Plot: Charles and Royal Williams, a former cop and a former criminal, but brothers still, struggle to defeat their oldest foe. Both have become something like super-criminals, with their armor and weapons and knowledge of obscure mojo. Or have they become something beyond even their own design?
Comments: Is it a flaw that nearly every character in Astro City is a gloss on someone from Marvel or DC history? I guess it can't be, as such nostalgic referential plotting is the basic concept of the series. Charles and Royal, in dedicating their lives to avenging their parents' murders, have transcended their earlier trajectories in life, becoming stealth agents of their own design.
They've also, in repeated failed attempts to capture Aubrey, succeeded only in making their foe stronger and more deadly than ever. Their lives are testaments to the theory that you create your own enemies, or that revenge creates only more evil in the world. Their antagonist was once little more than a mercenary thug with managerial duties. Now, after excessive (and partially accidental) power-ups, he's calling himself Lord Sovereign (yes, the Williams duo takes note of how that sounds). He looks rather like Magneto when he's trying to reverse the Earth's polarity or something similarly heinous.
There are other players in the story, however. The Pale Horseman is riding across the city skies executing criminals, as some kind of airborne amalgam of Ghost Rider and the Spectre. The Street Angel and Quarrel (Green Arrow & Speedy with a little Luke Cage thrown in) set themselves up against the Horseman, and the Silver Agent (Captain America and Iron Man all in one, on a doomed journey backwards through time and very much doing it purposefully) has prior concerns that outrank them all.
So what are Charles and Royal to do, two formerly very different men (we've watched their development over every book of this series) who now seem virtual mirror images of each other in their ruthless determination, when confronted by a new moral dilemma? Should they aid Silver Agent when he deputizes them into service (basically needing super-agents to ward off a dimensional rift being opened by the bad guys), or spurn him and stay on their bloody trail of revenge? Remember that they were inspired way back when by Black Badge (a gloss on the Guardian from the Superman family I think), and you might know what Royal does when the Agent is in danger of plummeting to his death.
Yes, Royal, not even Charles (the former cop), is the one who reaches out a helping hand. And proves worthy of the Agent's initial regard, and of their parents long lost love and approval. As does Charles when he saves them both with his jet-pack.
There are wonderful touches throughout the story, from the expressive narration that has characterized the entire arc; to the epilogue "A Place in the Sun" that finds our heroes (yes, heroes is what they were) reflecting on their younger quest for justice, and unreeling their story for a writer fascinated by their uneasy era; to the brothers consistent use of the word "kitten" when they really mean a far more insulting term for their enemies.
Of course Anderson's art and Alex Ross's covers are as perfectly in synch with Busiek's words as always. This series remains the best justification for Wildstorm's continued existence. It may be infrequent, but the quality remains high. This is a surprisingly happy ending for a series that focused so often on murder and death and criminal betrayals and conspiracy theories. As a capstone for a dark and unsettled interlude it makes perfect sense in Astro City.
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