Astro City

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Astro City is a comic book series written by Kurt Busiek, first published in 1995. It has ended its run in 2010. It was originally published by Image, then moved to Homage/Wildstorm, staying with Wildstorm when it was bought by DC.

Astro City is home to a great many Super Heroes. The series does not have one continuing arc or viewpoint character. The stories vary in length, from one to two issues up to a seven issue arc. Each story tends to focus on a different group or character, often taking the viewpoint of minor characters watching events unfold.

Astro City is treated in a more or less "realistic" fashion, though the creator gently rejects the term "realistic", often focusing on the emotional and personal lives of the heroes, or of those who just happen to live in the same universe as superheroes and villains. This puts it in the same class as Watchmen, The Golden Age, Kingdom Come, and Busiek's own Marvels.

The Backstory of Astro City goes back to at least the 19th century, with the first public hero, Air Ace appearing during WWI "The Old Soldier" (thought dead in 1863) and "Ironhorse, the Human Locomotive" (first seen since 1862).

The list of superheroes and villains (individuals and groups) mentioned is extremely extensive.

For a partial list:

  • Samaritan: The resident Superman analogue, but with elements of Captain Marvel, Busiek's own dreams of flying, and other sources. Originally sent back from the future to alter history. He succeeded in his task by preventing the Challenger disaster and has been stuck here ever since. He's kept incredibly busy; since he's a ridiculously nice guy and his Zyxometer (a kind of futuristic computer/sensing device) can detect trouble whenever it occurs, he's constantly rushing around preventing disasters. Thus, he barely has the time to just enjoy flying (which appears to be his greatest pleasure).
  • The Confessor: A mysterious vigilante, similar in style to Batman, but with more religious elements. Active since the 1950s, he is the subject of the first of the longer story arcs, where he stops aliens from taking over the world. He is also revealed to be a vampire. He dies at the end, but his sidekick Altar Boy takes up his mantle.
  • Winged Victory: A Wonder Woman analogue and feminist. An early story has her and Samaritan going on an abortive date in their civilian identities.
  • Jack-in-the-Box: A bouncy clown-themed vigilante with agility and an arsenal of clown-themed weaponry. One of the less obvious Captain Ersatz characters, Jack's loosely inspired by Spider-Man and by Steve Ditko's infamously oddball vigilantes in general.
  • The First Family: A Fantastic Four analogue, a family of interdimensional explorers and superheroes. Augustus and Julius Furst are the patriarch brothers, with twin siblings Nick and Natalie, her husband Rex, and their daughter Astra.
  • Honor Guard: A group of top-ranked superheroes, a la the Justice League of America or The Avengers. Samaritan is a member of this group.
  • The Blue Knight: A vigilante police officer who hunts criminals with high-tech weapons and a ruthless determination. Later inspires the creation of The Blue Knights, a team of vigilantes.
  • The Apollo Eleven: A team of astronauts on the Moon found an alien artifact that transformed them into ambassadors for a Star League. They return to Earth to spread the message and to defend the planet from extraordinary threats.

More detail can be found at the Other Wiki's article.


Tropes used in Astro City include:
  • Accuse the Witness
  • Actor-Role Confusion: Crimson Cougar
  • After-Action Patchup: Steeljack, at the end of his arc, gets some news from a policeman as the EMTs from the ambulance treat him.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: The Pale Horseman
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: Most of the cast, really.
    • As The Gentleman is a Golden Age Expy of Captain Marvel, it's rather fitting that he's drawn to resemble Alex Ross's renditions of the Big Red Cheese (especially since Ross paints almost all of the Astro City covers).
  • Alien Invasion: The Enelsians (a Shout-Out to E. Nelson Bridwell; the first Enelsian invader even uses the pseudonym "Mr. Bridwell.")
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: Crackerjack, in his civilian identity, mentions blowing an audition for the musical version of Inherit the Wind.
  • Anti-Hero: Plenty, but primarily the Blue Knight and the Point Man.
  • Appropriated Appellation: The Samaritan got his name after he first appeared on the scene and identified himself solely as "a good samaritan." The name stuck.
    • Similarly, Infidel took his name from the cries of the ignorant masses who opposed his research on the grounds that it was "unnatural", saying he would embrace the name to mock them.
  • Are These Wires Important?: Ultimately used by Supersonic to stop the fight in "Old Times".
  • Ascended Fanboy Altar Boy
  • Backstory
  • Badass Normal: Apparently one can naturally train one's reflexes up to bullet-dodging levels in this universe.
  • Bald of Evil: Infidel sports a villainously hairless head, and compliments it with a fancy Beard of Evil
  • Banging for Help: Done with a variation during the "Dark Ages" arc. Seeking shelter at an arms cache during a citywide riot, Royal Williams finds his brother Charles dying from a gunshot wound. Desperate to attract the police despite the chaos, Royal fires off all of the weapons to try and warrant attention.
  • Barrier Warrior: Samaritan can manipulate an "Empyrean field", which is strong enough to repulse a tidal wave.
  • Berserk Button: Bugman Palmetto hates being called a roach. It's implied that this is actually because that's an ethnic slur against Latin-Americans, rather than because he's a giant roach man.
  • Boobs of Steel: Literally for Beautie, a human-sized robot based on an Expy Barbie doll whose proportions border on freakish at that size.

