ASTRO CITY #13 (Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson) is a standalone tale of romance and the supernatural that will leave readers deeply satisfied.
Written by the ever talented Kurt Busiek, the sole writer and authority of continuity, ASTRO CITY has through its various incarnations been an absolute dream for new readers and long-time fans alike. Full to the brim with both nods to its own continuity and easter eggs for those familiar with other superhero properties, nearly every issue serves as a self-contained story, and even the occasional multi-part arcs requiring no more than a few issues of back reading. This issue is no exception. Following several couples, ASTRO CITY #13 tells the tale of a “romance plague” that has spontaneously overtaken the eponymous Astro City, courtesy of the Dancing Master, a supernatural entity of romance called from the Old Lands to aid a scientist whose relationship is under the strain of long hours and wildly different shifts.
As is the series standard, the characters in this issue are all well crafted and very compelling. From Gundog, the bank-robbing supervillain tired of his life, to Laura, the bank teller in an unhappy relationship with her boyfriend who is never around due to scheduling issues, to Zvi, the engineer working on N-Tunnel signal degradation who is never at home, to the unnamed blonde scientist searching for dimensional pinholes who inadvertently called the Dancing Master in the first place, the civilians of Astro City are the real stars of this issue, each one introduced and developed within the span of 27 gorgeous pages. Their trials and relationships are all believable and relatable despite the fantastic nature of the ASTRO CITY setting, and the romances kindled herein feel real and familiar.
The Dancing Master himself, the supernatural god of love who ties these narratives together, is further strangely compelling, an ancient being removed too long from the world who nearly tears everything apart in his quest to kindle the romantic sparks he feels throughout the city. Though utterly removed from our own experiences, the reader is made to feel for the god out of time as he begins to rediscover all that he had lost, only to be forced back to the cold, empty Old Lands before his passion becomes destruction.
But as friendly as ASTRO CITY #13 to new readers, it is even more satisfying to those already familiar with the world. Though not one of the more worldbuilding focused installments, between nods to the history of the legacy hero Jack-in-the-Box and tantalizing hints as to the history of the mysterious Hanged Man, protector of the Shadow Hill neighborhood, the issue has plenty of ties back into the larger fabric of the setting.
Beyond that, the narrative arc of this issue is very well drawn. Giving events out of order can be difficult to pull off, but, though initially a bit confusing for the reader, the reveals are perfectly orchestrated, both misleading the reader and letting the pieces fall into place masterfully, only to end with a stunning hook for future issues that leaves the reader wanting more.
As for the art – the art team of this series really cannot be oversold. With Alex Ross already delivering his usual nigh-photorealistic cover, penciller/inker Brent Anderson and colorist Alex Sinclair knock it out the park with the interior art. With gorgeous city pans, heartwarming moments between couples, and the surreal shots of the Dancing Master, ASTRO CITY #13 is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish.
Finally, on a more personal note, I’ll confess how refreshing I found the technobabble in this issue. As someone with a background in the physical sciences, I tend to wince my way through most descriptions of technical details and scientific research, but not so here. While it can be laid on a bit thick in places, the details on the relativity-defying N-field are surprisingly internally consistent, and both the mysterious degredation and the breakthrough that Zvi has feel like logical consequences of the N-field’s existence. There’s no polarity reversal here.
The worst that can be said for this issue is that its out-of-order storytelling can throw the reader in for a loop at first. Though all makes sense by the end of the issue, and a second read-through – hardly a chore – can clarify things immensely, it’s definitely an issue that you want to really sit down and absorb, not something to skim through during a lunch break.
ASTRO CITY #13 is one more wonderfully fulfilling entry in a series of fantastic quality. If you’re already a reader of ASTRO CITY, little more needs to be said in favor of this issue than that it is ASTRO CITY #13. But if you’re a new reader, then this issue is as good a place to jump in as any. I assure you – you won’t regret it.