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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The plot element of registering superheroes made me wonder how old this concept is. This storyline is from 1997. Watchmen was from 1986/87.


Were their any earlier stories involving superhero registration and/or outlawing en masse?

From memory, I think that when Universo became President, the Legion of Super Heroes was outlawed. That would have been back in the 1960's.



Richard Willis said:


Were their any earlier stories involving superhero registration and/or outlawing en masse?

I want to say the Justice League was also outlawed back in the 1960's for one issue as well.  Also, wasn't there an attempt to do that by Glorious Godfrey?

...After basically never reading the series , I recently bought the new , Vertigo , printing of the first ASTRO CITY TPB collection , I was thinking of posting about my reaction to it , essentially never having followed the series and basically 20 years after the time of the book's starting...

If you want to talk about Astro City: Life in the Big City, you should probably post to the Border Mutt's TPB discussion of it, at:

http://captaincomics.ning.com/forum/topics/the-weekly-tpb-astro-cit...

These discussions are open-ended, not just one or two weeks.

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...After basically never reading the series , I recently bought the new , Vertigo , printing of the first ASTRO CITY TPB collection , I was thinking of posting about my reaction to it , essentially never having followed the series and basically 20 years after the time of the book's starting...

In “Eye of the Storm,” The Confessor has abruptly left Brian after confirming he is a vampire. Brian follows him. The Confessor is harassing all known associates of The Deacon, who is a local drug lord. After knocking out a heavily armed group of The Deacon’s thugs the implication is that he has to resist drinking their blood. At this point Altar Boy catches up with him. The Confessor expects Brian to hate and fear him. Brian convinces him that he still respects him and thinks of him as a good man. He then tells The Confessor that he wants to understand. The Confessor agrees to talk later at the Cathedral. For the first time he allows Brian to see him turn into mist.


The next scene has Honor Guard battling an alien spaceship above Earth’s atmosphere. We see that Samaritan, Cleopatra and the as-yet-unidentified Beauty do not need spacesuits. Honor Guard prevails and apparently takes the ship and its occupants into custody. After learning the ship has been captured, the mayor is applying public pressure to have Honor Guard turn it over to the federal government. Honor Guard, through their member Quarrel, says they need to investigate first. We learn that Mordecai Chalk, the monster hunter, is still in Shadow Hill but his reports have stopped. Brian wanders the city in civilian clothes and is uneasy about the level of hostility to superheroes.


He meets with The Confessor and learns his name (Jeremiah Parrish) and his origin. He came to the city as a priest in 1869 to assist in the construction of the Cathedral. We learn that many of the construction workers were brought in from Eastern Europe, and will stay in the city and found Shadow Hill. One of the workers is injured and he visits him at home, at which time he meets his daughter. He returns often, being infatuated with the daughter and feeling guilty about it. It turns out that the daughter is a vampire. She attacks him and the next thing he knows he is one of the undead crawling out of a garbage dump. After hiding out in part of the Cathedral for many years he finally becomes The Confessor after other heroes begin to appear. Brian asks him how he can wear a cross on his chest and does it hurt. The Confessor says that it hurts him constantly but helps to focus him on doing good and not attacking people for their blood.


The mayor continues to push for Honor Guard to release of the spacecraft. This time Samaritan acts as spokesman and says they need more time. The mayor then makes a public statement that all “costumed vigilantes” will be arrested and, if they resist, are subject to be killed. Brian is hoping that this is an overreach by the mayor, but the public seems to be okay with it. The last scene in the story shows an armada of the alien ships about to attack Earth.

In “Patterns,” we open with paramedics frantically working on Mordecai Chalk, the monster hunter. After being out of contact for some time he was found cowering in an alley by a Shadow Hill resident. He has lost a lot of blood and the paramedics aren’t sure what to do about his cyborg parts. Beyond his physical injuries, it appears his mind is gone.


Most of the heroes have been captured or are in hiding. The First Family has put up a force field at their headquarters. Honor Guard continues to investigate the alien spacecraft in their possession. Samaritan is working in other parts of the world. Jack-in-the -Box was shot at over the Gaines River, his fate uncertain. Brian gets tired of hearing his friends ragging on the superheroes, loses his temper and walks out on them.


Although conflicted by some of the things The Confessor has hidden and later said, Brian suits up as Altar Boy and goes out with him to try to make a dent in the crime wave that has resulted from the heroes being hamstrung. When stopping what appeared to be a rape in progress, they fall into a trap set by E.A.G.L.E. troops. They neutralize the E.A.G.L.E. troops, but Brian is beginning to lose hope and is considering quitting. The Confessor gives him a pep talk.