"My skin is ferro-styrene over an omnitanium frame. My breasts and buttocks are rigid. And I have no genitalia."

  • Book Ends: The episode "In Dream" begins and ends with Samaritan dreaming about flying.
  • Brand X: "Beautie" dolls, "Beefy Bob's" burger joints, and "Astro-Mart" convenience stores.
  • Bruce Wayne Held Hostage: A variation occurs in the story "Pastoral", where the secret identity of country-town hero Roustabout is an open secret to the locals. The visiting big city girl can't believe how blind everyone is in the small town, given how incredibly obvious his identity is.
    • See also "Shining Armor", where Irene Merriweather (in an obvious tribute to the Silver Age Lois Lane) is constantly putting coworker Adam Peterson in peril in an attempt to prove he's really Atomicus. When Atomicus actually saves him once, she figures that's the end of it... until she sees a TV report of Atomicus showing off his newly discovered ability to create atomic duplicates.
  • The Cape (trope): Samaritan
  • Cape Busters: E.A.G.L.E. became this during the "Confession" story arc.
  • Captain Ersatz: And how!
  • Captain Ethnic/Captain Geographic: The further away a hero is from Astro City proper, the more likely they are to be one of these. Word of God confirms that this is quite deliberate, to allow for a strong sense of place when outside of the boundaries of Astro City.
    • Las Vegas' big hero is the neon-themed Mirage.
    • New York is defended by Skyscraper.
    • Boston has the Silversmith (after Bostonian silversmith Paul Revere).
    • Chicago has The Untouchable.
    • Austin, Texas has Lonestar.
    • Atlanta, Georgia (home of Coca-Cola) has The Real Thing.
    • Detroit, the Motor City, has MPH.
    • Australia's most notable heroes include Kookaburra, Barrier, Bullroarer, and the Colonial.
    • British crime lords include The Red Queen, Clever Dick, the Toff and the Headmaster of Crime, while its heroes include The Lion and the Unicorn.
    • Africa has Anansi, who creates illusions.
    • India has a team of super-powered street urchins called The Unclean.
    • Brazilian heroes mentioned are the Birds of Paradise, a trio of flying, scantily-clad women.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late
  • Chess Motifs: The Chessmen are a team of high-tech villains who wear chess-themed armor. For a while, the armor was stolen by The Red Queen.
  • Chrome Champion: Steeljack, despite having been a villain.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Samaritan.
  • Cigar Chomper: Julius Furst.
  • City of Weirdos: Played with by having the residents treat the various super-heroics as part of the appeal of the city. Even when a gigantic Thunder God threatens to level the town, most folks get outside, pull up lawn chairs, and watch the show.
  • Comic Books Are Real: "Where the Action Is" examines the common comic book subtrope of superheroes' lives being documented by comic publishers in-universe. And establishes that all real-life major publishers exist in the series' universe. Some superheroes even attend comic book conventions and sign autographs. Supervillains sometimes read their own comic books and take their displeasure out on the publisher. At the end of the story, when one comic publisher switches to stories about extraterrestrial and "cosmic" characters to try to avoid further attacks from supervillains, their entire building is mysteriously annihilated. That's right, there is an Eldritch Abomination out there somewhere who reads comic books.
  • Comic Book Time: Averted; the Astro City characters age in real time. Notably, Astra, the First Family's daughter, is ten years old in a 1996 story and graduates from school in her own 2009 mini-series.
  • Constantly Curious[context?]
  • Continuity Nod: Occurs fairly often, as befitting a series with a single writer. Most Continuity Nods appear as sidelong references to other characters and events in the chronological past/present, even if the subject hasn't had a published appearance yet.
    • Samaritan briefly mutters "3.2" when he arrives to visit Steeljack in "The Tarnished Angel." This is a reference to Samaritan's Day in the Life story, "In Dreams," where it's shown he keeps track of how many seconds he spends flying from one scene to another.
    • In "Show 'Em All," as Jack-In-The-Box dodges The Junkman's aerosol bombs, he casually mentions having "recent experience" in dodging mid-air explosions. This refers to a single panel from the earlier "Confession" story arc, where Jack-In-The-Box eludes capture from a missile-firing helicopter.
    • Also from "Confession", Brian begins his super-hero career by working as a busboy in Bruiser's Bar & Grill, run by retired Golden Age hero The Black Badge. Both the Black Badge and Bruiser's play small but pivotal roles in the later "Dark Ages" story arc.
  • The Cowl: Confessor, though unlike most of these he's not part of a larger team and doesn't associate with other heroes at all ever. Well, other than the club where he recruited Altar Boy. But he was off duty at the time and specifically looking for a partner.
    • Implied with Black Rapier, we haven't seen a lot of him but he appears to be Batman with fencing (or just a Captain Ersatz Zorro) Plus Junkman describes him as a detective.
  • Crisis Crossover: In "The Nearness of You", a man becomes increasingly obsessed about a woman who keeps appearing in his dreams. It turns out it's because a minor villain caused a Temporal Paradox that threatened the universe and required all of the heroes to stop it -- and the woman is his wife who ceased to exist in the repaired timestream. Yes, the Crisis Crossover is relegated to a background reference.
