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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In one of the letters pages in Astro City a fan wrote in and thought it would be neat to see the epic battle alluded to in the story. I believe Kurt Busiek’s reply was that if anyone wanted to see such battles highlighted there were a lot of other places to see them. My feelings exactly.

I wonder if the choice of the name Miranda was in reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The heroine, Miranda, was apparently the first use of the name. (Like Madison was in Ron Howard’s movie Splash)

The Gathering Dark

The public is starting to get riled up, the implication being that it is because she is the first white victim.

Busiek takes the opportunity to do some world building here by having the suggestion come from people in Bakerville.

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.

While the mayor obviously has a part, it's interesting that the public has become so dependent on the heroes that they blame them for not bringing the killer to justice rather than the police.

Some of the public are ready to blame one or more of the superheroes for the actual crimes.

The mayor says he'd "hate to jeopardize relations with the superhuman community", but the idea of registering the heroes could only be useful in this case if one of the heroes was the perpetrator.  The mayor got off lucky that the heroes didn't really have a vocal advocate.

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.

Again, the public has become so dependent on the heroes that they can't even keep priorities straight.

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.

I like his line, "whom we've taken great pains to accomodate".  I guess he means, we let them help us and reduce our policing and infrastructure costs. :)

I don't think Busiek would be interested, as it's a little away from the tone he strives for, but this trade practically begs to be followed up with a story on the public's dependence on super heroes in Astro City.

Other things I found interesting:

- Brian has completely adopted an us vs. them attitude, not wanting Mordecai Chalk to succeed.

- The mayor's speech about the city having sold their souls for safety is being used to condemn the hero's privacy, completely flipped from the related real world argument.

Clues from this chapter:

Prior to the reveal at the end, the Confessor is shown to appear almost instantaneously, gets shot point blank without getting hurt, is able to crush steel guns, and scares the people of Shadow Hill to death.

World building:

Most of the world building this issue comes from the news and Altar Boy's musings.

Location wise, Shadow Hill is really focused on this issue.  Meanwhile, mentions are made of crime rising in Chesler (and other downtown areas) and of a Superhuman Studies Department at F.B.U.  One of Winged Victory's women centers (brought up in "Safeguards") is bombed.  Additionally, Brian rides the Biro Island ferry, (the prison seen in "In Dreams" and which will be featured again in the "Tarnished Angel").

The E.A.G.L.E. troops were obviously based on S.H.I.E.L.D. but I'm curious who Mordecai Chalk might be based on.  Any suggestions?

Richard Willis said:

The universally-recognized racial slur for Vietnamese is gratuitously employed in this telling.

I have a problem with using this slur.

Whereas the term is offensive, aren't villains and assorted miscreants supposed to use offensive dialogue?  What do you feel pushes this into gratuitous territory?

Randy Jackson said:

Also, wasn't there an attempt to do that by Glorious Godfrey?

Yup, the 1987 Legends crossover.

Border Mutt said:

Whereas the term is offensive, aren't villains and assorted miscreants supposed to use offensive dialogue? What do you feel pushes this into gratuitous territory?

It just seemed to me that it was written from the perspective of all the Vietnam movies, in a cliched way.

What I didn't say was that the sergeant having a Vietnamese wife and child who were still in the war zone didn't reflect reality. As a soldier you are government property. The joke is that if the (fill in service) wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.

If you want to marry someone you met "over there" while you are still in the service, they have to have a background check and be approved. Then if they are married to you they can't stay in the war zone. If you are in a non-war zone such as Japan, Italy, Germany, your wife and kids can be with you. If you were in Vietnam, Korea (still), Iraq or Afghanistan you can't have family with you, period.

Since we are lacking a new TPB discussion, does anyone have more to say about Astro City: Confession?

Man, I wish I had time to read it again right now. But I do know that it is one of the best stories I've read in any comic.

Richard Willis said:

Since we are lacking a new TPB discussion, does anyone have more to say about Astro City: Confession?

To me, Mordecai Chalk was a monster hunter like Ulysses Bloodstone re-envisioned as a 90s creation like Cable. 

It's probably also worth mentioning that the newest Astro City collection, Victory, offers us the most detailed look at how Brian Kinney operates as the Confessor since his intorduction. It's some 20 years after the original story -- Astro City time passes just like ours, so Brian first became Altar Boy in 1997; at this point he's been the Confessor for probably around a decade and a half, depending on how long it took him to start. 

The timeline of Confessions is interesting.  It turns out that everything we saw with the kid's arc towards becoming the Confessor (Confessor II, as Philip would say...) all happened in flashback and several years ago, at that.  It really means that any appearance of the Confessor in the other stories that aren't set in the past is the new Confessor.  It also means that the status quo in the Confessions storyline isn't quite the status quo of the ongoing series...  (Or there's the possibility that the return of the new Confessor at the end of the story takes place in the 'future' compared to this run of Astro City stories?)

All this is interesting because Astro City is so faithfully a 'realtime' series.

As to the story itself, it is beautifully constructed and dovetails beautifully with an earlier Alien Invasion storyline, with lots of good insights into this wonderful imaginitive world.

But for me, there are a few things working against it.  I don't like the Confessor's outfit much.  It's a brave attempt to mix a ninja and a priest's(!) outfit, and to get away from typical superhero clobber, but still...

Also I might have problems with what the Confessor's superhero persona is constructed from.  It seems he just takes one aspect of Batman's personality - that he's kinda like a vampire - and makes that his whole personality.

The fact that he has the, presumably extremely painful, sado-masochistic thing going on with the cross on his chest is also somewhat alienating. You have to be kind of sick to do that...  Self-loathing and self-punishment are there in both Superman's and Batman's personality (and many others) as survivors guilt partially motivates them to do what they do, but it works better when we aren't being beaten over the head with it, and it's just part of the richness of their characters.

Batman himself isn't quite so one-note, being a philanthropist, father figure, fast car enthusiast, hairy-chested love-god etc etc, so the inevitable comparisons with him don't quite work in the Confessor's favour.

My impression of the last scenes were that they took place in the near future, a couple years from the present-day (1997) of the main Confessions storyline.

Some of the things that don't work for you in the Confessor's design work really well for me -- I think the outfit is terrific, and the pain of the cross I think is brilliant. Particularly because it's always present for him -- not just as a signal of his faith (and the guilt of being a sinner), but also as a reminder of something he probably needs constant reminding of: NOT TO DRINK BLOOD. It's a little operatic, sure, but these are superheroes. And that goes double for vampire superheroes.

We never actually see the Confessor feed as a vampire, do we? How many vampire stories is that true of? And that, I think, all comes down to the cross.

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