We live in the age of the pop culture revival, and the arrival of the eternal film and movie franchises, all born or borrowing from the model of superhero comics storytelling. Astro City, one of the most storied and beloved superhero comics of all time, went through a revival of its own in 2013, and that it came back as strong as ever was a miracle in and of itself. Over the course of a year, Charlotte Finn will be examining this miracle – all 52 issues – as she spends A Year in the Big City. This feature was originally published on her site and now continues on Shelfdust!
There are a lot of things you can point to as proof of a tonal divide in superhero comics, but I think one of the clearest ones is the presence of superpowered animals.
They make as much sense as “I stood close to a nuclear bomb and now I can fly” – what’s good for humans is good for pets. But there’s something a little silly about a superpowered pet. Call it human narcissism, call it lingering embarrassment over the Space Canine Patrol Rangers, but the adventures of superpowered pets is a trend that has somewhat faded.
But nothing in the superhero genre’s ever really gone, which brings us to this issue, and the adventures of Kittyhawk, a cat who can walk through walls and fly.
Kittyhawk is the kitty of Nightingale, one half of Sunshrike & Nightingale, one of those superhero pairs that just accumulate over time, that probably had a well-remembered series back in the day and they stick around because there’s something just likeable about a pair of superhero pals leaning heavily on friendship. Between Luke Cage & Iron Fist, Superman and Batman, and Bert & Ernie, heroic fiction gets a lot out of the two-person team-up book.
This time, their adventures are brought to life by guest artist Rick Leonardi! I’ve been a fan of Leonardi for ages and it’s always wonderful seeing his work; he may be one of the most underrated superhero artists out there. His linework is always bold and a pleasure to look at, his layouts always clear and comprehensible and conveying quiet moments and action sequences with equal skill.
His storytelling is particularly on display in the midsection of this book, as human voices fade away and we get an extended duel of wits and wills with Rocketdog, the dog with rocket powers. When a dog and a cat meet, the laws of comics dictate that they must fight, just like superheroes must initially fight upon first meeting since the rise of Marvel Comics. This mostly silent sequence is filled with lettered meows and barks to break up the action before Kittyhawk slinks into the villain’s lair and undoes the whole villain’s plot in the most Cat way possible…
… by knocking shit over while maintaining perfect eye contact with the owner of said shit.
(I had a cat once. I loved that cat and he was a trash goblin.)
I think of how comics pets and animals were written way back when in the Golden and Silver and Bronze Ages, where we’d get extensive dialogue balloons as the cats and dogs would narrate their thought processes as they tied ropes together to rescue kids from the third burning barn of the month. (Damn mid-century farms, never up to code.) How they were basically written not like animals, but people doing animal things; a human that looked and thought like a dog.
It has its place, especially at that age where comics are teaching kids to read – the literacy value of a story where the art shows you what the words are describing is difficult to overstate. But times have, indeed changed, and now we do expect our superpowered pets to act a bit more like actual pets, because we’re adults now and what we love about our pets is how much they’re not like us. We are familiar with the wants, needs and desires of humans, and dogs and cats give us something else; their needs are different, and in fulfilling those needs, they let us take a break from ourselves.
Which is not to say that the life of a pet owner is perfect…
… but, what’s a story without conflict.
This was a fairly fun, low-impact story, but that’s all just preparing us for next week, where we finally get the origin of the Broken Man. Is he man or metafiction or (question mark) IS HE BOTH?
Astro City #44
Written by Kurt Busiek
Drawn by Rick Leonardi
Coloured by Pete Pantazis
Lettered by John G. Roshell and Jimmy Betancourt
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