Astro City: The Dark Age
Art by: Brent Anderson
Published by: DC/Wildstorm
Astro City is Kurt Busiek’s most impassioned work. After rising to prominence with the limited series, Marvels, he has enjoyed runs on The Avengers and Legion of Super Heroes. Obviously Astro City occupies a special place for him and is the most personal to him, one that allows him to explore the heart of what he loves about comics and super heroes. Not deconstructing them, not making them dark, relevant, or gritty in the name of reality, but making them feel real. Real heroes engaged in the ever real issues and implications of being a hero.
The Astro City universe parallels the Marvel Universe. Once a series of stand alone issues, it is now a series of arcs told through the eyes of heroes, villains, innocents (and not so innocents) caught up in their battles of good vs. evil. Still, he manages to capture the fun and hope of the comics that we grew up with, while still telling adult stories.
Which brings us to Astro City: The Dark Age.
Now, I was born in 1970, as such, I missed much of the tense times that the United States endured. The racial tensions, the Viet Nam war, the fall of the Nixon administration. I barely remember the trauma of disco. Kurt Busiek re-visits this time period as an opportunity to examine the darker undertones of the super-hero genre. In it’s way, Astro City: The Dark Age serves as a critique of the trend toward the joyless comics of the early 90s that have preoccupied the minds of writers and readers alike. This story is told through the eyes of two brothers, both shaped by the same circumstances and encounters of being caught up as collateral damage in the battles between super heroes and super villains, then walking divergent paths. One becomes a cop, the other a criminal.
“All he wanted was for the world to make sense. Me, I had simpler dreams.” –Royal Williams
The people have become distrusting of their heroes and governments. They’ve become angry at their circumstances. All of which comes to a head with the arrest of one of the country’s brightest lights, the Silver Agent (imagine Captain America in handcuffs, on trial for his life). Even Brent Anderson’s art seems more moody and shadowy.
“I could work hard, get me a nice apartment, go to church and pay my taxes on time. You figure that’d keep me safe?” –Royal
We look at the world around us and if humanity is basically good then our solutions aren’t working. Our progress and democracy, our education and technology, we’re still left with the problem of evil. We aren’t living up to our potential. Seeing all the darkness around us can turn us cynical as we sense a law of right and wrong that no one should be above, a justice we aren’t seeing lived out. We see bad things happening to good people with no explanation and it is easy to come to the conclusion why learn discipline, why put in the work to do/be good. We fancy ourselves to be strong, free, determiners of our own fate, so why not take justice into our own hands, have a measure of control?
The fear is something that has become a part of our lives. The fear of not being able to protect the ones we love, the fear of the feeling of not being in control. It’s like a part of our soul longs to have hope, trust, faith in something greater than ourselves. Our heroes, our institutions, some higher ideal. In addition to this, we want to feel safe and believe in things that make us feel safe. However, when all the things we want to believe in fail us–when our heroes fall, when our government lets us down or undermines our principles or flat out betrays us, or when the Church doesn’t live up to its mission–we enter a dark age. Losing faith leads to a dark night.
“There are some rough times coming. But don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.” –Silver Agent
Creation is under siege by hostile, evil forces seeking to thwart God’s plan for the cosmos and we long for a rescue from the chaos. The claim of Christianity, the “foolishness” of the Christian story, is that through the life of Christ, evil can be conquered. The story works towards a climax of a Messiah, a suffering servant, somehow leading to redemption. Jesus took on the burden of evil, took on its full force and exhausted it, with the resurrection was the sign of evil and Death being defeated. He let the forces of evil and darkness do their worst to him and breaking their power over Him and humanity, transforming not only our lives, but our way of life. We live in the “already/not yet” tension, with evil having already been defeated, though it hasn’t yet reached its fruition.
Astro City: The Dark Age is about the loss of idealism and innocence, yet about having hope during the dark times. That one hero, dying an unjust death that was meant to happen and sacrificing himself can bring people out of their dark age. It’s about clinging to faith no matter how uneasy the circumstances and reminds us that there are heroes to help see us through. It is densely layered with action and also continues to flesh out the universe and history of Astro City. This arc is set to be a 16 issue one and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
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