Astro City vol. 2, #1. Art by Alex Ross.
|Main character(s)||Honor Guard|
|Life in the Big City||ISBN 1-56389-551-X|
|Family Album||ISBN 1-56389-552-8|
|Tarnished Angel||ISBN 1-56389-663-X|
|Local Heroes||ISBN 1-40120-284-5|
|The Dark Age Book One: Brothers and Other Strangers||ISBN 9781401220778|
|The Dark Age Book Two: Brothers in Arms||ISBN 9781401228439|
|Shining Stars||ISBN 9781401229849|
Kurt Busiek's Astro City is an American comic book series centered on a fictional American city of that name. Written by Kurt Busiek, the series is co-created and illustrated by Brent Anderson with character designs and painted covers by Alex Ross. The first series debuted in August 1995, published by Image Comics, and since then has been published by Homage Comics, part of the Wildstorm Signature Series.
Astro City was published from 1995–1998, then returned in 2003 with the Local Heroes and The Dark Age story arcs. The Dark Age was set in the 1970s and 1980s and ran 16 issues. In it, the citizens of Astro City ponder the functions and motivations of superpowered individuals, and their overall positions within the community. The Dark Age began publication in 2005 and ended in May 2010, with the final four issues published monthly.
The metro area of Astro City is a mecca for super-powered beings, largely because Air Ace, the first public superhero and a decorated veteran, established residency there shortly after World War I. The series has established a large cast of characters, from small cameo roles of a few panels to full center stage attention spanning several issues.
The series is an anthology that focuses on different characters living within Astro City, using a wide range of viewpoints. Some issues are told from the viewpoint of heroes, some from the more typical vantage point of average people, others from villains and shady criminals. Stories also vary greatly in length, from one issue to sixteen in the case of the story arc, Dark Age, whose main viewpoint remains that of Charles and Royal Williams, two brothers in their early adult years living in Astro City. As another interesting twist, this story is set in the 1970s, when some superheroes were declining in popularity, due to general mistrust of authority figures, along with the more violent, gritty tactics that some superheroes were practicing. Hence the notion of a "Dark Age."
The essential hook of Astro City is that it explores how people—both ordinary people and the heroes and villains themselves—react to living in their world. For example, in the first story, Samaritan reflects on his life during a typical day in which he spends almost all of his waking hours flying around the world to help people, and never has any time to enjoy the sheer physical sensation of flight. Other stories involve a date between two high-profile heroes, the initiation of a "kid sidekick" hero, the efforts of a reformed supervillain to find a life outside of prison, a superhero being driven away from Earth by his "love's" attempts to expose him, and the life of an innocent bystander in the days after having been held hostage by a supervillain.
While the focus has been on the heroes of Astro City itself, the series does mention, and at times occasionally shows, heroes from other cities such as Boston's Silversmith, Chicago's The Untouchable and New York City's Skyscraper.
The city was originally called Romeyn Falls (until its rebuilding, post-World War II). At that time, it was renamed in honor of the superhero Astro-Naut, who, apparently at the cost of his own life, saved the city from unspecified disaster.[volume & issue needed]
Astro City is made up of numerous neighborhoods, which include the rebuilt Center City, centered around Binderbeck Plaza; Old Town; Chesler (also known as "The Sweatshop"); Shadow Hill (below Mount Kirby); Bakerville; Derbyfield; Museum Row/Centennial Park; Iger Square; Kiefer Square; Kanewood; South Kanewood; Fass Gardens; Gibson Hills; and Patterson Heights. Shadow Hill, protected exclusively by the Hanged Man, is featured and focused on in many stories.
Notable locations in Astro City are the Astrobank Tower, home of the Astro City Beacon, the city's warning beacon; the tower also has a statue of Air Ace in front. Other locations include Grandenetti Cathedral; the Outcault Bridge; Bruiser's, a bar catering to heroes; Butler's, a private club for the superhero set; and Beefy Bob's, a fast-food chain.
Astro City's world is also populated by additional fictional towns, as well as real ones. One other fictional town that has been shown is Buchanan Corners, a long overnight bus-ride somewhere to the east of the city. Hood County in an unspecified state. Though there is an actual Hood County in Texas, the name was chosen by Busiek because it "is another play on secret IDs; Mask County or Cowl County wouldn't have sounded right."