    • Also appears in the ending of the "Confession" arc, which is basically a Crisis Crossover as seen from the sidelines.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Used liberally. Right from the first issue we're given all sorts of names and concepts that are not given direct exposition, it is simply expected that readers will fill in the gaps with their knowledge of comic book tropes.
    • In particular, the death of a hero named Silver Agent is referenced in quite a few issues, we even see a memorial at one point. Why did he die? Why does the memorial say "To Our Eternal Shame"? This would go unrevealed for a long, long time, until The Dark Age revealed that he was framed for murder by the Mad Maharajah, and the government executed him to show they still had control over superheroes. Using time travel, he saved the entire city mere minutes after his death, and saved the world several times years later, illustrating that he was a hero to the last. The kicker? The Mad Maharajah wasn't even really dead.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Professor Borzoi threatens the Gentleman that he'll mess up his hair and crumple the flower on his lapel. Admittedly, these might actually be threatening statements to a dapper fellow like the Gentleman.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Deconstructed in the Steeljack arc. Steeljack points out that all of the villains he knows (including himself) made millions at one point or another, but he finds all of their widows living in run-down apartments. They all put their fortunes into their next crimes and extravagant spending sprees, telling themselves that the next heist would be big enough to retire on. To a degree, this corresponds to real-life criminal psychology.
    • And this is even specifically pointed out when he interviews the Chain's boyfriend, who mentions that he kept pushing the Chain to sell his invention (which allows him to transfer his mind into a metal body) for space or deep sea exploration, making millions in a perfectly legit way. The Chain would always shoot down the suggestions and insist he didn't understand.
    • It is also deconstructed in the Eisner Award winning "Show Em' All" issue. It shows that while supervillains could get rich from their creations or even by being more clever with their crimes, that's not why they do it.
  • Dark Age: Interestingly, Astro City's Dark Age took place in the 70s (eventually reaching its darkest depth in the early 80s) rather than the 90s, coinciding more with the real-world Bronze Age than anything else.
  • Dark Age of Supernames: Although the regular heroes avoid this trope, it was invoked (usually briefly) for characters who appeared during the series' "Dark Age", such as Stonecold, Broadsword, Hellhound, Pale Horseman, Hollowpoint, and Gloo.
  • Darker and Edgier: One character specifically notes the phenomenon when he sees Street Angel beat up a bar full of bad guys and thinks about how he used to be all smiley, telling jokes all the time and using gimmicky throwing halos. When he sees that the halos he uses now are "high impact ceramics with a steel core", he thinks it's a perfect metaphor for Astro City in the 70s.
    • Another character mentions that while he didn't appreciate the previous generation of heroes, "at least they seemed to mostly care about helping people."
    • This appears to be justified in the Dark Age story arc (part 4) as an extradimensional energy that enters people's minds as they revel in Darker and Edgier behavior. Lampshaded when some characters wonder if the energy turned people Darker and Edgier... or if it was simply attracted to them because of it.
  • Darkskinned Blonde: Infidel is a black man with a platinum blond beard - implicitly his hair changed color as a side effect of time travel much like Samaritan's did.
    • Note that when he uses his powers, his hair turns emerald green, just as Samaritan's turns sapphire blue.
  • Day in the Life: "In Dreams", which covers Samaritan's nonstop heroic-filled day, due to his Chronic Hero Syndrome.
  • Deconstruction
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: In the "Confession" story arc, a squad of alien invaders is armed with holographic crucifixes, restraining cables soaked in holy water, and a two-handed stake-launching revolver. They are thus armed because they know that the nocturnal Confessor is actually a vampire.
  • Destructive Savior: Played for drama in "Old Times".
  • Determinator: The Blue Knight, who once hunted Royal Williams over several months for the crime of unloading stolen merchandise.
    • In the "Dark Age" arc, Charles Williams becomes one when his brother Royal found the man who killed their parents.
  • Dieselpunk: Astro City is a gleaming art deco metropolis full of pulp heros.
  • Dirty Cop: In the "Dark Ages" story arc, Charles' partner Lannie takes weekly bribes from the criminals to overlook their activities. Charles refuses to get involved, rejecting the bribes but refusing to report Lannie to Internal Affairs. He gets shot In the Back as a result.
  • Disposable Superhero Maker: Appears repeatedly, such as a superpower-making scientist's body being recovered after being killed by Back Velvet, Steeljack's superpowered vending machine wanting to keep to individual and unique results, Mock Turtle being the crazed mad scientist who finds out it'd be better to keep his work to himself...
