Saturday, February 24, 2024

Astro City MetroBook Three!

Astro City MetroBook 3 has arguably the best epic of the entire run. Certainly, it's the longest and most elaborate. A mystery which is established almost from the beginning of the Astro City run is about what tragedy befell the Silver Agent. We know it was bad, we know people feel badly about it, but we don't know what it was. In this extended saga running through more than sixteen issues we finally find out, that a lot more as well. I caution you that this is a spoiler rich review. I tried not to reveal things, but the story is just so complex it's hard not to do so. Proceed with caution. 

The story begins in the Arrowsmith/Astro City Flip Book. We meet two young boys -- Charles and Royal Williams. The story begins in 1958 and these two are still kids, looking at the heroes around them and finding little to identify with. Still, it's impossible not to be impressed. But when they meet The Black Badge and he gives them his trust, they are proud beyond words. And so are their parents, but none of the family know just how close tragedy lurks. 

In the first four-part saga of Astro City: Dark Age we meet the brothers again in 1971 and it's a time of turmoil in the United States as the war rages in Vietnam and faith in heroes is lagging. That faith takes a fatal blow when all the world see the Silver Agent kill a super-villain on television. The Silver Agent's ultimate fate is decided, and he's slated for execution. Meanwhile the brothers have gone along different paths with Charles becoming a cop with a grudge against heroes and Royal becoming a small-time thief. Both seem unable to find anyone other than each other that they can trust. That trust is strained when Royal gets targeted by the Blue Knight, a superhero who kills hoods, even small-time ones. The mystery of the Silver Agent deepens as it becomes clear he has traveled through time. Other heroes show up such as Jack-in-the-Box, the Furst Family and members of the Honor Guard. 

In Astro City: Dark Age Book Two we shift the action to 1978 and we find the Williams brothers estranged. Charles is trying to make a career as a cop work despite money problems at home and pressure from his partner to go on the take and additional pressure from Internal Affairs to rat out his colleagues. He's in a pressure situation as is all of Astro City when a silent giant form called "The Incarnate" appears in the skies. Royal is still a hood and despite his best efforts to stay out of the limelight is nonetheless tagged for advancement in the gang. Superheroes have gotten grimmer and grittier in the late 70's with Hellhound, Street Angel and Black Velvet tearing up the gangs, sometimes with fatal results. A gang war erupts with help from the Pyramid cabal, the same outfit that killed the parents of the Williams brothers. They bring Jitterjack to town, a homicidal lunatic with vast strength and the stakes get more and more deadly. Also, Royal learns the identity of the man who killed his parents. It all comes to a head when Charles is wounded, and Royal has to make a supreme sacrifice to save his brother. There are lots of other heroes such as the Furst Family, Simon Magus, and even a startling appearance by the Silver Agent. 

Our story then skips ahead to 1982 in Astro City: Dark Age Book Three. The Williams brothers now work together albeit in different roles in different places. After doing a four-year stint in jail Royal is paroled by EAGLE for whom Charles now works to infiltrate Pyramid. (When you think of EAGLE thing SHIELD and when you think of Pyramid think of HYDRA.) As a soldier he is being trained in a remote camp and is subject to drugs which work the warriors into a frenzy. Royal is too clever to fall victim to these. The two are chasing the man who killed their parents, a man who ranks high in the Pyramid. There is a raid and as a result Royal goes to ground hiding from both EAGLE and Pyramid. In the broader world the Apollo Eleven it turns out are empowered by distant cosmic forces which are deciding the fate of the planet Earth. Superheroes are needed in force to fend off the cosmic threat when the powers of the Eleven are stolen by Pyramid and turned into a cosmic killer. But the superhero Point Man makes a grave error when he uses an ancient weapon against the threat and ends creating a tear in reality. In the craziness the Williams brothers reunite but again miss their chance at gaining a measure of revenge and nearly die themselves. 

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four we jump ahead to 1984. The brothers have formed a team using technology from both EAGLE and Pyramid to make themselves powerful enough to hunt down and kill the man who murdered their parents. They are relentless in their quest to find vengeance. Royal has questions, but Charles is focuesed and together they work tirelessly to locate and attempt to kill the man, who knowing they are coming uses all the tech he can find to elude them and ultimately makes himself so powerful they cannot stop him. His threat is magnified by the deadly energy which has seeped into the universe through the tear and ultimately a deadly force for vengeance appears in the form of the Pale Rider, a creature who judges and executes criminals no matter how large or small their crimes. That desire for rough justice infects the larger society as well. Ultimately the battle comes to a head when the Silver Agent appears and works with the brothers to bring the saga to a conclusion. 

We are then treated to an epilogue which takes us to the present day, where we find that the story we'd been following in the preceding sixteen issues was related by the Williams brothers to a man wanting to write a history of the era. The brothers had found some comfort and anonymity running a fishing boat and we are treated to the debut of the Samaritan when he saves the Challenger shuttle in 1986. It marked the end of a darker era and the beginning of a brighter day. 

This wonderful volume then closes out with the two-issue Astro City Special starring the Silver  Agent. And finally after so many years we get the story behind his sacrifice. We see him as a young man suffering from Polio who wants more than anything to serve his fellow man and gets that chance when inside Mount Kirby he chances on a strange silver object which gives him power. He fights crime and then is whisked into the distant future to fight for the very safety the planet and more. Eventually we learn why he decides to travel back in time to meet the grim fate he knows awaits him. 

This has to be one of the finest comic sagas I've ever read. Having this expansive story under a single cover in a handy form is ideal. The secret sauce of Astro City is emotion and Busiek and Anderson are at the top of their game as they relate this tale of a darker days when it was perhaps just a wee bit harder to be a hero, but perhaps even more important. I cannot recommend this story enough. 

Rip Off


  1. Great review Rip and I concur this is a genuinely wonderful comic series . Sadly I left Astro City half way through the tales in Book 3 so will need to look this collection out. Book 4 I never read but sounds interesting.

    1. I recommend it heartily of course. I dropped out on Astro City once but regretted it and gathered up the few back issues I needed and have tried to stay current since. It's difficult since Busiek's health created some pretty big gaps.

  2. This is where I kind of drifted away from Astro City. The story of one brother a cop and the other a criminal felt so cliched to me and I just kind of lost interest. I need to go back and start it over now that I don't have to wait between individual issues.

    1. Reading these in the collected format does help immensely with understanding and connecting the dots on some of Busiek's themes. He and Anderson have created a world which is so deep that staying on top of it crucial.