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Astro City Family Album TPB review by Raphael Borg

Astro City Family Album TPB
by Kurt Busiek (Author), Brent Anderson (Artist), Alex Ross (Artist)

This one struck a powerful chord.

Although Astro City is an anthology series, so much of it is so easily accessible due to the use of fresh twists of familiar faces.
“Family Album” covers the second collection of the second volume of the series, delving into, appropriately enough, family units of Astro City.
While all four of the collected stories are very accessible and well put together in their own right, what gripped me more were the latter two.
The first was of a street-level smart-talking acrobatic hero much a la Daredevil and Spider-Man called Jack-In-the-Box struggling with the prospect of making a difference and fatherhood. As those who know me very well can realise, this is something I struggle with continually as the burden of either, I find, is closely tied to one another and cannot be functionally separated as both make the promise of a better life for our children.
Here, however, Jack-In-the-Box finds himself at a crossroads when he meets nightmarish versions of his future sons and the prospect of his absence after sacrificing himself for the greater good – both trying to live up to a mythologised version of their father, both having grossly misunderstood his legacy with no one there to guide them in his sense of responsibility, thus bringing him to a crossroads of how to carry the burden – whether the greater sacrifice is to live or to expend himself in doing what is right.
The other powerful story is of a cartoon anthropomorphic lion, Loony Leo, who has come to life and undertook a life of his own first as a hero and then…well, read the book. It was striking to me as it turns the book on its head, exploring not just the idea of the nature of superhero comics but also our relationship to fiction as a whole in a capitalist context, which isn’t so different to celebrity culture when you think about it: First you have the novelty of it making an extraordinary hit, after which it is milked into meaninglessness, it fades away for a while going into desperate corners to retain relevance, only to make a comeback that deconstructs everything it originally was to try and find that relevance once again for a relatively short time…until that cycle repeats itself even past when it is meant to die, when it only becomes an image that means nothing.
Think T-Shirts of 70s bands and cartoons that once were and now are used simply as quirky decorations. Nostalgia bating.
I cannot stress how accessible Busiek’s writing remains. Seriously, you have to check out his books, taking a second look at the entire idea of comics from a different angle; and Astro City is probably the peak example of this.