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The villains care about what you write about them. Yes, even the cosmic ones.
    • The Blue Knight kills all of the criminals he encounters, whether mob bosses or Mooks transporting goods.
      • And the Pale Horseman is worse; dispatching supervillains and jaywalkers alike. He incinerates a pair of boys aged 12 and 13 for shoplifting candy.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The Dark Age started life as a proposed sequel to Marvels to be called Cops & Robbers (later Crime & Punishment).
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: One appears in the Pyramid training camp that Royal infiltrates in The Dark Age. He even sports a "Smokey the Bear" hat.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Altar Boy's motive for superheroing is to get respect. He learns better.
  • Dumb Muscle: Jitterjack can literally tear a person apart with his bare hands, but his Hulk Speak and other mannerisms indicate serious mental difficulties.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Played straight with the Williams brothers during the "Dark Age" story arc. After seeing their parents gunned down during a super-hero fight, Royal becomes a jaded petty thief, while Charles becomes a By-The-Book Cop who gets shot In the Back by Dirty Cops; the two eventually become vigilantes in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against their parent's killer. They abandon their quest after realizing what they've become, and retire to run a chartered fishing business instead.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Hanged Man is seen fighting one at the end of the "Confession" arc. It's implied that Shadow Hill may house or imprison more.
    • Specifically, a Shadow Hill resident's daily routine includes ignoring a tentacle monster as it retreats from the daylight while she walks past it on her way to work.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Glowworm (who is African-American) is specifically incensed that his mother was exposed to the Jack-in-the-Box comic that depicted him as a white supremacist. Manny Monkton tries to appeal to reason somewhat by asking how she feels about him robbing banks, and that probably didn't help.
  • Every Episode Ending: Most stories end with a street sign reading "You are now leaving Astro City. please drive carefully." Issues that are part of a larger arc end with "Astro City Department of Public Works - Under Construction."
    • Except for "Pastoral", which ends with "Caplinville City Limits - Come Back Soon!"
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids
  • Evil Twin: Brief mention is made of the Worst Family, evil versions of the First Family from another dimension. The simple fact that these situations can happen motivates a defense attorney to set a new standard for excellence in litigation by bringing up the uncontestable idea that maybe it was his client's evil twin who killed that woman in front of 59 eyewitnesses.
  • Face on a Milk Carton: The cover of Astro City #3.
  • Fad Super: Occasionally employed in a self-aware manner.
    • Flashbacks to The Fifties might feature an appearance by The Bouncing Beatnik.
      • Word of God is that the Bouncing Beatnik actually changes identities to social trends of the time. There's been three known (in-universe) incarnations of the Beatnik, though only two have appeared in stories to date.
    • The "Dark Ages" story arc references the Real Life kung fu fad of the '70s with the Jade Dragons, and the space race with the Apollo Eleven.
    • Older stories have featured brief glimpses of the Frontiersman, complete with coonskin cap.
  • Fag Hag: Beautie, a a human-sized robotic fashion doll, has an apartment above a gay bar and is friends to the local gay community because they understand what it's like to feel separate from the norm (if in a different way from Beautie). It also helps that they don't try to proposition her.
  • Fail O'Suckyname: The Otter, possibly the cutest supervillain name ever. Mind you, he does run around dressed as an otter, so the name clearly doesn't bother him. Maybe he should have called himself the furry old lobster instead.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Pretty much anything fantastical exists in some form, somewhere.
  • Fight Off the Kryptonite
    • The Confessor's Heroic Sacrifice involves taking on men armed with hologram cross-generators, guns that shoot giant wooden stakes, holy water, etc. and succeeding in revealing the Alien Invasion despite all this.
      • And don't forget he wears a shirt with a big, shiny cross on it because the constant pain this causes helps him overcome the vampiric bloodlust.
    • In the "Tarnished Angel" arc, once the conflicted Steeljack finally realizes what he's fighting for and that he's the only one who can save everyone, he's able to overcome the special "vibro-magnetic" weapons that were used to take him down before.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: Samaritan is a time-traveler who averted the Challenger disaster, but rewrote his history so that he has no place in the future. Also Infidel, Samaritan's arch nemesis, is a time-lost villain whose own timeline was inadvertently destroyed by Samaritan's actions. Interestingly, neither of them has much trouble adjusting.[1]
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: The Confessor.
