'Astro City, Vol. 13: Honor Guard' features superheroes with heart

Kurt Busiek's 'Astro City' comic series highlights the humanity behind the masks.

Astro City, Vol. 13: Honor Guard By Kurt Busiek (Author), Brent Anderson (Illustrator), Alex Ross (Illustrator) Vertigo 176 pp.

Kurt Busiek, along with artists Brent Anderson and Alex Ross, launched his "Astro City" comic book back in 1995 and has been releasing it on and off in short story arcs ever since. Busiek's fictional metropolis (named after a superhero who sacrificed his life to save the city) is populated with all kinds of costumed heroes and villains. But instead of concentrating on the adventures and battles, Busiek focuses on the humanity in this world. Many of the stories focus on the regular folk that have to live in the often dangerous world of superheroes and how that affects them. When the stories are about the heroes, they delve into their human strengths and frailties. Such is the case in the newest "Astro City" book (Vol. 13), Honor Guard.

"Honor Guard" is a superhero team similar to the Justice League. This handsome hardcover, published by DC Comics Vertigo line, highlights a collection of the Guard's heroes in six stand-alone chapters that show the variety and imagination of Busiek and company as they sweep you up right away with them and their stories.

Here's a taste of the wide variety. Stories range from: a tale of atonement, as an alien race makes a yearly holiday to pay respect to a fallen hero's sacrifice; an aging space-faring adventurer of the Honor Guard who finds getting old his toughest challenge yet; a charmed heroine must decide if a curse will end her days as a superhero; a living video game character's heroic deeds inspire a young girl; a young crimefighter realizes his boyhood heroes are not something to cling to; and a living Nightmare learns about hope while facing its own fears. Quite an amazing array of characters!

The art is mostly handled by Jesús Merino who does a great job keeping the feel of the comic consistent with the style established by (the sadly absent) co-creator artist Brent Anderson. Alex Ross, a huge name in comics noted for his realistic paintings of superheroes, designs the look for the characters giving them a classic but fresh feel. Ross also paints the gorgeous covers. And as a further treat to Ross fans, the back of book the features Ross's detailed pencil work showing his process for designing the characters.

"Astro City" is a love letter to superhero comics distilling all the elements that make them fun and memorable. In 2016, where there are so many violent and morally gray heroes in comic books, this comic is a breath of fresh air. Sure, some of the heroes are pastiches of some longtime comic book characters but Busiek manages to honor them while giving his versions a new spin. He pays homage to many comic creators, using their names for the streets and buildings as a further nod to the past legacy he's carrying on.

For 21 years this series has put the "heroic" back in superheroes, even while earning multiple awards. I hope this "nostalgic but new" superhero series continues for quite some time to come. I'd love to keep revisiting Astro City and taking in more of the wondrous sights.

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