By Brian Martin | Graphic/Novels Editor Published: 12/13/2013 1:00 pm EST
Every Wednesday, there is one comic at the top of Graphic/Novels editor Brian Martin’s “pull list.” Whether it’s because the comic is consistently brilliant, it’s the beginning of a new series or run, or it’s purely a whimsical choice, one book must be read before all others. In this weekly column, Brian examines the book he’s anticipating most, why he’s looking forward to it, and, after reading it, whether or not the issue met his expectations. Expect mild spoilers!
The Book:Astro City #7 (DC Comics/Vertigo, $3.99)
Why is it at the top? That this book remains ever-perched near the top of my pull list is no surprise to regular readers (or anyone who’s known me since approximately 1998). For straight-up superhero adventure that’s also infinitely accessible but ceaselessly engrossing and deep, there is no title on the stands better than Astro City. Much of the current volume has been focused on new characters (both super and otherwise), which is great and all, but eventually we want to see, on a more personal level, just what this series’ long-standing heroes are up to these days. That finally comes with this issue, which is part one of a four-part tale spotlighting Winged Victory. This also probably means (if they’re still dating…are they still dating after almost 20 years?) we’ll be seeing plenty of the Samaritan in the coming months, too.
So how was it? This issue, aptly titled “A View From Above,” gives us a downward view on the world from two very different perspectives. First, we have Joey Lacroix, a battered boy who muses about how peaceful everything seems when viewed from above. Then, Winged Victory, who finds freedom in the sky, but laments the fragility of the world below. This contrast illustrates at once just how different the normal humans of Astro City are from meta-humans, while also suggesting just how similar they are, underlining the humanity of both. Point being: This is another terrific issue of this series.
“A View From Above” is a story about the nature of hero worship, how quickly the tide can shift en masse, and what real faith in someone is—how personal and unquantifiable it can be. Joey ventures to Winged Victory’s sanctuary, Samothrace, to learn to defend himself from aggressors, a service he became aware of through his aunt. In a world full of heroes, Joey perhaps idolizes Winged Victory the most, which is a nice indication of the traditional gender roles being refreshingly ignored in this comic.
Meanwhile, a group of Winged Victory’s foes are tarnishing her public image. Apparently, the cultish appearance of her followers has engendered a certain level of distrust among the general public, one that these foes, guided by an unseen master, intend to exploit. So we see Winged Victory becoming increasingly distressed by her public image, while Joey doubts what he’s hearing, desperate to believe in her.
Complicating Joey’s emotions is Winged Victory’s hesitance to help him in any way beyond the superficial. You see, something Joey’s aunt neglected to mention is that Winged Victory’s organization has only ever helped women. Winged Victory is an icon of feminism and, in a male-dominated reality (and a male power fantasy-fueled medium, no less), she is unaccustomed to dealing with the idea of this gender reversal. So are regular comic fans, which is what makes this issue a real breath of fresh air.
There are plenty of amazing moments in this issue. Winged Victory’s…erm…midair tryst with Samaritan is a scene that would have been oversexed and smutty in the hands of many modern writers and artists, but Busiek and Anderson handle it with subtlety, grace, and palpable intimacy here. Their encounter is genuinely sensual—it’s a tease, but not provocative in a way that seems sleazy. It may be the first completely wholesome sex scene in 21st century comics.
Winged Victory also gets a bona fide origin story in this issue, tying her to the similarly-named headless, winged statue in the Louvre. As she meets the souls of women throughout history, in whose stead she is ready to become the next avatar of this ancient entity, we are reminded (in case the rest of the issue didn’t quite drive the point home) that Winged Victory is the feminist movement personified.
This entire issue is gorgeously drawn (Anderson’s Winged Victory has never looked more stunning) and poignant, but it is still a comic book, and a thrilling last page cliffhanger is almost expected when dealing with a multi-part story. Rest assured, this one absolutely delivers, heralding the return of a long-absent (which is perfectly in-character) hero. I can’t wait to see where things go next.
Brian L. Martin is an educator, writer, and amateur curmudgeon. An avid fan of novels, movies, and beer, he would much rather spend his time reading comics, a lifelong love since receiving a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man # 242 from Spider-Man himself in 1983. His favorite books include The Grapes of Wrath, Siddhartha, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is heavy enough to be considered the only real defense weapon he has in his home. He currently lives with his wife in Uppsala, Sweden.