  • Fusion Dance: Jitterjack is a villainous composite example; he appears as two bisected men joined together lengthwise, with more than double the speed, reflxes, and agility of a normal person.
  • Gang of Hats: The Sweet Adelines, a gang made up of barbershop singers.
    • There's also The Menagerie Gang (bank robbers who wear animal-head masks) and the Dominos.
    • Don't forget the Doppel Gang, who commit crimes while impersonating celebrities.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Astro City is a deconstruction and a reconstruction; it focuses on the impact of superheroes on regular people, but also on the inner thoughts of heroes and villains.
    • Even more so, it deals with those issues in ways that are not just negative or cynical as deconstructions often are. For example: One comic deals with a parent bringing his children to Astro City, and deciding that, after a chaotic night full of alien gods, the strength and idealism of the city was exactly the message he wanted to send his children even considering the danger.
  • Genre Savvy: The Junkman is well aware that no matter how clever his lethal toys and traps are, there will invariably be a trick the super-hero will use to disarm them. Thus, he plans for their inevitable escape accordingly.
  • The Ghost: The occult serial killer in the Confessor arc is never seen or even named.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: Inverted in "Serpent's Teeth", after Jack-In-The-Box is attacked by evil future versions of his unborn son (they turned evil because he died and wasn't available as a father). Jack eventually decides to semi-retire from super-heroics to raise the child; he recruits a replacement and relegates himself as Mission Control support.
  • Giving Them the Strip: 'Eyes' Eisenstein gets tied up to a fence by Jack-In-The-Box's entangling confetti. He manages to escape by twisting out of his jacket; leaving it still tied to the fence.
  • Glory Hound: The Conquistador in Tarnished Angel, who is actually the disgraced superhero El Hombre, who misses being famous so much that he stages a supervillain attack so that he can stop it and become famous again.
    • And Crackerjack, a vain hero who loves signing autographs.
  • Glory Seeker: Altar Boy
  • Godiva Hair: Infidel's female homunculus.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Samaritan and Infidel eventually realized the futility in continuing their feud when it became clear that there was no way either of them would ever be able to win, and thus set up a yearly meeting along these lines just to compare notes and talk.
    • It's interesting to note that at this point they don't even seem to regard one another as enemies. There's a lot of mutual respect in that arrangement. Though it should be noted they're still indulging in stratagems to wear the other down, psychologically and emotionally. And Infidel himself admits he isn't sure who will be the victor of that battle.
  • Gold Digger: Charles' wife Darnice from the "Dark Ages" story arc. She flirts with anyone who has money, spends his earnings on personal luxuries, even encourages him to take bribes as a way to supplement their income, then leaves him when he refuses to be a Dirty Cop.
  • The Golden Age of Comic Books: Often referenced, especially in flashbacks and by older supers. One in particular, fighting an ultra-modern superbot, thinks about how "Back in the day, I'd probably whip up a sonic tornado, get him out into the atmosphere or something." Instead, he just punches the shit out of it. With a water heater. And lays waste to six city blocks.
  • Good Guy Bar: The lowbrow Bruiser's Bar, complete with popcorn, longnecks, and arm-wrestling, and Butler's, a private club with formal evening wear and elegantly catered meals.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: The Gentleman is implied to be this -- he apparently was smart enough to avoid capture by the Enelsians, at any rate.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Augustus and Julius Furst smoke a pipe and cigars, respectively, as befits an Omnidisciplinary Scientist and a BFG-toting Badass Normal.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Astra (and her mother and uncle).
  • Hand Blast: The villain HandGun had an arsenal of specialized gauntlets which fire different types of energy beams. When he's killed, his wife is stuck wondering what she's going to do with all that gear...
  • Hate Plague: When Black Velvet is mortally wounded by Jitterjack, her body releases black energy that infects the populace and starts a riot.
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Loony Leo.
  • Hermetic Magic: Simon Magus was specifically designed to look more "European hermetic" than "carnival prestidigitator".
  • Heroic BSOD: Street Angel has one after Black Velvet confronts him with the Fridge Logic of Thou Shalt Not Kill. Specifically, she pointed out that for all of his nonlethal combat tactics, it's not like he ensured medical attention for every internal injury he caused and that many thugs likely died in cold alleys because of Street Angel's beatings.
  • Heroic Bystander: Pete Donacek from "Newcomers", a former hockey player and a hotel doorman at The Classic. He once saved a little girl's life during a giant robot attack. He sees her every day walking home from school, but has never talked to her and doesn't even know her name -- yet knowing that he did that kind of thing for someone, that he went to Astro City and lived the dream of being a real hero...

