Review by Frank Plowright
It’s normally the case that Astro City collections can be read independently of each other, but those intending to consume the complete run, and there’s no good reason not to, should really read The Dark Age 1 and 2 before this collection.
While Astro City consistently skips across time and back, elements of the Silver Agent’s story here would give away pivotal points of The Dark Age. The conclusion to the Silver Agent’s story presents an uplifting explanation for the entirety of Astro City. That it occurs amid the touching recollections of a character aware of his own fate, and whose fate is also known to readers of The Dark Age, endows an even greater heroic stature. How many of us in the same circumstances would follow the same path? That’s an unavoidable question. Also unavoidable is how this would have improved matters if somehow slotted into The Dark Age.
When last spotlighted in Family Album, Astra of the First Family was a resourceful child who’d not yet reached high school age. Here she’s a teenager, and the thrust of the her narrative concerns the pressure of being in the public spotlight. If in our world the pressure on teenage pop stars is so great, to what lengths would the scummier elements of the press descend to in a world of superheroes? We find out.
Beautie is one of Astro City‘s more original creations, seen as a part of the Honor Guard during crowd scenes, and here her background is fleshed out, so to speak. She’s an android copy of the Beautie doll known to all Astro City girls, and appeared in the city fully functional in 1969. Her programming ensures she recalls everything, and her construction renders her immune to all but the most significant forces. It’s the truth of her unknown origin that haunts her, though, and Kurt Busiek constructs a suitably deceptive story around this with real world parallels.
Oddly, it’s the tale of two exceptionally powerful beings that’s the least of the treats on offer. The Samaritan is Astro City‘s Superman analogue, but his mortal enemy isn’t a scientific genius, but a powerful mystic. The pair are at rather an impasse, and have conceived a neutral non-threatening manner of engagement. This story presents some rare lapses from artist Brent Anderson, with rushed panels, a lack of detail and some odd faces and figures, but it’s only a temporary phase, and the remainder of the book is up to his usual standards.
As ever, the collection includes back-up material displaying character designs by Anderson and Alex Ross, and Ross’ covers to the original comics these stories appeared in.