[Editor’s note: This review may contain spoilers.]
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Carmen Carnero
Cover Artist: Alex Ross
Marta, a lawyer for a tax accounting firm, is eating breakfast with her boyfriend, Tom. Tom is uncomfortable with Marta living and working on Shadow Hill, an area of Astro City that is prone to supernatural occurrences, but Marta is comfortable with her life on the hill. Marta is more comfortable on the Hill, not because she is uncomfortable with the higher presence of superheroes in the downtown area, but rather that she prefers not to feel dependent on the heroes.
The supernatural is very evident around Marta as she goes about her daily business: she is briefly confronted by her mother’s ghost, and when she arrives at work, a package is waiting for her that reportedly walked in under its own power.
The package contains what looks like magic spells. It turns out the package is from the Silver Adept, who appears out of a portal, fighting a tentacle monster. The Silver Adept tells Marta to grab the papers, and takes her back through the portal.
While continuing to fight, the Silver Adept explains the situation to Marta. She is fighting the worshippers of Tzammath, one of the Big Seven entities of Panalethium. Tzammath’s followers are trying to take over all of reality, and are denying Tzammath’s power to magicians such as the Silver Adept. They are claiming that since the Silver Adept has been using Tzammath’s power for decades, that now she has to pay it back. Marta settles into her task, analyzing the spells. She realizes that the spells are essentially contracts, and that all contracts are puzzles. Unfortunately, before she can work out the solution, she is pulled back to the Silver Adept, who is now facing a court of Tzammath’s followers.
The Silver Adept argues with the court’s spokesman, Krannik the Untameable, but to no avail. Then Marta has an idea. Asking to speak, she is told that if she speaks on the Silver Adept’s behalf, that she will face the same punishment. Marta agrees to this and asks to call a witness – Tzammath herself. Despite her followers’ protests of blasphemy, Tzammath manifests and puts an end to the trial. In the aftermath, the Silver Adept is confused, but Marta explains what Tzammath is very egotistical. The Silver Adept confirms, “All she wants is for her power to be used. Everywhere. By Everyone. She’s a benevolent show-off.”
Returning to Earth, the Silver Adept is pleased with Marta’s success and promises to give her firm all her tax business. Marta’s boyfriend Tom enters, and seeing the Silver Adept, tells Marta that he feels easier about her being on the hill, if the Silver Adept will be around to protect her. As the story ends, Marta muses that although she doesn’t have the life she imagined for herself, that she is content with the life she has.
This story exemplifies what Astro City does best: it shows us how ordinary citizens live their lives amidst the chaos of a world full of superheroes and supernatural beings. Instead of seeing the story through the eyes of the heroine, the Silver Adept, we see it from the viewpoint of a tax attorney caught in the middle of world-shaking events. What is more, it is this everywoman who actually saves the superheroine and all of reality.
Also interesting is the insight into the legal repercussions of the supernatural being real. We learn of the mechanisms immortals such as vampires use to hold onto their wealth when they fake their deaths and adopt new identities. This is something that would be glossed over in a standard vampire story, but would have to be addressed if vampires actually existed.
The only real negative is a drawback of the format of the title. Astro City is an anthology series that only focuses specific characters for one story, then moves on to other characters in the next story. This means, that we likely won’t see Marta again for a while, if at all – which is a shame. However, if the title stayed focused on a single set of characters, we would miss out on seeing other fascinating characters and parts of Astro City.
After more than twenty years, Busiek is still bringing us great stories of real human drama set in a surreal world. This issue is a great example of what sets Astro City apart from the other superhero books.