Heroes Never Rust #18 by Sean Ironman
A Different Take
I hate fan fiction. I believe it’s copyright infringement and can be harmful to those writers who are working on an ongoing series. As a writer, I can’t understand why someone would spend so much time writing a story involving someone else’s characters. Some people say that fan fiction can be a good exercise for beginning writers, but I don’t see how. A large part of writing is using your imagination. If a writer is being confined to existing characters, then they’re not using their imagination. Comics frequently feature something that is not quite fan fiction, but is similar. In comics, it’s quite common to see creators do a different take on an existing character. Sometimes it works, and, of course, sometimes it fails. When it succeeds, I think the reason is that it becomes more than mere fan fiction by the creators using their imagination. The general concept remains, but the story and the characters go in an entirely different direction.
Astro City is one such concept. If you don’t like superheroes, Astro City will not convince you. It’s rich in the superhero concept. I first read Astro City a few years ago and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it on a pure fun level. Looking back, I don’t know why I was surprised. Kurt Busiek writes it with interiors by Brent Anderson and covers by Alex Ross. They’re some of the best comic creators in the business. I guess it’s because Astro City doesn’t seem to get much notice, or at least what it should be getting. It doesn’t seem talked about very much, although I hear the name mentioned occasionally.
Astro City has been published in seemingly short spurts. It began in 1995 and was published until 1998. Then returned in 2003. It had a storyline, “The Dark Age,” published from 2005 until 2010. And just this year, it came back with a new monthly series. It started as a publication under Image Comics, went to Homage Comics, then Wildstorm, and it is now at Vertigo. Most comics wouldn’t be able to hold up under such conditions, but Astro City does because instead of a series about a superhero or a team of superheroes, Astro City is an anthology. It takes turns telling stories involving different characters that reside in the city. One issue may be told from the point of view of a superhero, and a regular citizen, or even a supervillain, could tell the next issue. “The Dark Age” is a little different with it being a sixteen-issue storyline told from the point of view of two brothers in the city. But, for the most part, the comic features standalone issues. At its core, Astro City is about how people, superpowered or not, live in the world of superheroes.
The first character readers are introduced to the Samaritan, a Superman type. Readers are introduced to him flying naked with only clouds in sight. Then, the alarm clock rings, and the Samaritan wakes. All day is spent averting disasters with never more than a few seconds of relief. “I can’t save everybody,” he thinks, while trying to hold up a building falling apart. “People die even while I’m saving lives here.” Busiek doesn’t try to write Superman, although the Samaritan has many similar traits. He uses his imagination and wonders what it would be like to have that set of powers and that sense of responsibility. The result is a deep and tragic character. The Samaritan can do whatever he wants and all he looks forward to is going to sleep and dreaming of being free.
Another highlight from early on in the comic series (I do try my best to not give away too much.) comes from the point of view of Eyes, a civilian who sees the hero Jack-In-The-Box take off his mask. The man imagines getting rich and famous off of his discovery, but he keeps running into Jack-In-The-Box and wonders if it’s just a coincidence. Stories involving a regular person’s view of a superhero are always fascinating because the superhero is nearly always the main character. It’s interesting to understand how the world views a superhero, how they affect daily life. In the end, Eyes gets so freaked out that he takes a bus to Anchorage.
Astro City succeeds because Busiek takes the characters further and explores the world in a way mainstream superhero titles don’t. He doesn’t restrict himself to writing Superman, but uses the character archetype as a starting point for his exploration into the superhero world. He, also, doesn’t use the archetype to tear down the world and make it gritty and show how stupid superheroes are. It’s apparent on every page that Busiek loves superheroes. It’s what makes Astro City such a blast to read.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.