Saturday, 13 July 2013

Astro City Vol 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek review

A couple of years ago I tried reading Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross' Marvels, a book I was assured was a superhero classic and an incredible comic. It feels like superheroes could exist in our world! is the general sentiment around that book. I got about a third of the way through before I gave up. Terrible art - I don't like Ross' ultra-realistic painted style, the figures are too static - and boring characters telling unimpressive superhero stories made me drop the book long before the end.

More recently I read Superman: Secret Identity and finally saw why Busiek is praised, so I decided to try another of his books, the critically acclaimed Astro City from 1995. I got further than I did with Marvels but I also gave up on this one too - it's essentially Marvels with a different artist.

The city is full of Busiek-created superheroes, all of them analogues of DC/Marvel characters (and forgettable to boot) and the chapters are told from the perspective of different narrators in the fictional town of Astro City. The comparison to Marvels isn't immediately apparent as the first story is told from the perspective of the Superman analogue but from then on we get a string of ordinary people telling you their stories encountering superheroes in their everyday lives, one of whom - the newspaper editor - seemed exactly like the Marvels narrator.

It doesn't help that the narrators are bland and uninteresting or that the superheroes are equally dull, but the stories feel decidedly one note - narrator tells you their ordinary life, a superhero saves them from a crime of some sort, the end. It's exactly the same formula as Marvels minus the Alex Ross art, though Brent Anderson's art is a long way from impressive either.

It's not that it's badly written, it's just a really dull read. I suppose if Marvels is your bag, you'll love Astro City - if like me you didn't enjoy Marvels, you definitely won't like this one.

Astro City Life In The Big City TP New Ed (Kurt Busiek's Astro City)


  1. While I don't think it's necessary, I believe that an understanding of comic book superhero tropes and archtypes make Astro City a much better read.

    Life in the Big City is an anthology which while exploring some very personal stories from some unique angles and viewpoints, is also limited by the length of the one or two issue spans.

    If you can get KBAC: Confession or KBAC: Tarnished Angel offer the more personal in-depth stories you might enjoy.

  2. I cannot recall EVER getting bored reading "Astro City". While there are similarities in narration that may be inevitable coming from the same writer, the editor's story is barely comparable to Phil's from "Marvels". The editor is NOT the secretary from Shadow Hill, she is NOT the paranoid lowlife who is NOT the spying old man. Oh, and heroes only directly save two of those 4 characters.

    I find that Brent Anderson's art works, for (like Ross does, movement lines or not) he captures human expression and (often missing from comics in the 90s or thereabouts) human anatomy.

    As for Ross & motion, it can be argued that there's no real motion in the still pictures & it takes a bit more effort to see it in Ross' work. He doesn't speed lines & he keeps blurred colors to a minimum, but there's movement if you look. Strange that didn't stop you from saying that "The saving grace of ['Kingdom Come'] is Alex Ross' artwork" and that "Alex Ross' artwork is great and I always enjoy it" back in January. (Your words at

  3. While I am a huge fan of Astro City, it's actually Brent Anderson's art that doesn't work for me. It's sloppy, gritty-looking, his inking looks downright careless, his pencils tend to lean at times (as if Brent himself was leaning as he was drawing them at the time).

    I would rather see someone like Stuart Immonen, Graham Nolan, Darwyn Cooke, etc., paired with inkers like Mark Farmer, Gary Martin, Joe Sinnott (or a younger inker with Joe's style), someone who displays a cleaner, smoother style, which would better lend itself to this fine book.

    I would also love to see a different artist every month, since this is a sort of anthology. Or do a second AC title, with different creators doing their takes on the world of Astro City. That would actually be kind of interesting (not that Kurt and company aren't). Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Dan Jurgens, etc., would be great guest writers, in my opinion. Just a thought.