Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Anderson
When all the other heroes that populate Astro City are unavailable when a giant killer robot rampages through the suburbs, retired super-hero Supersonic is pressed back into action. However, due to his time he's spent away, Supersonic might not be up to the task.
It's an idea that I've seen before, as the idea of a retired hero being called back into action is a plot that has been well used, but it's easy to see why it's so popular as it gives the writer an instant underdog scenario. Still, Kurt Busiek is in fine form as he manages to balance a pretty harrowing battle with a wonderfully nostalgic bit of remembrance as we see the hero thinks back on his previous heroic deeds, and one has to love the way these memories manage to embrace the goofy charm of the Silver Age. In fact this entire issue is in effect a commentary on how comics have changed, as we have a hero who operated in the confines of the Silver Age essentially tossed into the deep end of the angst ridden pool that is the modern day comics, and it becomes a sink or swim affair, as our hero struggles to adjust.
There's also some solid work developing the relationship between Supersonic and the police detective who acted as his unofficial partner, as we get a nice sense of the friendship that these two men shared. Also Captain Robbin's makes it remarkably easy to become an active spectator when Supersonic battles for his life, as he wears his emotions on his sleeve, and one would have to be a pretty jaded reader not to feel for the character when it looks like he's responsible for his friend's death. Now there's no real surprises to be found in this one-shot, but it's an effectively told tale that makes good use of its central theme, and I eagerly await our next visit to Astro City.
Brent E. Anderson's work is a bit rough around the edges during the quieter moments, but he more than delivers when it comes to the big impact scenes, as the battle is full of magnificent visuals, from the wince inducing shots that Supersonic takes in the opening moments of the battle, to his equally impressive counterattack sequence. The art also manages to convey the important details of the story, from the anguish of Captain Robbins when it looks like he's sent his friend to his death, to his short-lived delight in the aftermath of Supersonic's victory.
I’m on a comics-based mailing list where people tell me they don’t really like superhero books, as they have nothing to say to them. They tell me they’d rather read an aging kid’s “humour” comic and a long-running DC title out of habit, than actually consider any new works. They rather relive their youths via the Marvel Essentials series, than look for a brighter comic tomorrow. It seems to me that they are saying that they have made up their minds and that’s that – it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, they have spoken.
How do you say “bullshit” to these people?
How do you say “for fuck’s sake, just pick up Astro City Special: Supersonic, and see if you can relate to the lead character – he’s got old, he’s got slow, but he hasn’t lost his powers…just the spark of inspiration in using them”?
When some of the biggest supporters of comics are blinkered and blind, it makes one despair.
For the rest of you, there’s this book. It’s not perfect by any means – you don’t seriously expect the lead character to actually get killed, and hence loses a little bit of tension. But, Brent Anderson is once again on top of his form, Kurt Busiek writes deftly and with humour – and when it’s over, you don’t want it to be over.
Among his writing strengths, Kurt Busiek is one of the true successors to the kinds of stories written for DC superhero comics in the 1970s. His influences include Denny O’Neil, Len Wein, Elliot S. Maggin, Steve Englehart, Martin Pasko and Cary Bates. He often pays homage to the creative input of editor Julius Schwartz. Busiek always focuses on the human side of superheroes, while still basing his plots and gimmicks firmly in the fantastic. His stories have a nostalgic taste, yet they always seem fresh. Kurt’s tales for Astro City are more than just exquisite craft; they are tributes to a style of storytelling we simply don’t see in most modern comics. It’s also nice to have a self-contained tale for a change, with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end.
“Supersonic: Old Times” is part return of the ‘classic’ superhero, part all-out battle, part reverie, part biography. It combines two key elements: the superhero at thought, and the superhero in action. The story reads well and is swiftly paced. It’s over before you know it. The menace has been defeated. The destruction is horrendous, but no lives have been lost. Supersonic the superhero gets to go back to his civilian life and even catch up with an old friend.
There is a beautiful full-page illustration by Anderson of Supersonic soaring enthusiastically over what appears to be Arizona’s Monument Valley. Whether the sun is rising or setting I’m not sure, but the scene took my breath away. It’s an image of Supersonic in his heroic youth, while the thought captions placed beside and below him are from the present, where he is currently in battle and getting beaten quite soundly. But Supersonic is not giving up. He’s hanging in there, determined to triumph. And he does. As have Busiek and Anderson. This book is worthy of its “special” title.
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