The epic 12-volume Dark Age saga moves into its second phase with this new issue of Astro City. Once again, readers are reacquainted with Charles and Royal, two brothers whose lives went in completely different directions. Charles is a police officer, while Royal is a criminal. By the end of this issue, though, it’s clear that the lines between the two men’s lives is much thinner than it first appeared.
This issue, once again, takes place in the 1970s. The ’70s weren’t a good era for Busiek’s heroes in this comic. Where the ’60s heroes brought optimism, by the ’70s heroes had gotten much darker: “I remember when Street Angel first started out. Back in the late sixties, all the time smilin’, makin’ with the bad jokes – and the halos, hard robber halos that’d stun you, adhesive halo, sonic halos, even big constricting halos, shrink down and pin your arms to your sides. Not any more. By now, he was all business, no more jokes. But then – maybe he didn’t see anything funny in it any more.”
At the same time, many of Astro City’s other great heroes were attending to cosmic battles that ordinary people could never begin to understand: “Starfighter and Honor Guard had saved the Infra-dauphin from some vast alien armada, and got invited to witness the birth of the new generation of Universals as payback. They brought along TV reporters who filmed the whole thing.” If you had trouble parsing that sentence, so did I, and I think that’s kind of Busiek’s point, that the world got very strange for awhile, strange in a way that ordinary people could never even begin to comprehend.
This all gives this issue a considerably darker feel than previous issues of Astro City, which is to be expected based on the title. Charles is caught in a moral quandary in large part because he wants to be good in a world that is increasingly dangerous and strange. He needs a moral compass, but everywhere around him people follow their own distorted view of the world, where violence and corruption are a constant. Even at home Charles’s wife just wants him to spend his money on her, live in the here and now, and not think about the larger picture. In a world like that, how can a man do anything but give in to the pressure?
In other words, this is just the sort of intelligent comics work you might expect from Astro City. Brent Anderson’s art is, as usual, fantastic. His depiction of the inner city seems to come directly off the streets by way of a ’70s blaxploitation movie. The seediness of the streets Charles and Royal walk can be seen in every panel, while the cosmic stuff seems appropriately bizarre and odd.
Can Charles resist temptation? Can the heroes of Astro City attend to the real world outside their windows without destroying it? I’m looking forward to spending more time in the Dark Age.