One comic book series I can always reread with pleasure is Kurt Busiek’s Astro City.
Debuting in August 1995, the title benefits from art by Alex Ross and Brent Anderson that deftly splits the difference between comic book romanticism and photo-realism.
It features variations on familiar themes: a Superman from the future, a vampire Batman, a winged Wonder Woman, a super-powered family with the initials “FF,” and others. Idiosyncratic comic book conventions — secret identities, kid sidekicks, rogues’ galleries — are also wryly explored.
But its uniqueness lies elsewhere, in its dramatic structure. The lives of ordinary people are placed in the dramatic foreground, played against a background of superhero melodrama. That structure carries with it an implicit, understated theme — that a meaningful life is not just for special people, but should be available to all.
And amid the comedy and the tragedy, the series has a running undercurrent about compassion and responsibility. Unlike certain Hollywood directors, Busiek understands the ethic that necessarily underpins superhero stories.
In Since the Fire, a former firefighter explains to a young boy why someone must do the job that has cost him considerably.
“And better it’s someone trained, skilled and equipped to have the best chance of getting kids like you out,” he says. “Take a look around. All these people, they’re livin’ their lives, and they do what they do, and they sleep a little easier because of guys like me and the others back there.
“The superheroes flyin’ around, they’re okay. But they can’t always be there. We gotta take care of ourselves…”
“I got 47 people out of burning buildings the last eight months. Three that night.
“A leg’s nothing, not to that. Nothing.”