Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Anderson
Publisher: Homage Comics
The book opens in the present day where we see an elderly woman named Irene is having a conversation with her daughter about a rather tragic moment from her past. The book then jumps back to the 1960s, where we see Irene has arrived in Astro City determined to make her mark as a successful, liberated woman. To this end we see she manages to become a fairly vital part of successful mayoral campaign, and she turns this success into position as a political aide. She then sets her sights of a new hero who has arrived in the city, as a nuclear powered champion named Atomicus catches her eye. We then see the two manage to strike up a friendship, that evolves into a fairly successful partnership, and with the promise of more in the air, we see Irene presses the issue, but Atomicus backs away saying she has to prove herself to him. We then see her notice that a new aide named Adam has arrived in the office, and Irene is quick to note that Adam is never around when Atomicus is around, She then jumps to the conclusion that he wants her to prove herself by exposing the connection between Adam & Atomicus. What follows is a fairly amusing game where we see Irene's efforts are continually stymied, but when her frustration finally makes her go too far it results in a rather tragic exchange that leaves her a shattered woman.
I have to say that I had rather forgotten how good Kurt Busiek really was, as while I enjoyed his Avengers run & I'm starting to really enjoy Power Company, to tell the truth his name had made its way down the list as newcomers like Geoff Johns, Ed Brubaker & Mark Millar came along and displayed their ability to deliver high octane action. However, this didn't mean that I wasn't excited to see new issues of Astro City back on the shelves, and while the opening issue of this new miniseries left me fairly impressed, it is this second issue that pushed Kurt Busiek's name back to the head of the class. Now the Astro City 1/2 issue is still my all time favorite, I do believe that this issue rates as my second, as it's a very powerful, not to mention highly enjoyable visit to the Silver Age of comics. This issue does an absolutely amazing job of taking the Superman/Lois Lane relationship from the Silver Age & turning it completely on its ear in a single, truly heartbreaking moment. I mean I was rather enjoying the various attempts made by this woman to expose the hero's secret identity, up until that final sequence where Kurt Busiek deftly shows us that this is not a game being played simply to keep us readers entertained. A truly amazing piece of writing.
I also have to say that I love the fact that Kurt Busiek is able to play against the readers' expectations, as when he first revealed the character's nuclear origins I just assumed the tragic moment would involve cancer, or some other horrific nightmare that was tied to radiation. Instead the issue is able to take an element that even the most casual Superman fans is aware of and reimagine it. I mean when Lois was busy trying to expose Superman's secret identity, I'm sure the sole intention was to keep the readers entertained, as they watched Superman foil her various attempts, and to a certain extent Kurt Busiek manages to have a great deal of fun recapturing these various schemes. However, in addition to the game he also adds a new element, as the players involved in this game are allowed to express darker emotions, as there's a wonderful confrontation scene where the frustrations of the woman at being foiled once again are replaced by a sense of betrayal as she starts to feel like he's laughing at her continued failed attempts. However the real moment of impact occurs when we learn the true motivation for why the hero had adopted his secret identity, and in turn learn the price that is paid when the woman is finally able to expose his secret.
First off I can't tell you how cool it is to be getting Alex Ross providing the covers, as it adds a touch of real class to the finish product, and it doesn't hurt that it also maintains a nice sense of artistic continuity between this current project and what had come before. As for the art of Brent Anderson I have to say that I truly believe this book brings out the very best in his art, as I've seen his work outside the pages of this series, and it just doesn't feel the same. I mean his art does an absolutely wonderful job of conveying not only the look of the 1960s, through the hairstyles, clothing & the various background elements (cars, buildings), but the art also manages to make one accept the Silver Age plot elements, as Irene's various ploys to expose the secret identity of Atomicus have an almost harmless quality to them, which in turn allows the final confrontation scene to delivers some real emotional punch. I also have to credit the art for projecting a tremendous sense of loss of the face of the elderly Irene, as one look at that face in the present and you know something bad is going to happen, and this sense of loss is perfectly contrasted by the almost rabid look that is seen on her face in the past, as she doggedly attempts to expose Atomicus' secret.
They don't come much better than this issue, as Kurt Busiek once again knocks one out of the park in the pages of Astro City. This issue is the perfect blending of Silver Age goofiness, with modern day cynicism, as one would have to be a pretty cool customer not to be moved by the big exchange that leaves Irene a shell of her former self. Now one can see the obvious parallels that exists between the relationship between Irene & Atomicus, and the Superman/Lois Lane relationship from the Silver Age, and perhaps it's the knowledge that the latter relationship had itself a happy ending that made this issue's divergent path so powerful. In any event this is the issue that currently has my vote for best single issue of the year, and it's easily one of Kurt Busiek's strongest efforts in quite some time. If you're not currently reading Astro City, at least give this issue a read to see what you've been missing.
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