Even though most of the heroes have been dealt with, the mayor announces he’s bringing in “special troops.” I knew there were special troops involved, not just E.A.G.L.E. troops. The special troops land in multiple ships in a large park with half the city in attendance. The Confessor challenges the mayor, calling him a liar. He charges the mayor and is intercepted by E.A.G.L.E. troops. Apparently they have deduced that he is a vampire because they attack him with anti-vampire methods. While this is going on the crowd absorbs the fact that he is a vampire and the mayor takes the opportunity to proclaim him the Shadow Hill Killer. A trooper produces a weapon designed to fire multiple large wooden stakes. One of these stakes hits The Confessor dead center. As his dying act The Confessor grabs the weapon and fires at the mayor, impaling him against a wall. The audience in attendance and on TV sees the “mayor” revert to the appearance of the ugly alien we saw in “Learning the Game.” It is now clear to everyone that the “mayor” and his special troops are actually an alien invasion force.

In “My Father’s Son,” we learn that now that their cover has been blown the aliens are attacking in force all over Earth. They are being opposed by local “heroes, villains and monsters” in many countries, all rallying in common defense of their planet. The attack on Astro City is more concentrated, probably because the heroes are more concentrated there.


Altar Boy is facing the aliens who were disguised as special troops and expects to be killed. He is saved by the Crossbreed, who were thought to be driven out but actually were in hiding locally. When the Crossbreed join the fight, Brian wants to help but is told to rest. He is still preoccupied with what happened to his mentor and wouldn’t have been effective. They tell Brian that they had known for a while that The Confessor was a vampire but that his actions were what counted. The alien mothership is captured by Honor Guard and the invading alien troops are recalled by the surrendering commander. When the ship is captured, the real mayor of Astro City and forty-five other real government leaders from all parts of the world are freed.


The assumption continues that The Confessor was the Shadow Hill serial killer, which of course sticks in Brian’s craw. While the city is beginning to heal, another mutilated body is found. Shortly thereafter, a gigantic apparition appears over Shadow Hill. It is The Hanged Man doing battle with what appears to be a creature out of H. P. Lovecraft. It is implied that this creature was the true Shadow Hill Killer. A sense of relief comes over the city even though few understand what happened. A special memorial service is held for the killer’s victims. The Hanged Man makes an appearance and wordlessly communicates with each of their relatives, bringing them peace. Brian goes home and visits his parents’ graves. He reflects that, like The Confessor, his father did good for the community without expecting thanks. After a few years of additional training, Brian returns as The Confessor. Criminals arm themselves with anti-vampire weapons, to no avail.

New Kid in Town

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.

Not a very smart pickpocket trying to work right under Crossbreeds' noses.  One almost gets the sense that a lot of the crime in Astro City is partially motivated by criminals wanting to see if they can get away with something, (either that or the pickings must be extra sweet).  'Course, considering the Crossbreed just tell him to return the wallet, maybe there's not as big a downside at that location after all.

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.

The owner says the bar doesn't have the "right kind of costumes".  Apparently heroes that will take on sidekicks have a type. ;)

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.

Considering the busboy's turn into a bully mob, it's probably a safe bet that they all want to be heroes for a bit of the wrong reason... like Brian.  Maybe if they were properly motivated, they'd jump right in to the hero role instead of trying to be sidekicks.

A couple of other things I found interesting:

- in Astro City, if you're new to the city and staring upwards, they assume you're looking for heroes instead of at skyscrapers

- Air Ace became the first public hero... I wonder if this is a nod to Wild Cards?

- the idea of the staff being masked instead of the patrons still gives the customers a sense of anonymity 

(I'm sure it's been done many places, but this brought to my mind the Beasts storyline from Conway's JLA... reversed of course.)

This issue gives the first clue to one of the mysteries, as Brian gets to clearly see Crackerjack's costume.

World building:

A lot of heroes get cameos and/or short mentions.

Per the radio, Samaritan gets another award.

We see an add for the "Astro City Experience" and learn of a Johnny Crash's memoirs.

Rex (of the First Family) is drinking aquatic derived spirits, a slight reference to his origins.

The neighbourhoods of Shadow Hill and Bakerville are mentioned.  (Shadow Hill will be important to this story.  Bakerville is a predominantly black neighbourhood that Jack-in-the-Box frequents and that will be important in the Dark Age.)

The owner of Bruiser's bar, Black Badge, will show up in the Dark Age books.

Butler's used to belong to Leopardman, one of the heroes that was in "the Scoop".

Recognizable civilian patrons in Butler's included Quarrel, Jack-in-the-Box, and Tamra Dixon.

Learning the Game

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. 

Naming Grandenetti Cathedral after its founder instead of after a saint is pretty hard to believe. Maybe they do that in this alternate reality.

[Jimmm Kelly said] 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.

While alternate reality rules could apply, lets not forget that the Catholics are not the only Christian denomination that have chathedrals.  Also, there's the possibility that Grandenetti was sainted, but the locals didn't respect him enough to add "saint" to the common name.  Often religious leaders get the least respect in their home town.

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.

Lots of titles have creator names as Easter Eggs, but Astro City really goes that extra mile.  Seems appropriate to think of Astro City as being built on the creators that have come before.

When Brian surprises him with smelling salts he is distracted and revealed to be a very ugly alien.

