"Thicker Than Water"
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent E. Anderson
Publisher: DC/ Wildstorm Comics
Plot: The year is 1972, and Astro City is recovering from a super-villain attack that has left most of its population traumatized. The central characters in this story are a pair of brothers, one who is a petty criminal who is using the confusion to make a quick buck while the other brother is a police officer who is helping to restore order. As the story moves forward, the people of Astro City question whether having super-powered champions is really a good thing.
Comments: In some ways this opening issue marks a return to the basic formula that drove this series as the various heroes that populate Astro City have never been the central focus. Rather, this book's attention was all about looking behind all the wonder and splendour of the super-heroics and giving readers a look at what's happening with all the little people before, during and after the fate of the universe was saved from utter destruction. This book opens with a wonderful sequence where the citizens of Astro City struggle to get their lives back in order after the entire planet was subject to what looks to have been a bad drug trip. This is followed by a nice scene where a rather run-of the-mill encounter between Jack-in-the-box and a band of thieves is elevated by the idea that the entire battle is seen through the eyes of one of the thieves. Instead of a typical super-hero battle, it becomes a nice look at how unsettling Jack-in-the-box can be. I'm a little concerned about that the main idea that is driving the story because it does look to be a rather familiar plot. Basically the citizens of Astro City question the idea of whether their bright, colourful heroes are worthy of blind adoration. While they do save countless lives, and drive off the occasional alien invasion, the idea that the little people would come to fear these people is a well worn plot device in comics. As such, I'm a little concerned that Kurt Busiek has decided to move down a path that is so well travelled. However, he does add a new spin to the idea in that he's linked this hostility to a point in America's history where the people had removed their rose colored glasses and collectively took stock of their country and were distressed to discover it wasn't nearly as perfect as they had come to believe it to be. Plus, fans who have been with this series right from the start are going to be quite excited about this issue's final page, as it would appear the longest standing question of this series will be answered.
Alex Ross turns in a lovely cover on this issue, as not only is that a great looking shot of the always visually engaging Jack-in-the-box, but I rather enjoyed how the cover logo was worked into the actually visual design, as the character's streamers are allowed to interact with the logo. As for the interior art, Brent E. Anderson has been with this title right from the word go and I'm delighted that he's stuck with the title, even when it vanished off the face of the planet for long stretches. His style is a perfect match for the central idea that drives most if not all Astro City stories. His work isn't overly detailed, but he has a great eye when it comes to offering up ordinary characters who look like the people one passes on the street. He also does some nice work on the opening pages as the art is called upon to express the collective panic of the people that live in the city, and the double page shot in the bar that opens the issue does a wonderful job of it. The scene where Jack-in-the-box takes out a group of thieves was also well done thanks to the fixed position under the truck, and the final page has an undeniable impact.
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