Astonishing Times wears its big superhero and comic book-loving heart right on its sleeve for all to see on every single page. This creative team has managed to take an age-old question about heroes and reality and give it a shiny new coat of paint and a whole new wonderful bag of tricks.
There are probably very few superhero/comic book fans that would not immediately jump at the chance to not only meet one of those heroes but also perhaps stand alongside them in their heroic duties. In the world of Astonishing Times, that is a very real possibility, but reporter and superhero fan Noah Sans might have learned rather quickly that one must truly be careful what they wish for.
After delivering a stellar first issue that fleshed out this world and stable of characters, Frank J. Barbiere, Arris Quinones, Ruairí Coleman, Lauren Affe, and Taylor Esposito hold nothing back as they take the characters and the readers even deeper into this world and the mystery at hand.
Kicking an issue off with a comic within a comic, even using old school Ben Day dot stlye artwork, is just a fantastic move. The juxtaposition of those flashback/comic pages alongside the modern/real pages is a quick way to fully bring the reader back into this world and the reminder that the things we love (superheroes/comics) are fixtures of this world as well. Coleman’s more realistic styling of artwork and the coloring style of Affe make that contrast far more effective and stand out more.
With this being a more centralized issue compared to the first one, more time focused on Noah (and his family) and Kokin as the web of intrigue tightens around them. Because of this the ways that Coleman eschews standard paneling aesthetics at points stand out even more than it did the last issue in the best way. From Noah’s finger on the comic in a comic panel to characters popping right out of their panels to the stacked panels over other panels, or bits of the fight action in the middle of the issue. It’s all so wonderfully depicted and refreshing and showcases just what comics are truly capable of.
Affe’s colors slide so effortlessly from the darker and grimmer pages that focus on Kokin and his world, and the encroaching darkness following Noah, to the more bright and hopeful pages of both the intro pages as well as those focused on Noah and his family. There is a weight to these colors that reminds us of the brightness of our world and comic books but also remains in a way that hammers home the ‘realness’ of this world.
Esposito continues to do what he does best, making the dialogue dance through the pages while giving the various captions and other bits of letters beautiful life. The superhero font-like overhead location/time captions with their gleaming gold speaks to the superhero and comic book nature of this, while Noah’s boxes take on that newspaper/journalist-themed caption boxes add a nice bit of flare. One cannot forget the bombastic bold SFX that just comes right at you in the middle of the action.
There are a number of things that really make this series sing, the artwork being a major part of that. One of the major ones being the weight and depth of characterization that is on display. Everyone from Noah and his family to Kokin, to all the characters big and small feel completely ‘real’ as we glimpse enough already to get a full sense of who and what they are for the most part. Yet, at the same time, there is still plenty left on the table to explore and potentially surprise us with later.
Noah is our eyes into this world, as well as our narrator, and this is an inspired choice because not only does he have the journalist instincts to drive him forward but like us the readers he’s a fan. This makes him probably one of the most effective ‘reader’s eyes’ style of characters out there. Because most of us actually can empathize with him and wonder if we would do the same or different than him if pulled into the world of our heroes.
The fact that Barbiere and Quinones found a way to take a very well-used angle of ‘what if superheroes were real’ and breathe new and interesting life into it speaks volumes.
Not only has this team built up a solid world with solid characters, but another strength of the book is also the pure love and respect that the series has for the medium it’s part of. With the first issue review, I described the series as a “love letter to comics” and that remains true with this issue. This series being a love letter to comics goes beyond its overall story premise. That love is seen within every inch of the issue, from the ben day dot artwork to just the overall love of what the medium can do.
Astonishing Times #2 is now available digitally through ComiXology.