I liked this... a pretty novel way of exposing a shape shifting alien.

Other things I found interesting:

- How set the Confessor was on his sidekick being called Altar Boy.  Makes you wonder how long he'd been considering taking on a sidekick.

- Altar Boy's internal monologue getting interrupted when he almost gets hit.

- The article in Current Magazine appears to have been written in full.

- The comics in the convenience store were a mixture of Astro City characters and real world independent comics.  

(Astro City comics included: Air Ace, First Family, and the Bouncing Beatnik.)

(Independent comics included: Zot, Little Lulu, Groo, Leave it to Chance, Strangers in Paradise, and Sin City.)

- How quickly Brian decided he didn't want to be associated with Crackerjack.

Clues from this chapter:

Brian sees the Confessor move extremely fast (and possibly turn into a mist) and demonstrate an inhuman interrogation skill.  

The Confessor also does not appear in the mirror, is not around in the day, and avoids Shadow Hill.  (The mirror scene is shown in such a way that it is not obvious to the reader, meanwhile the Shadow Hill piece would only be a clue if one had read the previous story "Safeguards".)

I guess the shapeshifter reveal could be considered a clue too...

World building:

We get information from the tv news, the radio, magazine articles, conversations, and computer studies.  Some of this is working towards plot points and building mysteries for the current storyline, but some of it is just general world building including:

- Honor Guard stopping a Pyramid attack on the security council. (Pyramid seems to pop up a lot.)

- The Queen's Bishop in the Chessmen later became one of Headstone's lieutenants. (Chessmen will show up in the Tarnished Angel.)

- The Confessor mentions the Deacon and Guilloteam. (The Deacon was important in "A Little Knowledge" and will become the Confessor's objective in a couple of issues.)

Robinson Prep is first introduced this issue and Museum Row is mentioned again.

I was a little perplexed with Altar Boy's shifting eye mask.  I don't think It was a mistake because in one panel he has one half where the eye can be seen and the other half whited out.  Any idea what this was supposed to convey?

Jimmm Kelly said:

Maybe because I was reading it as an allegory for Batman and Robin and I didn't think it fit.

Rather than a full on allegory, I'd contend the Confessor only represents some aspects of Batman.  (I made this pitch over on the Life in the Big City thread, here.)  Take out scarred, billionaire playboy... add vampire... mix for new character.  (And when you think about it, with Batman's imagery, vampires do tend to leap to mind.)

This isn't really the Confessor's story though, this is Altar Boy's.  This couldn't be Robin's story unless he was able to grow and take over for his mentor.  Other than short term stunts, not really a DC thing.

In “The Nearness of You,” a man named Michael Tenicek is having vivid romantic dreams of a woman named Miranda, who he has never met. He dances with her and she disappears. He knows an enormous amount of details about this woman even though he is sure he has never met her. The dreams cause him to awaken and he is getting very little sleep.


His work and his relationships are being affected by his lack of sleep and preoccupation with this mystery woman. He has tried asking his mother and his old friends from school and college if they remember a girl called Miranda to no avail. He is taking sleeping pills and they only stave off the dreams for a short while. He fears for his sanity.


One night he is visited by the mystic hero The Hanged Man. The Hanged Man tells him he came to him because he was needed. Touching Michael’s forehead , The Hanged Man causes him to see events that began in 1943. A villain called the Time-Keeper, who dresses in a zebra-shirt like a sports referee, is in a bank and blows a whistle, freezing time for the bank employees and customers. His several underlings, called the Tempus Fugitives, begin to rob the bank. A football-themed hero called The All-American and his baseball-themed sidekick Slugger crash through the window. They smash the time-freezing watch and break up the robbery. Presumably they are taken to jail. We don’t see this, however, since Michael has interrupted , questioning how something in 1943 could affect him.


The Hanged Man, ignoring the question, resumes showing Michael the later events. The Time-Keeper has escaped from jail. Tiring of being stopped by the various heroes, resolves to use his time-skills to go back and prevent the heroes from ever being born. The Time-Keeper manages to break through and confront an entity called Eterneon, who tells him he is the Lord of Time. The Time-Keeper goes for broke and really gets broken. As a result of this confrontation, time gets pretty screwed up, with the ever-popular out-of-time dinosaurs and barbarians. Some heroes and even Astro City itself disappear. A final battle is waged by The Hanged Man and other high-end heroes and things are set to right.


Michael tells The Hanged Man that he thinks he understands, that Miranda died during the battles. Instead he is told that Miranda was his wife and she never existed. When restoring time, one of the minor variances in a past event caused Miranda’s grandparents to never have met. The Hanged Man says it is important for Michael and others who still have a close bond like his to understand what happened. If not, a weakness in the fabric of time “could let through dangerous things.”


Michael is asked if he wants to forget Miranda. He quickly says no, but wants to know how other people have chosen. The Hanged Man tells him that no one chooses to forget. Michael can now sleep and dream of Miranda without fear.

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