Astro City: the Dark Age #1-4 (2005)

I was reading this comic today with the events of Marvel’s Civil War comic in mind, and te difference betwen these two comics shows the difference between a writer like Kurt Buseik who "gets it" and a writer like Mark Millar who doesn’t.
 
Busisk grew up on super-hero comics, and really loved their genre trappings. Like his good friend Scott McCloud, Busiek embraced the traditions of super-hero books, but twisted them in his own unique direction. McCloud created the wonderful Zot! as his first major series, a comic that embraced the wonderful escapism of the Golden Age books while also embracing a modern sensibility. Busiek created Marvels as his first major attention-getting series, a series that showed the super-hero universe from the eye of an ordinary person, and followed that series up with Astro City, a very personal look at many of the same themes as Marvels.
 
The comparison to Marvels is appropriate since The Dark Age is, according to Busiek, an adaptation of the proposed plot of Marvels II, which would have explored the so-called Bronze Age of Marvel. The Bronze Age reflected the concerns and approaches of the ’70s, and were filled with doubt and confusion about the nature of heroism. Busiek does a great job in this series of exploring the confusion of a country dealing with the double body blows of Watergate and Vietnam, though in this world those blows are intensified by the ever greater frustrations people feel about being pawns in games played by super-heroes and -villains that are way beyond their comprehension, let alone their understanding. As heroes became more cosmic and complicated, they lost their connection to ordinary people.
 
The main plot thread of this story is the plight of the Silver Agent, a Captain America analogue who has been accused of murder and treason at the peace talks for the Vietnam War, and is brought up for trial for his crimes. In a close parallel to the events of Civil War, the people of this world are divided in their opinion of the hero, revealing real diffrences in the people who live in the society.
 
The real difference betwen the two books, though, is in the way that each writer creates the scene. Busiek’s story of the disillusionment people have with the heroes really feels like emotions that have crept up on people for awhile. Busiek is wonderful at helping readers get a real perspective on the changes by showing how his ordinary people are getting ever more fed up with the state f their world.
 
On the other hand, Millar’s take feels much more arbitrary. We’ve seen mutants persecuted in the Marvel Universe for many years, but until very recently, heroes like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers have been idolized and cheered by ordinary people. They’ve saved the world many times, and the people love those heroes for that. It’s true that there’s a horrific event at the beginning of the book that triggers the story’s events, but rather than acting as the culmination of peoples’ perceptions of the heroes, it is the triggering event. It may be unfair to ding Millar for not having control of books doesn’t write, but there is also no mention of any other events that lead to the government’s drastic actions in this issue. Instead of feeling like a story that progresses logically from story threads, this story instead feels like something that was grafted on to plot threads in order to create a big story.
 
It’s not that Civil War is a bad story – it has some intriguing elements. It’s more that it’s striking to see how gracefully Busiek handles the story elements in contrast to Millar.   
 
 
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