Most of the city's physical features, neighborhoods, streets and businesses, as well as the other fictional locales in its world, are named for past individuals or characters associated with the comic book industry and comics history. For example, the nearby Alcatraz-like penitentiary, Biro Island, is a reference to comics creator Charles Biro, who is noted for the comics series Crime Does Not Pay.
Some of the more prominent Heroes and Villains of Astro City are listed below; see the article on Astro City Characters for a more complete listing.
- Samaritan — An extremely powerful hero and Superman analog. Time-traveler, appeared in this era in 1985; active as a hero since 1986. A current member of Honor Guard. Is sometimes referred to as "Big Red." Was the first hero in the series to receive an origin story.
- The Confessor — A mysterious vigilante detective, apparently active from the 1950s to the mid-1990s. His history is a blur of myths and assumptions, as dark as his crime fighting methods. In the Confession arc from the second volume of the series, even his new sidekick struggles to know more about his mentor. He is eventually revealed as a vampire and killed, but his (human) sidekick takes over the role after four years of training.
- Crackerjack — An egocentric, reckless crime-fighter, with amazing agility and a staff weapon. Active since 1991. Visually akin to screen swashbucklers and actors like Errol Flynn who portrayed them, he also reflects the disconnect that frequently existed between their sterling public persona and unappealing private behavior. He is arrogant, over-zealous, and shallow.
- The Hanged Man — A ghostly figure who protects Shadow Hill, appearing as a floating apparition with a burlap sack over his head and a noose around his neck. Active in Astro City since the 19th century; rumored to have existed since at least the Middle Ages.
- The Gentleman — Impeccably dressed in a tuxedo, he is a powerful, super-strong, immaculate and unfailingly-polite hero active in Astro City. His earliest known adventures began in the 1940s. He has yet to show any noticeable signs of aging.
- MPH a.k.a. The Acceleration Ace — An African-American with super-speed and member of Honor Guard. His powers apparently come from a "15% overlay" of alien DNA. Besides his membership duties with Honor Guard, he operates in his home city of Detroit.
- Jack-in-the-Box — A clown-themed vigilante with no known powers but agility and an arsenal of clown and toy inspired weaponry. Currently in his third incarnation.
- Silver Agent — An armored vigilante who suffered a tragic fate, hinted at for years and finally revealed as having been convicted and executed by the law, on false evidence. Active from 1956 through the early 1970s, and via time travel, sporadically throughout thousands of years into the future, and now deceased. A founding member of Honor Guard. Portrays the patriotic hero archetype. He embodies and is even named after the Silver Age of Comic Books.
- Winged Victory — A feminist Greco-Roman themed superhero, controversial due to her habit of saving women before men regardless of the situation.
- Beautie — A sophisticated android modeled on a popular doll.
- Bridwell — An Enelsian spy gathering intelligence on Earth's heroes; enamored of humanity's better instincts, but ultimately disgusted by mankind's baser ones. Name and encyclopedic knowledge based on E. Nelson Bridwell.
- The Conquistador (featured) — A mysterious armored villain who hired villains from Kiefer Square as part of a grand scheme to gain back lost respect; secretly the disgraced hero El Hombre.
- The Deacon — A soft-spoken lord of "ordinary" organized crime in Astro City; obtained his position after murdering Astro City's premiere crime-boss, The Platypus, in the 1970s. The police have never been able to connect him with the crimes his underlings commit.
- The Enelsians — A matriarchal alien race that invaded Earth, with Astro City as their focal point. Defeated when the Confessor sacrificed his life to expose their plan. The name of the race pays homage to comics fan and professional E. Nelson Bridwell.
- Infidel — A slave who became an immortal mystic during the Middle Ages, and traveled through time to become a tyrant in the 36th century. Infidel became the arch-enemy of Samaritan after Samaritan's heroics changed history, erasing Infidel's future empire. Essentially a mad scientist who uses alchemy and magic to warp reality.
- The Junkman — An aged villain seeking vengeance on society for age discrimination. Recycles and enhances his weaponry from discarded trash.
