A few of the heroes of Astro City. Artist: Alex Ross.


Original medium: Comic books
Published by: Image Comics
First appeared: 1995
Creator: Kurt Busiek
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The world inhabited by superheroes isn't precisely congruent with that inhabited by superhero readers, and not just because in the real world, Atlantis isn't an underwater kingdom that factors into international relations, which it is in the universes of both Marvel and DC Comics. But over the years, various attempts have been made to bring the super guys more in line with what we see around us. In the 1960s, Stan Lee (The Black Knight) gave heroes like Spider-Man and The Human Torch the sort of ordinary foibles and ordinary …

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… obstacles to overcome that a real person might have in such a position. In the '80s, Alan Moore (Halo Jones) examined how super-powered individuals like Dr. Manhattan and Miracleman might affect the world just by their existence.

And during the '90s and beyond, Kurt Busiek (The Liberty Project) looked at the ordinary people of the superhero world to see how the presence of superheroes in their lives affected them. In 1994, he wrote Marvels, which dealt with the fictional history of that company's superheroes from the normal point of view. Then, with Astro City, he created a superhero universe of his own, where his own characters, some of which bore close resemblance to long-running heroes (and some of which didn't), could play against a backdrop that resembled the realistic world, full of people with with realistic emotions and realistic motivations, who often took center stage in stories that only peripherally involved the super folks.

According to the Astro City back-story, the city was originally called Romeyn Falls, but there was a disaster, the exact nature of which hasn't been specified, and a substantial part of the city was devasted. A superhero named Astro-Naut kept it from being worse, but at the cost of his own life. When the city was rebuilt, it renamed itself in his honor. Many of the city's locations are named after comics creators, such as a bridge named after Richard F. Outcault (Buster Brown), an island named after Charles Biro (Crime Does Not Pay) and and a neighborhood named after Bob Kane (Batman).

Following World War II, Air Ace, the first government-sponsored superhero, retired there, and it became "the" place to be for superheroes. Pretty soon, it was crawling with them, to the point where it's possible for an Astro City story to focus on any one of dozens, as suits the individual story. It the story needs a Superman type, there's Samaritan. If something like The Fantastic Four is called for, there's The First Family. If a story is set back in the 1960s, there's The Silver Agent.

Astro City was first seen in Kurt Busiek's Astro City #1, dated August, 1995. The publisher was Image Comics, which had already succeed with many of its founders' creations, such as Spawn and Savage Dragon. It was illustrated by Brent Anderson (Strikeforce Morituri). Cover artist Alex Ross (Kingdom Come) designed much of Astro City's look.

Image Comics was organized as a federation of studios, each controlled by one of the company's founders. Astro City's specific publisher was Image's Homage Comics, owned by Jim Lee (WildC.A.T.S.). Homage later split from Image, and did such titles as Strangers in Paradise and Leave It to Chance. Still later, as Wildstorm, it was acquired by DC Comics.

Kurt Busiek's Astro City was a limited series of six issues, which came out monthly until January, 1996. But it was followed by an ongoing series of the same name, which began in September of that year. Health problems forced Busiek to suspend the series after 23 issues (the last dated August, 2000). But meanwhile, the reprints in graphic novel form appeared steadily. Life in the Big City, Confession, Family Album

Health problems have since been overcome. Astro City is currently being published regularly by DC/Wildstorm.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Kurt Busiek.