Tuesday, May 5, 2015

31 Days of Comics: Day 5 – A Great Love Story

May has become the go-to month of the Comic’s Industry (even though National Superhero Day is late April, but whatever… Congress… pshaw).  It is when Marvel drops their big movie of the year.  May also sees the annual Free Comic Book Day celebration take place on the first Saturday of the Month, so I hope you all got to check that out.  May also has 31 days of the month so what better way to celebrate the wonderful world of sequential art with the 31 Days of Comics?

Seth Hahne, who runs the blog GoodOkBad, has put together the 31 Days of Comics challenge.  A daily challenge in which you are given a category and you have to fill it with a comic that you think fits it the best.  You’re all on the internet, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you.  For the rest of the month I will be taking this challenge.  It is my hope it encourages others to make and share their own lists either in the comments here or on their own websites.  The sharing not only might turn comic fans on to works they have yet to sample but maybe catch the eye of a few non-comic fans and highlight the diversity of the form.

Our prompt for Day 5 is “A Great Love Story.”

Astro City #1/2 (“The Nearness of You)
Written by Kurt Busiek
Pencils by Brent Anderson
Colors by Alex Sinclair
Letters by Comicraft

To be honest, I wasn’t going to go with this pick at first.  Having looked at other people’s lists before this is the only book I remember being duplicated on any of the lists.  I wanted to be a comic book hipster and pull something out that nobody had read or thought about as a love story before.  I wanted to be the guy who told me back in the day, “Hey check out that Clerks movie.”

Then I re-read the issue and there was no way in hell I could find anything that could even compete.
Astro City is a creator owned series by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross (cover artist) that has been published, sometimes sporadically, for 20 years by both Image and Vertigo.  At its core Astro City is an anthology series that is centered in the titular town of Astro City.  Home to many super-powered heroes as well as a target for threats (foreign, domestic, galactic, alternative relaities, etc) it is in essence Marvel’s Manhattan.  Astro City follows the adventures of its many costumed residents, often analogues for heroes from the Big 2, and perhaps more interestingly their impact on the lives of the everyday citizens.  To me, Astro City is the polar opposite of Watchman.  In Watchman Alan Moore examines what would happen if superheroes came into the world we know.  Astro City reverses that by asking what it would be like if we lived in their world.

There are very few Astro City arcs that I haven’t enjoyed, and even those that weren’t exactly my favorites we at the least very interesting.  However the storylines that I find myself most drawn to are the ones that can be categorized as either “after the panels” or “in-between the panels.”  In those stories Busiek examines how one of the events that we see so commonly in the pages of superhero comics may have a surprising impact that we either never think about, or we have no time to dwell on as our heroes are on to their next Secret Crisis or Infinite War.

Nowhere is this done better than in Astro City #1/2.

It is fitting that I re-read this story for the first time since DC’s New 52 began all those decades ago (ok, it’s only been 4 years but if you’ve read any of it, it seems like decades).  As DC’s universe reset, again, we of course all wonder what our heroes and villains remember and what has changed about them in the “new universe.” But do we ever stop to think about the rest of the world?  If Batman’s past can change than surely Paul Smith, the mailman who lives in Los Angeles, might also be rebooted.

“The Nearness of You” looks at this through the eyes of a man named Michael Tenick.  Michael is haunted late at night of dreams of a woman he never met, so much that he takes pills to try to avoid the images in his head.  His fear of sleep continues to grow as even the pharmaceuticals have no effect.  Wanting to be rid of his torment Michael starts to take his own life when he is visited by The Hanged Man, a cosmic or mystical hero, who explains where the woman came from.

The tale told to Michael is that during a massive battle the heroes did defeat the bad guy to save the universe, as they always do, but that in doing so the time lime was “reset.”  And one of the casualties was Michael’s wife, the woman he dreams about every night.  As Michael comes to grips with the fact that he still remembers the love of a woman he cannot even remember the Hanged Man offers him a choice.

While he doesn’t have the power to restore her life the Hanged Man can allow him to forget her.
To me love stories don’t get any better than this.  Most people at some point find themselves filled with regret or even haunted by a past lost love.  Given the fact that Michael lost his through no fault of his own, and can’t even retain the memories they once had it makes it all the more tragic.  But Michael’s choice at the end, to me at least, demonstrates exactly what love is and should be.  It is impossible to read this story and not place your wife, your husband, you kids, you significant other, your parent in the place of Miranda and then to think about how you would answer that question.  Other love stories in comics may have moved me, but at the end of the day I can’t fly Lois Lane around at night or take MJ swinging above the Manhattan skyline.  In this one, I can be Michael Tenick.  And his answer, I pray, would be the one I would choose.

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