Aaron's Reviews > Astro City, Vol. 4: The Tarnished Angel

Astro City, Vol. 4 by Kurt Busiek
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Jan 10, 14

Read from January 04 to 09, 2014

Now see, THIS is what I like about Astro City. It seems that Busiek's stories only really set themselves apart in this universe when they're given some room to breath and subvert expectations. In this story, we meet Steeljack, a former "black mask" (AKA super villain) who's just been released from an extended prison sentence and wants to go straight. What follows is a story that starts familiar enough, but expands to really utilize the unique universe of Astro City to its advantage, crafting a noir detective story that could only exist in a world brimming with superheroes.

This acceptance and use of the world Busiek has created is what separates stories like this one from the run-of-the-mill stuff in volumes 1 and 3 of Astro City. Building out from the noir/criminal-changes-his-ways stuff in the story and trickling in superhero stuff gradually makes this one hell of a fun read. It doesn't quite live up to the monumental greatness of volume 2, but it's still got a lot to offer.

First of all, the character of Steeljack is impossible not to like. Normally I'm not a big fan of comics artists drawing characters to resemble real-life people, but it felt incredibly fitting to have Steeljack look like a silver Robert Mitchum. It's the perfect choice for this sad, heavy character, and made him far more emotive. Also, I couldn't think of the last time I'd seen a story about someone without any real detective skills being forced to solve a crime (besides the series Bored To Death, which is a comedic take on that idea, unlike Tarnished Angel, which is more realistic). I wanted Steeljack to win and to be appreciated. I wanted him to climb out of the dreck that he'd sunk into, and I was sad when the story ended.

The plot itself is a little all over the place at times, but in a way I found intriguing. Busiek doesn't stay hyper-focused on the mystery unraveling, but rather sticks with Steeljack (for the most part), examining this character as the mystery unfolds around him, sometimes completely without his interference. It kept the story personal, so that the couple of times that I got a little ahead of the mystery, I didn't care, because I was so interested in everything else that was happening.

All in all, this is a solid noir for superhero fans, and well worth a read. I hope more of Astro City uses this long-arc format, as this seems to be when the series really shines.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Curtis Retherford I'm a huge Astro City fan, but I agree with your comments. Tarnished Angel is one of the high points of the series. For me, as a sporadic reader of superhero comics, I like the fact that it is a self-contained world: it's not as much that "these are the superheros we know done differently," as I think you mentioned, but that here are tropes we know, but only used for a specific purpose, with very little extra crap to get in the way.

There are a couple great one-off Astro City storylines, one of which Kevin Hines has mentioned as among his favorite single issue stories (and I'd agree), although in general, yes, I think Busiek's longer stuff is more solid.


Aaron Yeah, I definitely don't DISLIKE the series, as much as I find some of the one-offs a little sappy or "done." Do you remember which story Kevin liked so much? I'm starting vol. 5 now and it has a bunch of single-issue stories, one of which I really enjoyed showing the perspectives of a bunch of different people's first day in Astro City.


Curtis Retherford I do remember: It's The Nearness of You. I'm not sure if/where it was collected, because it's an issue 1/2. I think you can download it on Comixology. Possibly for free.


Curtis Retherford Wait, it's in the Confession collection.


Aaron Oh yeah! I just re-read it (in a hurry). Yes, it's VERY good. Feels weird that it's in the Confession collection, but I guess just in terms of quality it fits.


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