Part of why I whine so much about DC is that I love long, involved, complex mythologies and I really love complaining when what’s considered “canon” gets abused and tossed around like its the New 52 version of Starfire or something.
A TV show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewarded long-time viewers by having, say, seventh-season Buffy slap a slowly-disappearing girl back into existence as a nod to an episode that aired six years earlier. You didn’t need to see the latter to enjoy the former, but the viewing experience was greatly enhanced if you had.
Kurt Busiek’s masterwork, Astro City, offers something similar. You don’t need to have read the earlier issues to jump into the new 2013 series that’s currently on shelves: most Astro City books are standalone single-issue tales or short miniseries, and though they all take place in the titular metropolis, each tale usually focuses on a different (often non-superheroic) character. So you don’t need to know the history of Silver Agent to appreciate the character, but if you do know the history of Silver Agent, you’ll probably get a giddy thrill every time he appears.
As Busiek writes in the afterword to the most recent Astro City #1, “Despite that crisp-looking number 1 on the cover, this is actually the 60th Astro City issue … don’t get me wrong, we want you to buy all the earlier stuff, but we’d rather get you to buy it by making you want to read it, not by making you feel you need to read it.”
On top of the winks and nods to previous issues, Astro City is a bunch of really good stories. Busiek generally focuses on two subjects: the downside of being a superhero and what it’s like to be a normal person living amongst these costumed gods. With the exception of a single dud – that’d be Astro City #21’s “Where the Action Is”), every issue has been an A+ piece of storytelling.
My favorite tale is Astro City: Local Heroes #1’s “Newcomers,” in which a hotel concierge directs tourists to prime superhero-sightseeing locales around town while recalling a couple of his own misadventures in the city:
The above is the Confessor’s brief appearance in this issue, and if you haven’t read Astro City: Confessions you might not have much appreciation for the character beyond a vague feeling of witnessing a two-page cameo from a Spectre/Phantom Stranger pastiche. If you have read Astro City: Confessions (and you should, it’s awesome), you’d probably be pretty excited to know who’s under that cowl and how he got there.
Astro City has been published erratically since its debut in 1995, owing to both Busiek’s other work commitments (Superman, Avengers) and health concerns, but it’s now a monthly title from Vertigo (after spending time at both Image and WildStorm) and it’s well worth the $4 cover price.
Aaaaaaand it’s got one thing going for it that no other DC book has: consistency. Since day one, Busiek’s been scripting, Brent Anderson has been handling interior art, and Alex Ross has been painting the gorgeous covers that adorn every issue. If you’re looking to get into comics, or looking to get someone else into comics, Astro City might be a good place to start.