I'm not gonna lie -- I love me some capes -- but sometimes, superheroes can get a little bit boring. Blah blah blah supervillain this, asteroid that, alien whatever, spandex something. What about the other guys? The ones doing stuff behind the scenes? Kurt Busiek gets me; this issue is all about the team on the ground that helps the supers be super.
The Emergency Contact Line shouldn't be that interesting -- after all, it's a call center -- but it's a call center for the Honor Guard, so by nature, it's more fascinating than the place that takes your desktop support calls. Busiek dreams up fantastic analysis and support scenarios for the kind of team that keeps things from going apocalyptic on a superhero organization, and Brent Eric Anderson brings them to glowy, futuristic life. It's neat to see superheroes as the background characters; when done well, this adds so much more depth to a world, and shows that life isn't always just about the capes.
There's also a heightened sense of tension among the team at the Emergency Contact Line; it's a little bit like "Boiler Room" in its competitive nature, even though the tasks are more in line with 9-1-1 or a team of intelligence analysts. Top that off with a corporate culture that emphasizes secrecy (and warns of past mistakes in that area), and you get a high-pressure situation that promises to turn explosive. No capes required for that kind of escalation!
The subtle details -- such as the switch in the ending graphic from Broken Man's highway sign to the Emergency Contact Line's "public works" logo -- are thoughtful and clever, and make the world of ASTRO CITY that much more engaging. The cast is friendly and relatable, and there are great moments that capture how human and normal these people are -- making up white lies to make friends more acceptable to family members, getting a little bit fan-giddy over meeting a famous hero, wanting a sweep of super-powered justice for a domestic violence situation. Watching Marella & co fight to get big wins is familiar (for anyone who's ever been in a hyper-competitive work environment) and disturbing (since those wins are predicated on disastrous situations), and Marella's accidental miss -- right when the team has let their guard down-- is a great way to end the issue.
I think I'm going to have to go back and read the first 58 issues of ASTRO CITY (pre-Vertigo) to get a feel of how the world works. It's an interesting place, and I like what I'm seeing, but I can't tell yet if it's supposed to be modern with occasional futuristic touches courtesy of superheroes, futuristic with "retro" elements like cars and ironing boards, or something else. (Astro Citizens -- feel free to weigh in with comments about this!)
ASTRO CITY #1 was fun. This issue takes it to the next level. It's a little bit unexpected that an issue about a team of support analysts at a call center could be more exciting than one about the Honor Guard or the mysterious (crazy? not crazy?) Broken Man, but unexpected isn't always a bad thing. Forget the road signs telling me that I'm leaving; I'm sticking around in Astro City, with all of its supers and humans, to see where Busiek and Anderson are going to take me.