Review by Frank Plowright
In the early days of Astro City there was little difference between the longer tales and the single chapter episodes in terms of quality, but as the series continued the shorter material became continually more compelling than the book-length stories. These bottomed out with the lacklustre Victory, which preceded Private Lives, so it’s pleasing to report that was just a blip and this is an instant return to form.
We have five individual tales showcasing differing moods and genres, each of them insightful, engaging and charming. It’s almost as if Kurt Busiek is challenging himself via the employment of a stylistic variety, and nearly everything here succeeds as he works emotions as a master. Astro City is the nearest comics have to 1940s films, when there was no fear of shedding a tear or celebrating achievement without cynicism.
Another admirable quality of Astro City is the magpie effect. Anyone who’s been following comics for long enough can identify many of Busiek’s starting points, but the wonder is the manner in which he reworks them. One story takes the idea of Reed Richards and Dr Doom being college room mates and gives it a wonderful twist. The Dr Strange equivalent here is a lively and light-hearted woman who can never quite keep on top of her schedule. What begins as analogous to the frictional relationship of the young Lex Luthor and Superboy veers off into entirely different territory.
There is a landmark here also, the first Astro City story in eleven books not illustrated by Brent Eric Anderson. Graham Nolan is a perfectly acceptable storyteller, and modifies his style slightly to fit the tone of the series, but doesn’t bother with the incidental detail Anderson pours into his pages. That’s not the only reason his is the weakest story, as a style-obsessed robber never quite grabs the attention as he should.
Don’t worry about it, though, as there’s more than enough joyous superhero action present to permit one sub-par offering. As ever, the narrative of ordinary people is key to the series, how they view superheroes and how they interact with them. On that basis, the opening story of the Silver Adept’s personal assistant is a solid statement of the series’ principles.
Private Lives is great. Bring on Lover’s Quarrel.