Astro City #13 Review

 
This article was originally published at DC Infinite on June 11, 2014.Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 7.36.13 PM

Astro City #13 is an ambitious comic. It takes the concepts of time and narrative and twists them in a manner entirely unique to the format of comics. Not only does it strive to accomplish a technical feat, but to apply it to a collection of meaningful stories that will speak to the reader about the human condition. It is a very ambitious comic. What’s noteworthy about Astro City #13 is not its ambition, but its incredible success.

There are twenty-four pages which tell a variety of stories set over the course of twenty-four hours, but they are not set in chronological order. The comic begin with a collection of aspect-to-aspect transitions revealing Astro City at 8 AM as a mysterious silhouette hangs in the morning sky. The attitudes of passerby evolve throughout nine panels, transitioning from anxious and impatient to being open and helpful. The change is subtle and not explained, only coming into focus as the story progresses.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 7.45.31 PM

From this serene opening, Kurt Busiek and Brent Erik Anderson begin to introduce the characters involved in Astro City #13. A superhero and villain are shown in battle. The Dancing Master, a figure reminiscent of Dream from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, is revealed as he appears on Earth. A scientist arrives to work. A bank teller contemplates her future. So many actors are in motion and each of them is introduced in media res at times ranging from 3 AM to 11 AM. They represent distinct motives, while the essence of their individual stories remain a mystery.

All of these characters and their stories are visually distinctive as well. The superhero story is bright and dynamic, breaking the edges of all four panels on its opening page, while The Dancing Master is revealed in a heavily lined style distinct from Anderson’s typical work. These visual variations and cues are present throughout the issue. In addition to the stories of so many individual characters, Anderson is also telling the story of hundreds of people in Astro City affected by The Dancing Master. In order to do so, he makes great use of specific panels that manage to tell a story in a single image. At times, he not only allows the city’s story to take an entire page, but also uses it as a framing device for the other elements of the issue. With so many elements at play in a twenty-four page issue, Anderson’s importance cannot be overstated for selecting the exact images which can best relay the enormous amount of information required to comprehend the story.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 7.48.17 PM

Like the example where Astro City itself and The Dancing Master are shown together, all of these stories rely on their intersections with one another. Some connections are obvious, like when two characters become acquainted and leave together for a happy ending. Others are far less obvious. These collisions are the heart of the story though and connect to the form of the comic in a way that makes it thematically significant. Astro City #13 is a story about connection, about juxtaposition, which is why its use of the comics form is so incredible.

Every story hinges around a connection between two or more individuals. A chance meeting at a bank, a relationship on the rocks, or a metaphysical entity reaching out to an entire city; all of these are encounters where two people affect each other’s lives, ultimately for the better. In a medium where the story of a single individual often occupies 100+ pages, Astro City #13 provides a half dozen tales that blend together into a coherent narrative about sharing the world with others and the value it can provide.

The arrangement of these stories out of order is not a gimmick – it is purposeful. Not only does it encourage readers to assimilate the story in a chronological fashion and reconsider what they are reading (a chronological listing of pages can be found at the end of this review), but it reflects the themes that Busiek and Anderson are trying to convey. The confusion of time creates mysteries about each story. Readers are forced to wonder how a bank teller and sleep deprived scientist fit into the grand scheme. They also introduce the most important thematic elements of each story early on. The disconnect that each character feels from the world around them or from a particular person is revealed early in the comic, even if it occurs much later in the day. The story is being told in a thematic order, rather than a chronological one. Each hour represents a specific beat or revelation that when placed in a specific series of steps create an intangible feeling, a beautiful chaos that develops into something purposeful. It is a dance of pages, shuffled into the best possible arrangement. Thus it is titled “Waltz of the Hours.”

Astro City #13 is an achievement to be celebrated. It not only tells a story worth reading, re-reading, and then reading once more, but it does so by taking full advantage of its chosen medium. Busiek and Anderson have always told stories about the small pleasures of life and what it means to be human, and they have told them very well. But here they take a message about the value of human relationships, not matter their form or brevity and tell it in a way that ensures readers will concentrate on that message. Art is all about relating, whether it be an emotion, an idea, or a very specific message. Astro City #13 relates an idea and uses every tool at its disposal to do so. It’s a testament not only to the value of human contact, but of comics.

Score: 10/10

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 7.46.16 PM

Chronological Order of Pages

1 AM – Page 8

2 AM – Page 17

3 AM – Page 4

4 AM – Page 13

5 AM – Page 6

6 AM – Page 15

7 AM – Page 9

8 AM – Page 2

9 AM – Page 7

10 AM – Page 5

11 AM – Page 3

Noon – Page 11

1 PM – Page 14

2 PM – Page 12

3 PM – Page 16

4 PM – Page 21

5 PM – Page 18

6 PM – Page 20

7 PM – Page 10

8 PM – Page 24

9 PM – Page 23

10 PM – Page 19

11 PM – Page 22

Midnight – Page 25

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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