A Beginner's Guide to 'Astro City'

Beginner's Guide to Astro City - Cover
(Photo: DC Entertainment)

The comics series Astro City was recently announced to be in development for a television series by FreemantleMedia North America, the same company that produced American Gods. With the characters of both Marvel Comics and DC Comics already occupying multiple franchises in film and television, there are limited remaining opportunities for a shared superhero universe. That’s exactly what Astro City offers though, with a sprawling history and set of characters that is exceeded only by those “Big Two” publishers. It creates an exciting new opportunity for fans of live-action superhero stories.

Unlike the stories at Marvel and DC though, the tales of Astro City are less well known outside of comics readers. The Samaritan is not recognized worldwide like Superman. That’s not a comment on quality, but an element of history and media reach. Viewers interested in the upcoming possibility of an Astro City series may need a place to start, to get a sense of the world and its many heroes, before a pilot is produced. Luckily, that’s what we’re here for. So if you’re looking to learn a bit more about where Astro City began, what it’s about, and where to start reading, then just keep scrolling.

Beginner's Guide to Astro City - Creation
(Photo: DC Entertainment)

Creation

Astro City was co-created by three notable superhero comics creators who have had renowned careers both before and after the inception of the series. Kurt Busiek is the series sole writer and is also well known for a four-year run on The Avengers, as well as the limited-series Marvels and Superman: Secret Identity. Brent Erik Anderson is the series primary artist (only interrupted by the rare fill-in) and he came to fame in the 1980s when he drew the legendary original graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. Alex Ross is the series cover artist and primary designer; he’s one of the best known artists in American comics, known for his intense paintings featured on comics like Kingdom Come and Marvels.

The trio created Astro City in 1995 and first published it at Image Comics, ensuring that it would remain a creator-owned publication. A second volume of Astro City began in 1996 at Image Comics’ partner studio WildStorm, which was subsequently sold to DC Comics. The series continued to be published at WildStorm until moving once again to Vertigo Comics in 2013 where it remains through this day.

Beginner's Guide to Astro City - Premise
(Photo: DC Entertainment)

Concept

Astro City was conceived as a modern reinvention of the shared superhero universe. Much like the stories published by Marvel Comics and DC Comics, it contained a wide array of characters and a lengthy history. However, this series did not have decades of existing material or multiple series. The concept of the shared universe was created primarily to offer a fully conceived setting that would support individual superhero stories.

Stories within Astro City are rarely more than a few issues, with most being one-shot narratives told in a single issue. They take place across the history of the shared universe and focus on a broad spectrum of characters. There are just as many narratives emphasizing the lives of bystanders without any powers as the most powerful heroes or villains. There are a few key recurring characters, like the Honor Guard formed of the most prominent superheroes, but knowing their names or powers is never key to appreciating stories in which they exist in the background.

Much of Astro City provides some form of homage. The titular city is in Colorado and sits in shadow of Mount Kirby, named after the beloved “King of Comics”. Most of the costumed characters bear some resemblance to an existing popular hero or style of hero. The First Family are a unit similar to the Fantastic Four. Honor Guard is similar to the Justice League complete with analogs for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in The Samaritan, Black Rapier, and Winged Victory, respectively. An understanding of these characters and their creators offers new insights, but isn’t necessary to enjoy their stories. The key element to Astro City, with all of its homages and allusions, is accessibility.

Beginner's Guide to Astro City - Starting Point
(Photo: DC Entertainment)

Where to Begin

One of the best elements about Astro City is that almost every single story can serve as a starting point. There is an overarching chronology to the series and many characters recur in different storylines, but most stories offer everything a reader needs to understand and enjoy the comic in front of them. That having been said, some starting points are better than others and a few epics, like “The Dark Ages”, are an inappropriate place to begin. That’s why we recommend checking out the stories below for an introduction to Astro City.

“In Dreams”

Astro City (vol. 1) #1

This story focuses on The Samaritan, a Superman analog who stays busy helping everyone he can. It’s not about the exciting adventures of his day, but his internal life as he struggles to find a moment of rest from the constant craziness of being a superhero. This story is a short and sweet starting point that reveals Astro City to be a series about relating to the humanity of superhero stories. It’s also free on Comixology.

“The Tarnished Angel”

Astro City (vol. 2) #14-20

This is the best longform story to start an investigation of Astro City. It follows Steeljack, a super villain just released from prison, as he tries to reintegrate with society and stumbles across a dangerous conspiracy. Steeljack offers a man-on-the-street perspective to the world and his investigation is both a great detective story and introduction to the many facets of this universe.

“Dog Days”

Astro City (vol. 3) #47-48

One of the most recent stores in Astro City’s long run should be easy to find at local comic book stores. It’s also a heartwarming tale of a man and his dog that shows how flexible the superhero genre is in the hands of Busiek and Anderson. There’s plenty of strange heroes and hijinks to be found in this duology, but it’s really about how much love animals give to the people around them, and how they change us for the better.

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With that you should have all you need to start exploring the wonderful world of Astro City. It’s one of the best superhero comics around today and worth seeking out in comics or on television.