Saturday, November 11, 2017

Astro City #48 Review and Spoilers

Hero's Journey

Written by: Kurt Busiek
Art by: Mike Norton
Colorist: Peter Pantazis
Letterer: John G Roshell
Cover Price: $3.99

Last issue introduced Andy Merton, a small-time crook who, thanks to the theft of a magical amulet and the companionship of a ludicrously cute corgi called Hank, has turned away from crime and now fights it in the guise of anthropomorphized canine G-Dog. The issue also ended, however, on the kind of gut-wrenching revelation that really pulls the rug from under you and makes you desperate to read more. So, does Busiek deliver a killer conclusion to this two-parter? There’s only one way to find out…

A little unexpectedly, this issue doesn’t address last issue’s ending initially. Instead, the reader is taken back in time a little to a fun little battle between G-Dog and the Mecha-Nerds, a group of science fair winners who had been transformed into robots and are out for revenge. During this battle, G-Dog gets blown out of a skyscraper window and, fortunately for him, finds out he can fly. As this isn’t something dogs can do ordinarily and Andy’s been working on the assumption that the amulet has given him dog-related powers only, he returns to the only place that could possibly give him answers: the house from which he first stole the amulet.

Busiek and Norton do a great job with the conversation between Andy and the elegant older woman who answers the door to him. Gracious and wise, she forgives him his original crime and offers the theory that the amulet chose Andy, rather than his discovery of it being a coincidence. Rather touchingly, Andy has a hard time believing this, and he also has a hard time believing that any of his heroics as G-Dog are down to him. As far as he’s concerned, G-Dog’s heroism is all Hank and he’s just along for the ride. During this conversation, we’re given some background on the amulet and its previous owner Stormhawk. The amulet, it seems, is ancient and, as it is used, it accrues powers from those creatures with which it has bonded.

Having faced up to his earlier life over tea with a victim of it, Andy decides to come clean to his girlfriend, Esmé, who, perhaps predictably, has already worked out that Andy and Hank are G-Dog. She accepts Andy’s confession readily enough and offers her support and love going forward. Along with the previous scene with Stormhawk’s lover, this conversation forms the emotional foundation for the rest of the story. It is important that Andy face up to, not only his original crimes, but also his dishonesty with Esmé. As much as the fighting bad guys and learning new powers, this is a vital part of his hero’s journey.

In some respects, the story plays out pretty much as you’d expect. Andy has the meeting with the vet that closed out the previous issue about half-way through and, once over the initial shock, he reacts in an endearingly selfless way, pampering Hank and eventually joining the Pet Patrol (a super-group comprised of super-pets, including a couple of already established characters like Kittyhawk and Ghost Ferret), because it’s what Hank wanted. As Andy has done throughout this story, he learns from the experience.

But, of course, it can’t last forever and the mortality of which Andy was reminded at the end of last issue eventually makes itself felt in some of the most touching pages I’ve ever read in comics. And credit where it’s due. Busiek, established pro that he is, writes this perfectly – emotional, but not exploitatively or crassly so; rich in sentiment and feeling but not awash with sentimentality. Norton’s art – simple but very expressive – is excellent here, too, with Pantazis’ muted colours for Andy’s grief contrasting powerfully with the golden light into which Hank’s soul floats as he passes away.

Andy is faced, then, with a choice. The amulet has reappeared and with it the potential for Andy to bond with another animal and expand his power set further. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s entirely in keeping with the way Andy’s character has developed and progressed over the course of this story and, sad old romantic that I am, I must confess that it brought a lump to my throat.

Not for the first time, Busiek has reminded me why I love Astro City. As well as the richness of the world, the almost naïve crazy inventiveness of the character designs, the clear love for the comics medium and superhero genre, Busiek infuses his stories with considerable heart and a deep understanding of the primal need in the human heart for stories of redemption and growth. More than fighting the giant Robo-rilla, it is his coping with loss and facing up to past actions of which he is now ashamed that define Andy’s heroism. It is that transformation that makes the story of G-Dog so very compelling.

Bits and Pieces:

Allow me, then, to raise a metaphorical glass of something red and expensive in honour of Messrs Busiek and Norton. This issue concludes a really rather remarkable story and it’s to their credit that, neither maudlin nor melodramatic, it manages to have the power that it does. Recommended for anyone who likes dogs and powerfully written stories about heroic redemption.



  1. Great review Jeremy as always! In a way that Jim like to poke fun to reviewers I would call this "roller coaster ride of emotions" but it would kind of an old school wooden roller coaster that stood up for a while and yet still was just as fun as when it first constructed.

  2. Thanks, Alex! I'm glad you enjoyed the issue, too. The 'roller-coaster ride' thing is certainly true here. It's all rather bitter-sweet, really, but, clichés aside, it does pack a genuine emotional punch. (That may have been a cliché too, actually!) Busiek makes some excellent story-telling decisions this issue and they all come together very nicely!

  3. What a great write up on a great story from Astro City. Nicely done sir. This two-parter, along with issue 44, featuring Kittyhawk are some of my favorite issues from the last dozen or so issues. jb the ib.