This article was originally published at DC Infinite on April 10, 2014.
Astro City is at its best when it is telling slice-of-life stories. The series has always focused on a civilian point-of-view in the superhero genre. Even stories told from the perspective of people with powers tend to place greater emphasis on their relatable traits and mundane lives. After spending time with analogs of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman in previous issues, Astro City #11 returns its gaze to a more commonplace tale and it is one of the best issues of the current volume.
The story centers on Raitha McCann, the personal assistant of The Silver Adept (a fusion of Doctor Strange and Zatanna). It comprises a single day in her life: scheduling meetings, sorting mail, and filing paperwork. Whatever eccentricities are added due to Raina’s employer being the mystic protector of Earth are unimportant to the actual drama of the story. Its focus is on Raina’s life and the excitement of her job.
That’s not to say that the story is tedious. The scheduling involves pocket dimensions, the mail contains goblin eggs, and the paperwork is century old scrolls. Every aspect of her role as a personal assistant is elevated and made visually interesting through the inclusion of superhero genre elements. The combination of everyday lives with the awe-inspiring nature of superheroes is what has always made the slice-of-life stories in Astro City function so very well. The addition of fantastical elements creates interest and heightened stakes for stories about everyday people.
In Astro City #11, Raina must confront the Stone Sea Mages and prevent a war. It’s terribly exciting, and the effectiveness of this confrontation is only heightened by Brent Eric Anderson’s character designs. Ultimately, the centerpiece of the issue is not about the Mages or what kind of havoc they can stir up on Earth. It’s about an unanticipated appointment and the struggle to keep things running smoothly. The focus of the story never drifts to reveal the backstory of this encounter; it only presents the problem from Raina’s perspective. It is shown to be a secretarial complication, not an earth shattering event.
That’s the brilliance of Astro City #11. It takes a problem that most readers would not typically care about and makes it exciting to them. In this instance, it looks at the fast pace of an assistant’s life and the level-head and creativity required to be successful. Readers who work in a corporate environment will already understand the importance of employees like Raina. Those who don’t will have been granted a new perspective. Although the arrival of unanticipated visitors may seem minor, when placed in the shoes of Raina who has to handle the situation, it can feel like the world is ending. It’s an obvious metaphor, but it works very well in these twenty-two pages. Astro City #11 is all about empathy and it does a wonderful job of evoking it for the many assistants and administrators who keep the world running smoothly.
It also makes the standard components of Raina’s life matter even more. Astro City #11 begins and ends in front of The Silver Adept’s house in the normal world. Her day at work is frantic and absurd in comparison to the scenes outside of the house. While at work, Raina is forced to constantly confront and overcome new challenges. Raina’s gallery showing and time with friends are thus made meaningful, because of what she must do to reach these moments. The “small” stuff is all the more valuable because of what Raina must do to earn it.
All of this is only possible through Anderson’s wonderful designs. Raina’s work is engaging even before the high stakes of the day are revealed. When she first enters her workplace, she is greeted by a minotaur with a beard of bees. It’s a visual that is striking due to its unexpected nature. It marks her work as something special. Anderson continues this throughout Astro City #11, making each new character and detail interesting in its own right. The overall effect is that Raina’s work is made to be special and readers are kept engaged. Without the valuable contributions of these designs, the comic would fall flat, unable to transform Busiek’s metaphor into an engaging story.
Astro City #11 is a return to form for the series. It evokes empathy for normal people by setting them side-by-side with superheroes. When the comparison is made, it’s hard to tell the difference between those with and without superpowers.
Administrative Professionals’ Day is two weeks away on April 23rd. If you work in an office with someone who helps to make your day easier, remember to thank them for everything they do.