For our team up with Comics! The Blog on The Incredibles we are pleased to present a fun booklist compiled in partnership with Brandon and James. This short reading list encompasses the themes of family and exuberance that we love in the film, as well as an earnest retro and nostalgic appreciation for comics’ rich history and aesthetics. For our fourth book, Zach from Warp One Comics gives us a roadmap to Astro City:
Astro City (Vertigo Books)
By Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross
When it comes to human stories about family told through homage to classic superhero comics, Astro City is unquestionably a superlative example. Written by Kurt Busiek, illustrated by Brent Anderson, with covers by Alex Ross (Busiek and Ross also collaborated onMarvels, another of our picks for The Incredibles), Astro City has been published on and off since 1995. The comic is a series of short stories, each looking into the lives of different people living in the titular city, a city where superheroics are commonplace. Like The Incredibles, Astro City is noteworthy for telling relatable, believable stories through a fantastical lens. Super-powered people in Astro City still deal with the universal difficulties of building families, finding acceptance, and relating to their communities, just like the Parr family in The Incredibles.
The volume of Astro City we chose to accompany The Incredibles is 2011′s Shining Stars - a collection of short stories looking into the lives of four longstanding Astro Citysuperheroes. Superman-analogue Samaritan attends a tense dinner with his deranged archrival the Infidel during their annual one-day truce. Dispassionate android superhero (and Barbie doll lookalike) Beautie feels compelled to track down her neglectful creator. In doing so, she finds new appreciation for the family and friends she has chosen, rather than the inventor/mother who can’t bear taking responsibility for her. Astra Furst, youngest member of the Furst family of celebrity-scientist-explorer-superheroes, celebrates her college graduation with her very mundane boyfriend while pondering what to do with her adult life. Finally, the Silver Agent, Astro City’s greatest hero of the Sixties (the Silver Age, get it?), jumps through time on the eve of his execution, visiting, Christmas Carol-style, all the lives and eras he has touched and inspired.
Each of these stories has connections to the themes and stories of The Incredibles. Astra’s story is most familiar, as the Furst family, like the Parrs, are a deliberate homage to Marvel Comiçs’ Fantastic Four. (In yet another instance of metatextual comics punnery, the Fantastic Four are often referred to as “the first family of superheroes”.) The character’s first appearance in Astro City in the unfortunately out-of-print Family Album shows a preteen Astra run away from her science compound home to try to live like a normal person by attending a middle school incognito like the Parr children are forced to do in The Incredibles. Astra’s sense of isolation and desire for community is echoed by Violet in the film, and I don’t think I’m ruining the surprise for anyone when I say that both girls eventually come to terms with their differences, becoming more confident and sociable. The Astra of Shining Stars could be the Violet of ten years after the events of the film, past teenage awkwardness and facing adulthood’s new challenges of self-direction and trust.
Shining Stars’ other stories also relate to The Incredibles. Beautie’s family problems run darker than Mr. Incredible’s and Elastigirl’s marital struggles, but both stories use the trappings of superhero comics to vividly illustrate and dramatize relatable family problems. If Mr. Incredible wasn’t blinkered by a taste of the glories of his youth and shared some of Samaritan’s humility and wariness during a dinner in a supervillain’s lair, he probably could have saved himself some trouble. And despite the immediate bleakness brought about by the Silver Agent’s execution, he goes to it willingly, knowing that the public cynicism that brought him to this point will not last, and his example will provide a foundation for a noble and heroic legacy lasting for millennia. Throughout Shining Stars – and throughout all of Astro City – Busiek and Anderson create a believable, consistent, and fun superhero city. It’s the kind of city that could easily accommodate fashion designers for superhumans like Edna Mode, or where you can have a conversation with a coworker as he passes you in the street chasing a helicopter full of bank robbers. Both Astro City and The Incredibles use an anachronistic aesthetic, incorporating design elements from the Golden and Silver Ages of superhero comics in otherwise modern settings, creating worlds that are unmistakably fantastical, but also familiar and relatable, much like the stories they tell in those worlds.