A slight format change starting this week as well as a new release time for Friday mornings…Every Wednesday I pop into Whatever Store on Castro Street in San Francisco to pick up my haul of new comics. In addition to the books on my list, Rich and Cougar toss in one or two recommendations. I read the books. I think thoughts. Those thoughts may contain spoilers.
Astro City #27
Book of the Week
“A chibi-type hero. Strong, fast, powered by her mystic hair scrunchies…”
I come at comic books from the point of view as a writer. As much as I enjoy, appreciate, and marvel at the art, a story and dialogue will often carry the day for me. This issue of Astro City was one of the rare books that blew my mind with the art.
The story focuses on villains called the Unbodied who take corporeal form via myths and legends. As a way of getting into the world, they prey on a video game designer and start taking the form of her villains while she sleeps. But the villains aren’t yet powerful enough to exist in the real world all the time so they create a hero who can act as a kind of anchor: American Chibi. The final battle takes place in the game world where these modern myths are building their power in preparation for an attack.
Infurnari’s style at first jarred me. Compared to the traditional Astro City look it is rough, possessing an almost charcoal sketch quality. The sketch quality, combined with a muted color palette, leaves characters and backgrounds heavily shadowed, implying a kind of existential darkness that would be at home in Gotham City but is seldom seen in Astro City. A massive style shift, hinted at on Ross’ cover, comes not quite halfway through the book when American Chibi and the Honor Guard visit the game world. The rough edges are flattened, the shadows are gone, and the colors are bright. The characters all resemble lively Pop! Vinyl figurines—an appearance that gels with American Chibi’s overall look.
It isn’t, however, this initial style shift that made an impression. The story ends with American Chibi having to stay in the game world which severs the connection between the game designer and all of the mythical characters. But Chibi has left behind totems that grant at least some of her super powers to the designer, and on the last page she flies through the air relishing the opportunity to follow in American Chibi’s heroic footsteps. It’s this last page, taking place in the roughly drawn and heavily shadowed real world, that Infurnari bridges the two styles—deepening the connection between the two worlds and the hero and her creator—by carefully incorporating part of the game world’s color palette and dropping the shading ever so much.
The story in the issue was fun. The idea of incorporating video games as modern myth makes complete sense, and Busiek writes American Chibi as a character relishing her life and her heroic calling. In this case, though, it was Infurnari’s style choices that made the book really pop.