Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
From the atypical Alex Ross cut-up cover (like Shaky Kane got his hands on an Alex Ross painted Jack-in-the-Box vs. Gun Dog fight and splashed it over a psychedelic rainbow), it’s clear that “Astro City #13″ is going to be taking some chances. As you progress through the first 3 pages of Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson’s “Waltz of Hours,” though, it’s striking just how bold this comic book truly is. A wordless opening page, time-stamped 8 a.m., marks an angry morning commute subtly morphing into a dosey-do in the middle of Astro City. Suddenly it’s 11:00 a.m and Jack-in-the-Box is getting all he can handle from Gun Dog, on a 5-banks-in-1-day robbing spree. Then we hit the title page and we’re back into 3:00 a.m., early morning, and reading a poetic history of the Dancing Master. 3 stories, 3 hours, non-chronologically placed. “Astro City #13″ is the most ambitious entry in the Vertigo relaunch of the series, and it might be the most ambitious Vertigo comic I’ve read all year.
Make no mistake; this ambition makes for a challenging read. The non-linear plot means you’re never quite reading in the right direction until the very end of the comic, and even then you have to run back to the first page to bring it all together. To add to that complexity, the book interweaves 4 separate narrative arcs, and frequently cuts off an hour in mid-dialogue! I’m a sucker for inventiveness within the comic book form, and “Astro City #13″ immediately brings to mind other classics like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman #6″ (the haunting “24 Hours Diner” issue) and David Hine and Shaky Kane’s cut-up issue, “Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4″. The biggest question is whether “Astro City #13″ will ultimately feel as rewarding.
To my mind, “Astro City #13″ is a five read minimum, which is saying something for a guy who doesn’t usually read any comic more than once without good reason. Part of this is because of the craft Busiek and Anderson display, and part of it is that there are scenes I still don’t understand, particularly those in the research labs. The fulcrum for all this action – and my attempt to give some sort of a coherent plot recap – is the Master Dancer who poetically lays a spell on Earth like Sandman’s Dream. The spell seems to give good, dancing vibes to the population, which then extends to feelings of love and deep meaningful relationships. Since very little of this is probably making sense, I’ll take a moment to mention that the Dancing Master also meets up with the Hanged Man, perhaps the most mysterious Astro City staple (and possibly the coolest supernatural costume since Dr. Fate).
Again, though, a focus on plot here is really doing an injustice to “Astro City #13″. While Astro City is usually about showcasing the human side of cape comics (issue #11 was a great example, highlighting a day in the life of the sorcerer supreme secretary), issue #13 is all about craft. If there’s a message or reflection of humanity here, it’s that no matter how the day is spent, or how the hours jumble together, everyone strives to have someone to love at the end of their day.
I’d like to declare “Astro City #13″ an instant classic, but this one definitely needs time and a few more reads to determine its status. The richness and depth of detail in this book are outstanding, only outshined by Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson’s ambition. I’ve been on the fence about this relaunch of Astro City, but the last three issues have really rewarded this book staying on my pull list.
“Astro City #13″ earns 8.2 / 10