Illustration for article titled How iAstro City/i Helped Breathe New Life Into Superhero Comics

It's the 20th birthday of Astro City, Kurt Busiek's brilliant creator-owned comic about a superhero universe that feels like a more grounded, realistic version of the DC and Marvel universes. And now's a great time to discover why Astro City is such an important contribution to superhero comics.

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Over in Slate, Harvard professor and poet Stephen Burt has a great rundown of the importance of Astro City, including an interview with Busiek. Burt talks about the legacy of gritty deconstructions of superhero archetypes, and how Busiek (and artist Brent Anderson) rebuilt the superhero story from the ground up instead. Burt writes:

Comics history is American history: Astro City speaks to both. It is not, however, doomed to repeat that history. Samaritan—whose powers, costume, and visage recall Superman—isn't Superman, Busiek insisted in a recent conversation: "He isn't an alien, he didn't come here as a baby, he's not a reporter, he's not from a farm." Winged Victory isn't Wonder Woman—she wears a helmet, she has giant eagle wings, and she runs a chain of women's self-defense schools (which double as shelters). "She's both angrier than Wonder Woman," Busiek elaborated, "and more scared that she's lost herself in her heroic identity." On the other hand, she wears metallic bracelets and a Greek-inspired costume that shows off her legs, and she owes her powers to a magical island and an all-female "Council of Nike." "I fight for women, backed by women," she says. In the latest collection, Victory, she's accused of colluding with villains and must decide whether to help—and whether to accept help from—boys and men: That is, she must choose between versions of liberal and radical feminism, or else show other heroes why that's a false choice.

Even the most conventional superhero dust-ups say something about society: that it's worth saving, for instance, or that unusually powerful entities are sometimes required to save it. And Busiek (who calls himself a "woolly-headed Massachusetts liberal") says a lot more in his stories: about the limits of institutional power, about separatism and solidarity, about the mixed blessing that is law enforcement.

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The whole thing is well worth reading — and all 10 volumes of Astro City are well worth checking out. [Slate]

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