Stew’s Reviews: Astro City (Local Heroes)

Not BAMF 1

All right. After a ludicrously cursed attempt last year, I am back to trying to move.

I never would have imagined that selling one house and buying another would be such a chore as it was in 2019! We got strung along for four months before our buyer ended up finally telling us that, nope, he couldn’t actually get a loan. Lesson for you out there: don’t try to hide money from our ex-spouse because then lending agencies don’t think you have any and you can’t buy my house.

But as of yesterday, we accept an offer on our house and had our offer on a new home accepted. I would be more excited, but… we’ve made it this far before. Get back to me in late April, and we will see how it all actually shook out.

TITLE: Astro City: Local Heroes

Writer and Artist: Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson

Publisher: DC/Wildstorm

Protagonists: Some folks!

Antagonists: Stuff? This isn’t really what Astro City is about.

I wish Kurt Busiek wrote approximately 50% of all the comic books currently being published.

He is a guy that just GETS what I think comics should be about. He builds larger-than-life and fun characters, but he also has an incredible grip on the actual world around those characters. He tells classic-style comic stories, but with a nuance and attention to detail you didn’t realize you were previously missing.

Astro City is simply one of the finest comics ever published, and it was hugely influential on the medium at large, ushering in the more grounded kinds of stories that the independent market sees success with nowadays.

Local Heroes is an Astro City tale that is even more grounded than usual, as it focuses fairly exclusively on the “real people” of the titular metropolis. It’s less of a continuing saga than it is an anthology, focusing alternately on a hotel attendant, a teenager sent to the country for a summer, an attorney trying to get a mob boss’ son out of a murder case, a reporter, and others.

The capes are there, of course, impacting the stories in their own ways, but they are the window dressing of these peoples’ lives rather than the basis of the story. By the time he had started Local Heroes, Busiek had already told realistic, low-to-the-ground stories such as Confessions and Tarnished Angel; this trade gave him a chance to get even one more step removed from the Samaritans and Jacks-In-The-Box of the world.

Brent Anderson is the penciler on this (as well as most of Astro City), and he’s a tough nut to crack. I tend to look at his art and think, “No, I don’t love this”, but he incessantly finds a way to have the perfect mood for every story he writes. He is much less focused on perfectly polished pencils than he is on making sure the physical designs of the world matches the writer’s tone to the detail.

And frankly, that seems a lot harder to accomplish than making perfectly symmetrical faces and complete backgrounds. So I have nothing bad to say about him. He is eminently talented at what he does.

If there is a problem to be had with anthology style stories, it’s that you almost can’t help but compare the stories as you read them. “This story was okay, but the first tale was better. And they are both better than the third. But the fourth blew them all away”. I don’t mean to imply that that takes away from the overall work, but it does lead to my keeping “score” in my head.

That said, I will feed into that by pointing out that I most loved the arcs of the defense attorney and the mob family, the Golden Age Lois Lane styled reporter constantly trying to prove her coworker is a superhero, and the teen girl sent out of Astro City to spend some time with her rural family. And while the whole story may have lacked the same finesse, the opening bit to Local Heroes with the hotel attendant had such a perfectly Busiek ending that it really stuck with me.

Kurt’s ability to make you care passionately about these one-off characters is unparalleled. That bellhop is going to enter the same realm as the protagonist from “The Nearness of You” where I occasionally think “Boy, I wonder how that fictional character who had a very brief existence in one short story is doing”. I CARE about these people; why do you do that to me, Busiek?

As you would expect, some of these stories are uplifting and others are more of a downer. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone here. I think it fits neatly in the middle of Astro City lore overall. Which, given how I feel about the title, is high praise.

Talking Point: Kurt Busiek is a writer who I always seem to read well after the fact. I didn’t read Marvels until the early 2000’s. I didn’t read Astro City until the late 2000’s. I didn’t read his Avengers until the 2010’s. What creator did you get into retroactively?


Astro City is fantastic, and Local Heroes meets its consistently high bar. While maybe not as good as its high-water marks (The Nearness of You; Confessions), it’s still got the same atmospheric artwork and memorable characters. 


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