ASTRO CITY #52 / Writer: Kurt Busiek / Artist: Brent E. Anderson / Colorist: Peter Pantazis / Letterer: John Roshell, Sara Jacobs, and Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft / Cover Artist: Alex Ross / Publisher: DC’s VERTIGO Imprint / June 27, 2018
For years, Astro City has been one of the best comic book series on the shelves, winning numerous Eisner and Harvey Awards across its long run of three series and four original graphic novels. Kurt Busiek (Avengers Forever and Superman: Secret Identity), Alex Ross (Kingdom Come and Marvels), and Brent E. Anderson’s (X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills) conclude their latest superhero anthology with a three-part story about Michael Teniceck and his fellow survivors of superhero-related incidents–a story that brings the series full circle by tying all the way back to its beginnings twenty-three years ago.
Michael Teniceck first appeared in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City ½, “The Nearness of You,” back in 1996, the issue in which Kurt Busiek first took the idea of a big superhero adventure negatively affecting the world. Dreams of a woman named Miranda haunt Teniceck, a woman he thought was his wife. She doesn’t exist anymore, but once upon a time, she did. A mysterious figure known as the Hangman visits and explains to him about a big time-traveling superhero brawl that broke time itself–similar to DC’s reboot events Crisis on Infinite Earth’s and Flashpoint. Instead of focusing on the event, though, Busiek’s story focuses on how the fallout affects this one man. Sadly, Michael still dreams of her, even after the mysterious Hangman gives him the option to forget. He chooses to remember his nonexistent wife.
In issues 50-52, Michael encounters difficulty in finding a way to grieve for the loss of his wife. How do you explain a non-existent wife to a therapist or a support group? Miranda’s Friends is a support group where he and other residents of Astro City who have been victims of superhero incidents—battles, abductions, and more—can find solace, but how can you find solace from people when they can’t fathom the loss of someone who, to them, never existed?
With this issue, Kurt Busiek not only tells a good story, writes a great comic book, and ends the third volume of Astro City, but he writes something real people experience. Around the world loved ones die, people are kidnapped, and the list of terrible things people can survive grows constantly. These survivors need support. Granted, they aren’t turned into human mainframes, kidnapped by self-proclaimed spider gods, or edited out of existence, but readers can still relate to the trauma. That’s the most wondrous thing about Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. The series tells the most out-there stories imaginable while still making the reader feel like they’re experiencing the events.
The Visual Experience
On a visual level, I never get tired of seeing the cover of Alex Ross’ Astro City. This book depicts a beautiful image of Michael and Miranda dancing between multiple earths. She slowly fades away like a dream as he holds her close; it’s a special homage to scenes from the 1/2 issue. Brent E. Anderson has been drawing the book since the beginning. He brings an uncanny sense of realism to each character in this series, despite it being filled with superheroes, villains, aliens, monsters, and more. This compliments Busiek’s fantastical but relatable writing like peanut butter and jelly.
More About Astro City
I read about Michael Teniceck and wonder what I’d do if a loved one, let alone my wife, disappeared—not only disappear but erased from existence. Would I choose to forget her to avoid that pain? Busiek, Anderson, and Ross take this impossible story and make the absurd relatable. That’s what makes Astro City one of the best comic books ever written, and that’s why the book will continue to perpetuate in an original graphic novel form starting with Astro City: N-Forcement.
One more thing. If you’re worried that you need to read the first 51 issues, don’t be. Anyone can pick up and read this issue–like most of Astro City–with no legitimate need for past context. That said, Astro City #52, like the rest of the series, is a masterpiece. Give it a go.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
If you are a stickler for the reading order anyway, then here’s a link.