and sees the terrified reactions that the people of Shadow Hill have to The Confessor. By the end of the story Brian tells The Confessor that his investigation has led him to conclude that he is a vampire. The Confessor congratulates him on his conclusion.

It is not too surprising that the Astro City public becomes more agitated when a white girl is killed and mutilated. If not for the mutilation aspect, the media probably would have glossed over the dead bodies until one happened to be white. This is not cynicism. We see this over and over again in the real-world reactions to disappearances and deaths.

It develops during the story that the victims of the Gunslinger were former members of a “Squad” or “Company” in Vietnam that was apparently entirely involved in smuggling heroin except for their sergeant, who they murdered. A scuzzy informant tells this to The Confessor and Altar Boy, being sure to add that the murdered sergeant was married to a Vietnamese woman who was pregnant at the time. The universally-recognized racial slur for Vietnamese is gratuitously employed in this telling. This causes The Confessor to conclude that the Gunslinger is the child of the murdered sergeant (quite a leap).


I have a problem with using this slur. I have a minor problem with interchangeably using Squad and Company. A company normally has at least 100 soldiers. A platoon is a subdivision of that and a squad is a subdivision of a platoon. A sergeant (likely a Staff Sergeant or “Buck” Sergeant) would be in charge of a squad. So saying that “you knew Charlie Company” is a nonsensical statement, especially since there were any number of Charlie Companies.


This is typical of the writing starting in 1970 that portrayed Vietnam veterans as murdering raping druggies. Now they have moved on to portray Iraq and Afghanistan vets this way. I guess I should be happy that it wasn’t an entire company who were murdering drug dealers.

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