March 29, 2022

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Take Me Down to Astro City: Catch It for March 30th, 2022

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

James' Picks:

Astro City: That Was Then and Astro City Metrobook Vol. 1 TP, each by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross, published by Image Comics

Astro City is a really great, special series and I’m thrilled it’s back. When I was first really getting into comics as an adult, Astro City was one of the first comics I read, and it was a great entree to superhero comics and comics generally. Astro City was sort of a response to the grim and gritty comics of the 80’s and their less good, more cynical successors. At least, that’s how I read it. That’s not to say that bad or dark things don’t happen in Astro City. But it’s a complex, fully realized world that’s bursting with great stories and great ideas. So, a boring question to me is “what would it be like if there were actually superheroes in the REAL world.”  That question just doesn’t interest me, and thankfully that’s not the question that Astro City asks. Instead, Astro City asks a far more interesting question which is “what would it be like to actually live in a world full of larger than life superheroes?” What would it be like to be a cop or a call center operation, or just someone living in a city full of colorful super people?  And the wonderful team of Kurt Busiek writing and Brent Anderson has done that skillfully, over many years. Always with amazing covers from Alex Ross. Anywa, this book is always a treat, and this week you can both (1) catch up on the first few arcs of the story in a new paperback collection, and (2) read the start of a whole new story.  I plan on doing both!

X-Men by Hickman Omnibus HC by Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Yu, Russell Dauterman, and more, published by Marvel Comics

I’ve been up and down on X-Men comics over the years. Their lore is pretty dense, sometimes seeming almost impenetrable to me. But I’m always going to read anything that Jonathan Hickman is writing. He’s written some of my favorite stories ever, whether Marvel or independent. When he took over the X-books a few years ago, starting with House of X/Powers of X, he built out a mythology that’s new and interesting a weird and complex, but still felt accessible. It rewards knowledgeable readers but doesn’t alienate new ones. It’s really great; some of the best X-comics I’ve ever read. With a great selection of artists like Leinil Yu, Russell Dauterman, Mahmud Asrar, and more. Really great work from all of the artists involved, these stories feel smart and essential.

Rob's Picks:

Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball by Jon Chad, published by First Second
Despite all the graphical tricks you see on the modern Stern tables, pinball was and always will be about the physics of an oversized metal marble careening around a tilted board with different things to hit against along the way and a dependence on the human operating the machine to keep the ball going. It's something you're into or you're not, and that's part of the charm. Now Jon Chad picks up the silver ball and runs with it, providing a graphic nonfiction of the story of pinball. The focal point is on the 1976 case regarding the pinball ban in New York City, but the story is much larger than that. I'm a huge fan of these kinds of accounts and especially when the topic interests me. I'm especially intrigued to see how Chad handles the graphic depiction of a world of motion. I may suck at pinball, but I'm planning to excel at enjoying this historical look at the game. 

Hulk: Grand Design #1 by Jim Rugg, published by Marvel
The Green Goliath gets the "complete history" treatment by one of the most versatile creators I've ever encountered, Jim Rugg. His ability to evoke the art style of other creators is second to none, making him the perfect fit for a project like this. As with Piskor and Scioli, the idea here is for Rugg to give readers the rundown on the history of Bruce Banner and his powerful alter-ego. There's a lot of history to mine, and I'm extremely curious how much of the retcons Rugg will insert into the Stan Lee years, which I am naming so on purpose because the Hulk couldn't hold an artist until Sal Buscema came along. Kirby's involvement was practically non-existent after the series sputtered. These are pure nostalgia fare, but given a lot of Marvel's output is looking backwards to older times in their history, I'm glad to see Hulk get his day in the sun, and at the hands of such a great talent.

Ham-Let: A Shakespearean Mashup by Elisa Ferrari, Garrett Schiff, and Jim Burnstein, published by Dark Horse
In case the name doesn't give it away, this is obviously an all-ages adaptation of that awesome, little-known play by Marlowe, Henry VIII. In a slightly different vein than the usual versions, this time around while Hamlet knows his uncle murdered his father, he's going to be more proactive about stopping the corrupt new ruler--if he can get Horatio and a motley band of actors to help him. The story has a different moral for a different audience, and that's just how the original writer would have wanted it. Though perhaps with 50% less pig snouts. 

Astro City: That Was Then and Astro City Metrobook Vol. 1 TP, each by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross, published by Image Comics
I can't really imagine anyone failing to note that we have NEW NEW NEW Astro City on the comics release menu this week, so including this on my list almost feels like a cheat. But I'm putting it here anyway, because Busick, Anderson, Ross, and all the others who have worked on the series at its various publishers over the years have put together the nearly unthinkable--a superheroic world that is both an homage to all long-time readers know about capes comics and a completely self-contained world that's so completely in-depth. Everything about Astro City is nearly perfect, from the characters to the costume designs to the plots. It's some of Kurt's best writing, and Anderson's style meshes with Alex Ross so incredibly well. And now we're going back in time a bit to set up a new arc, showing exactly why the series is so well regarded. This is going to be so much fun, and I can't wait to re-read the old material alongside the new one-off and upcoming series!