Astro City: Life in the Big City
(Includes issues 1-6 of Astro City Volume 1, published by Image in 1995)
In Dreams: A day in the life of the world’s premier super hero.
The Scoop: A newspaper editor reminisces about what could have been his first big story.
A Little Knowledge: A smalltime crook’s world is turned upside down when he discovers a super hero’s secret.
Safeguards: A woman must decide whether or not to leave behind her magical neighbourhood for the modern life of downtown Astro City.
Reconnaissance: An alien gets a feel for humanity while watching and evaluating the world’s super heroes.
Dinner at Eight: The world’s most famous hero and heroine take a night off to go on a date.
I don’t know if everyone’s going to want to look at each issue individually or address the trade as a whole, but here are some general questions I thought might be interesting to think about.
1. Which story did you enjoy most?
2. Is there anything gained (or lost) by reading the stories as part of a trade instead of in their original format?
3. Do you feel any of the stories would have worked better if Busiek had the “real” characters to play with? Would any have been improved with more original characters?
4. Which characters are analogous to which other characters?
5. How much of the familiar elements in the stories are homage vs. world building?
6. In what way(s) is the world building done?
7. How many other characters are referenced in the background? Of these references, how many stories will we actually see?
8. Could the Marvel and/or DC universes ever integrate this well?
9. Is Astro City a trend leader? Is “reconstruction” an actual trend?
One of the key aspects of the stories told in Life in the Big City is the variance of perspective. There are two stories each told from the hero's perspective, the villain's view, and bystander's impressions. Reconnaissance is one of the stories told from the villain's point of view, but with a twist; because of his technology, for much of the tale we almost get a normal comic's perspective (I want to say 3rd person omniscient, but I'll leave that determination to people who took more English courses) of Crackerjack's adventures, while our ornery alien looks on and makes comments. Then, at the end, we shift back to Bridwell as he makes his ultimate decision. You occasionally see this type of story told elsewhere, but hardly ever with as much panache.
The world building references I came across for Reconnaissance included:
- Astro City Irregulars, young castoffs and rejects, unwanted by the rest of the city's superhero community (the Irregulars will be important in the Tarnished Angel TPB)
- Starwoman's contact matrix in the Astro City Museum of Modern History is potentially functional (this will come up again in the Confession TPB)
- Gnomicron no longer destroyed, disabled and imprisoned (this goes with the newspaper headline below)
- Quarrel II affiliated with Street Angel [possibly defunct] and Crackerjack (we'll see Quarrel and Crackerjack together in Dinner at Eight)(we'll see Street Angel in the Local Heroes TPB and then in a big role in the Dark Age)
- Confessor, pattern of sightings concentrated in the area of Grandenetti Cathedral (we'll see why this is important in the Confession TPB)
- Jack-In-The-Box debuted in 1964 or 1989, if one assumes the current one is a different man (we'll learn more in the Family Album TPB)
newspaper - Cleopatra vs. Gnomicron (we've seen info drops about this adventure since In Dreams, but it took place entirely in the background)
- N-Forcer saves senate
- Street Angel presumed dead (this'll play out in The Dark Age)
This entire story can be seen as a prologue for the big Confessor storyline.
Dinner at Eight
“Everything we do is unrealistic. We’re fighting for dreams, and we can’t give up, not even when... maybe especially when it’s impossible.”
Samaritan's speech echoes Busiek's introduction and is as much meta commentary as it is a conversation with Winged Victory. This is an issue where some heavy lampshading is employed so that we willingly dismiss a pretty blatant paradox and common tropes like the same hero regularly fighting the same villain. Even the idea that, due to the time frame he arrived in, Samaritan needed to setup a civilian identity to gain information access, doesn't really hold up to logical scrutiny, but it's brought to our attention with a wink so that we can dismiss it and enjoy the story. When the token effort is made, we're willing to abandon logic to a certain extent, after all, we want to enjoy these dreams of the impossible.
The world building references I came across for Dinner at Eight included:
Zyxometer news - a silent alarm goes off at a top-security lab in Palo Alto
- battled the Iron Horde back to back with Winged Victory
- there are a few places [restaurants/clubs] that cater to our colleagues (one of these is coming right up in the Confession TPB)
- after a battle with Eterneon got back to the 35th century