- The Mock Turtle — A generally docile and polite man who grew up obsessed with fantasies, especially Alice in Wonderland. He eventually became a costumed criminal, employing a weaponized armor themed after the Alice character from which he drew his name. He was murdered as a part of The Conquistador's scheme, thrown off the top of a building to his death.
- Shirak the Devourer — A shark-like demon from another dimension that attempted to invade the Earth in 1959 and 1964. Stopped in one of the first (and rather odd) missions of the newly formed Honor Guard.
- The Time-Keeper — A time-stopping villain from the 1940s who nearly destroyed time itself in an attempt to remove superheroes from the world.
- The Apollo Eleven — A group of astronauts mutated by something they came across on the moon.
- The Astro City Irregulars — A group of outcast heroes founded by Bravo in the early to mid-1970s; its original roster also included Alligator, Skitter, Switchblade, and Umbra; Orphan was added to the membership as a result of their first case. The modern roster consists of Juice (the apparent leader), Ruby, Palmetto, Homegirl (formerly Jailbait), El Robo and Stray.
- The Crossbreed — A group of pariah religious heroes, consisting of Noah, Daniel, Peter, Mary, David and Joshua. Stigmatized by society as "Jesus freaks." Based on biblical figures, the Crossbreed are a creationist spin on the evolution-based heroes the X-Men.
- The Experimentals - A group of element based superheroes consisting of Solid, Liquid, Vapor and Ener-Jeanie.
- The First Family — A family of interdimensional explorers and superheroes consisting of brothers Augustus and Julius Furst, Augustus adopted children Nick and Natalie, Natalie's dinosaur-like husband Rex, and their daughter Astra. They are an analogue of the Fantastic Four. Julius Furst is named for, and as resembles, late DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz.
- Honor Guard — The most prestigious superhero group. Founded in 1959 by Max O'Millions, its original roster also included the Silver Agent, Starwoman, Leopardman and Kitkat, the first N-Forcer, and the first Cleopatra. Other heroes who have been members include the Mermaid, El Hombre, Hummingbird, Mirage, the Living Nightmare, and Starfighter. The modern roster consists of the Black Rapier(current leader), Beautie, Cleopatra (II), M.P.H., the current N-Forcer, Quarrel (II), and Samaritan.
- The Unholy Alliance (featured) — A group of villains led by Demolitia. Current members include Flame-thrower, Glowworm, Slamburger and Spice; apparently other villains have also been members in the past.
- Looney Leo — A cartoon lion brought to life in 1946, he was briefly the Gentleman's sidekick, then a media star, homeless man, supervillain's pawn and recluse before becoming host of a nostalgic nightclub bearing his name in the entertainment district.
- Steeljack (Carl "Carlie" Donewicz) — A former supervillain and member of the villain group the Terrifying Three. He is a resident of Kiefer Square who attempts to reform after serving his time. Active as a villain from about 1970 to 1978; in prison from 1978–1998. Later tapped by former associates to investigate the string of "Black Mask" murders. Modeled after Robert Mitchum.
- Charles Raymond Williams and Royal James Williams — Brothers whose parents are killed in 1959 during a superhero battle. They grew up following very different paths with Charles becoming a police officer and Royal a petty criminal. They are the focus of The Dark Age four-book maxiseries.
The series has been collected into a number of trade paperbacks:
- Astro City: Life in the Big City (ISBN 1-56389-551-X, collects Astro City Vol. 1 #1–6)
- Astro City: Family Album (ISBN 1-56389-552-8, collects Astro City Vol. 2 #1–3, 10–13)
- Astro City: Confession (ISBN 1-56389-550-1, collects Astro City Vol. 2 #1/2, 4–9)
- Astro City: Tarnished Angel (ISBN 1-56389-663-X, collects Astro City Vol. 2 #14–20)
- Astro City: Local Heroes (ISBN 1401202845, collects Astro City Vol. 2 #21–22, Astro City: Local Heroes #1–5, Astro City Special: Supersonic, "Since the Fire")
- Astro City: The Dark Age Book One: Brothers and Other Strangers (ISBN 9781401220778, collects Astro City: The Dark Age Vol. 1 #1–4, Vol. 2 #1–4)
- Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two: Brothers in Arms (ISBN 1401228437, collects Astro City: The Dark Age Vol. 3 #1–4, Vol. 4 #1–4)
- Astro City: Shining Stars (ISBN 978-1401229849, collects Astro City: Samaritan Special, Astro City: Astra #1–2, Astro City: Silver Agent #1–2 and Astro City: Beautie #1)
- Astro City: Through Open Doors (ISBN 978-1401247522, collects Astro City Vol. 3 #1–6)
Astro City and its creators have won a number of Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards, the American comic industry's equivalent of science fiction's Hugo Awards, as well as several Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Awards.
