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Astro City: Character Special: Beauty

Posted: Monday, February 18, 2008
By: Michael Colbert

Kurt Busiek
Brent Anderson, Alex Sinclair (colors)
DC Comics/Wildstorm
“Her Dark Plastic Roots”

A bit player in the Astro City pantheon steps up to the foreground in the first Astro City comic in god knows how long…

It's hard to believe Astro City has been around for over 10 years, especially given its inconsistent release schedule. As a rule, you have to constantly pump out new product or your readers will lose interest, moving on to the next thing and filling their pull lists with something that gives them a more regular fix. With a few exceptions I'm guilty of it too. So how does Astro City still keep me coming back even with gaps of years between stories? I'd have to say its quality over quantity. Though Astro City is released inconsistently, the consistency of the stories has never faltered. Case in point, the new "Character Special" out this week "Beautie – Her dark plastic roots" provides a few layers of meaning in the title, and though the main character struggles with surface impressions, the story has no such problems.

Beautie has been seen in the background of several Astro City action sequences, and it’s normal to wonder why a life size Barbie doll (Beautie doll in the story for obvious reasons) is beating the crap out of aliens and such. It seems an odd fit, and this issue reveals she feels the same way. Beautie is a robot with no memory of her origins, and because of her amnesia she has a deep melancholy streak running through her. Now this "robot wanting to be human" is not an original idea; it goes all the way back to Pinocchio at least, but Beautie, in a nice twist, doesn't want to be human. She has accepted what she is, but her lack of roots, as it were, leaves her feeling like a phony and hollow, both figuratively and literally. This is Barbie facing an existential crisis.

Busiek wisely avoids the clichés of this kind of story and gets right to the essence of what drives it… Identity. Beauty has roles to play; she's member of The Honor Guard and a Corporate spokes… um… doll, and when she plays either role, she's content. It’s outside of these predetermined roles that she gets lost. The question of identity is only half answered; she has a public identity but no personal one. Almost any work-a-holic would find this familiar territory.

This identity theme re-occurs constantly through the story. Beautie has residence in the gay section of Astro City, a sly joke on the love of Barbie in the gay community; she has found a sort of kinship with others who have had to face identity issues. The end of the story also carries the gender identity issue when Beautie finally meets her creator.

A sly humor comes through at several points: the fact that Beautie is beloved by the gay community, Beautie telling a pick up artist that she has no genitals, Beautie’s instinctual attraction to shoes and clothes, et al. The story engages, spins a little mystery, and also has some alien ass kicking thrown in for good measure. It pretty much delivers on all fronts. This is all part of the quality that Busiek and company always pour into the Astro City series. Deep themes and feelings flow just beneath the surface of a seemingly superficial experience. Even in the bit players.
Now if we didn’t have to wait so long for the next one.



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