Astro City : Lovers Quarrel

Sticks_0001Astro City, unlike the larger graphic novel franchises, allows its character to age and
permanently die. This allows the author, Kurt Busiek, to tell stories that are not possible in Marvel or DC.

In Marvel, the characters have started to explicitly notice that it is hard for them to stay dead. Hawkeye, for example, died, came back, died again, came back again, went looking for the woman who had killed him. Then he slept with her.  Then he found out that he’d slept with a robot made by Doctor Doom.  The rest of the Avengers, faced with this story, focus on the humorousness of him being catfished by a robot, not on the existential terror of his life being switched on and off at whim by a suicidal, homicidal person he cannot locate or placate.

In Astro City, the character Quarrel and Crackerjack are now in their forties.  They are, in sofar as we can tell, powerless people who depend on training and gadgets. As their reactions have slowed down, through a mixture of aging and accumulated damage, each has adapted. Quarrel wears increasingly bulky armor, and has commissioned a new suit, that will move her from Hawkeye into Iron Man territory of gear dependence.

Kurt Busiek has often considered how heroes give up their role. His second and third Astro City collections are both succession stories, in a way. I was initially concerned that he would have nothing novel to say here. The ending here is not easy, or happy (or even an ending) but it’s fitting for the characters, and excellently written in a way only possibly because Astro City’s characters are, sometimes, mortal.

The back half of the collection is about Sticks, a gorilla from a pocket nation of intelligent, belligerent apes. He wants to play drums in a rock band, so he flees his kingdom and comes to Astro City. Then life, and genre conventions, get in the way. It’s a light, fun story, touched very gently by what may be the precursor to a bigger arc. Sticks gets a little help along the way from one of Astro City’s biggest heroes, and it may be part of a larger push, by him, to foster a new generation of heroes, or a broader social change.  I assume that will pay off in the next collection, due in August.

Broadly recommended for fans of American comic books. Busiek’s a master, and even if you aren’t into Astro City’s continuity, the anthology style of the series means you can just jump in here. Copies are available from the Library Service.