Astro City won both the Eisner and Harvey Awards for Best New Series for 1996, the Eisner for Best Continuing Series for 1997 and 1998, the Harvey for Best Continuing or Limited Series for 1998, and was a top votegetter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Limited Series for 1997. The earliest collection Astro City: Life in the Big City, won the Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work for 1997 and the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Novel/Album for 1997. Astro City: Confession was a top votegetter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Album of 1998 and 1999. Astro City: Family Album was a top vote-getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Album of 1999.
Particular stories or storylines have also come in for honors. Astro City #1 won the 1996 Harvey for Best Single Issue or Story, while #4, "Safeguards", took the Eisner for Best Single Issue/Single Story for the same year. The 1997 and 1998 Eisners went to vol. 2, #1, "Welcome to Astro City", and vol. 2, #10, "Show 'Em All", respectively, and the 1998 Eisner for Best Serialized Story went to vol. 2, #4–9's "Confession" storyline.
"Welcome to the Big City" in Volume 2 #1 was a top vote-getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Comic-Book Story for 1997. The story "The Nearness of You" from the 1/2 issue received votes for the same award that year, as did the "Everyday Life" story which ran in Volume 2 issues 2 and 3. The story "Confession" from Volume 2 issues 5–9 won the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Story for 1998. "Show 'Em All" from issue 10 was a top vote-getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Story for 1998.
Kurt Busiek was honored with 1998's Harvey and 1999's Eisner for Best Writer, in both instances for bodies of work including Astro City. Alex Ross took both awards for Best Cover Artist in 1996, 1997, and 1998, in all instances but one for Astro City or bodies of work including it (the exception was the 1997 Harvey, awarded for Kingdom Come #1). He also took 1999's Harvey and 2000's Eisner for Best Cover Artist, again for bodies of work including Astro City.
In 2003, Ben Barenholtz, Jonathan Alpers and Busiek hoped to develop an Astro City movie, with Barenholtz as producer and Alpers as lead scripter, but the plans did not take off, whereupon Barenholtz subsequently took the project to Working Title Films. In July 2010, it was announced that Working Title had acquired the rights to make a live-action feature film adaptation of Astro City. Busiek was to write a script treatment, and also to executive-produce, along with Barenholtz and Alpers.
- Sun, 03/31/2013 - 1:00pm (2013-03-31). "ASTRO CITY comes to Vertigo | Vertigo". Vertigocomics.com. Retrieved 2013-11-04.
- "Busiek's Triumphant Return to "Astro City"". Comic Book Resources. 2013-05-14. Retrieved 2013-11-04.
- David Rooney (2003-11-19). "Panama Leo shapes up ‘Astro’ pic". Variety. Retrieved 2013-11-04.
- Fleming, Mike. "Working Title Plants Flag in Kurt Busiek's Graphic Novel 'Astro City'". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2013-11-04.
- "SDCC: Working Title Films Adapting Astro City". ComingSoon.net. 2010-07-21. Retrieved 2013-11-04.
- Astro City at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 6, 2012.
- Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Awards index
- Kurt Busiek's Astro City vol. 1 at the Grand Comics Database
- Kurt Busiek's Astro City vol. 2 at the Grand Comics Database
- Astro City: Local Heroes at the Grand Comics Database
- Astro City: The Dark Age, Book One at the Grand Comics Database
- Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Two at the Grand Comics Database
- Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Three at the Grand Comics Database
- Astro City: The Dark Age, Book Four at the Grand Comics Database