Astonishing Times continues to weave a tale and flesh out a world where superheroes were real but have left while the world moved on from them, and what comes next when the two worlds collide once more. A truly gorgeous and brilliant series that showcases just what the medium of comics is capable of doing while serving as a love letter to that same medium and genre.
What if Superman snapped or was evil or believed himself to be a god above humans are stories that are intriguing but have been done in various forms over the years, especially in the last decade. With this latest issue, Astonishing Times seems to instead ask the question, what if Superman tired of just doing the routine superhero stuff and instead was dedicated to finding an actual way to fully save humanity?
Since its debut issue, Astonishing Times has continued to take a type of superhero-related story we’ve seen a million times and do something quite different. Frank J. Barbiere and Arris Quinones not only have delivered a truly intriguing premise with this world where superheroes were real but faded into myth and story but have fleshed out so much of this world in just three issues. Noah, a journalist and son of a journalist that was close to the heroes, serving as the fan point of view (a spot most of us would be in if heroes were real) allows us to really feel out this world little by little as the issues move along.
Described as a love letter to superheroes and comic books as a medium, the series shows that on every page. Despite these characters being new, they are familiar in many ways as they fill many of the archetypes that we see in characters that have been part of pop culture for decades now. Yet, they are unique in their own ways. The opening pages are familiar in the sense of being like so many superhero battles we might have seen before, but Ruairí Coleman, Lauren Affe, and Taylor Esposito bring so much raw emotion and beauty to the pages as we get glimpses of the horror that comes during these superhero battles.
Often in comics, for the sake of time and just the fact that ongoing worlds keep rolling on, we don’t see very much of how the citizens feel in the long run or the aftermath of these battles. They are mopped up just in time for the next mega-war to roll around. Here though we’re seeing a world where the worst happened and heroes saved the day before they went away, and the world had to deal with that and move on. It provides fertile grounds for exploration.
Coleman continues to mix together the more action-heavy scenes with the more conversational character-focused ones seamlessly, employing such beautiful paneling where things overlap. There is a really cool page shortly in with Infinite and Gold Rush reminiscing about the Cataclysm event, and the flashback of action is mid-page with a shot of them outside of any sort of standard panel right under as if it’s playing out above their heads memory style.
There are several things this series has done well, but one of them is how so far there hasn’t been anyone that has been directly pointed to as the antagonist or someone in the wrong. There is a lot of light and dark to what is happening, and that is showcased visually by Affe’s colors which shift between those worlds easily. The filter-like tinge added to some of the flashbacks or standouts is always nice, makes them stand apart from the present-day stuff even more. While this is a world of superheroes, Affe’s work makes it feel very much like the real world as the colors aren’t too overly bright or too overly dark as they match the variety that is life.
With this issue, Esposito gets to stretch even more adding in appropriately colored caption boxes for both Kokin and Infinite alongside the usual journal/newspaper-like ones for Noah. All of the dialogue flows around the action, dancing with it, not missing a step. With quite a bit of nice SFX that just heightens each action scene, bursting off the page just like it would if this was a movie being watched on the big screen.
We’re left with a lot of information and new faces, glimpses of what was and what could be, and the overall mystery of the series is still no closer to being solved. Which is fantastic. Often mysteries can become an anchor around a story if not ‘solved’ on a faster timetable, but often the key to making them work longer is to make the audience far more invested in the characters and world around the mystery. Whodunnits draw one in when the characters are big and bold and larger than life so much so that it’s hard to tell who might have done the thing, making you chomp at the bit to find out more. We’re getting a lot of that here, where Infinite might be the one behind the things from what we’ve seen, but maybe just maybe, he’s not.
Comic books as a medium have such vast almost infinite potential, and this series is one that grabs that potential and runs with it beautifully.
Astonishing Times #3 is now available digitally through ComiXology.