My name is Pete Donacek. I live in Astro City. I wear a uniform, too.

  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Samaritan is prone to this, on the few occasions you can get him to settle down for dinner and talk.
  • Heroic Vow: Appears in flashback in "Old Times"; in his heyday, Supersonic pledged to himself to always use an original method against each of his opponents. When he's called out of retirement to stop a rampaging robot, he feels shamed because his impending senility has reduced him to simply hitting it until it stops.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Charles Williams gets to wondering exactly how much difference there is between the current generation of "heroes" and the criminals they fight.
  • Hive Mind: The Gorilla Swarm is an army of insect-headed primates with a hive mind. The story "Everyday Life" has them being controlled by a villain (The Silver Brain), making this a double instantiation of the trope.
  • Holding Both Sides of the Conversation: Atomicus using his self-duplicating power to conceal his (rather obvious) secret identity.
  • Homemade Inventions: This is The Junkman's gimmick; all of his weapons are cobbled together from leftover toys, appliances, and whatnot.
  • Hulk Speak: Jitterjack, Gloo
  • Humble Hero: Samaritan attends tribute dinners and accepts awards only because he doesn't want to hurt the feelings of the people who give them to him.
  • Hyper-Destructive Bouncing Ball: The Junkman has trick marbles that are attracted to a target and adhere to him. The more the target tries to dislodge, the faster he attracts them.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Astra of the First Family has some of this going on; she doesn't want to be normal so much as she wants to be treated as if she were.
    • More a case of "I Don't Just Want To Be Special". Yes, Astra is an extremely powerful Energy Being, but she's spent most of her life helping to save the world, while remaining isolated from her peer group for one reason or another.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: The villain Mock Turtle spent his childhood trying to find his way into a magical world like Oz or Narnia or Wonderland. As an adult he became an engineer and finally snapped and became a supervillain after learning that he wouldn't be allowed to pilot the battle suit he had created. His childhood sweetheart may have had something to do with it as well...
    • "The Tarnished Angel" indicates that most B-grade supervillains suffer from this. They're often ordinary folks who happen to come across some sort of Applied Phlebotinum, then try to leverage it into riches and power.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: The Golden Age heroes included the football-themed All-American and his sidekick, the baseball-styled Slugger.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: the title's actually Kurt Busiek's Astro City.
    • Lampshaded by the town's main television station, KBAC.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: One issue of the "Dark Ages" story arc starts off with a martial arts fight between two kung-fu superheroes and a team of flying jetpack ninjas.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Samaritan's civilian identity is as a fact checker at the Astro City Rocket.
  • I Resemble That Remark: Crackerjack laments that his on and off ladyfriend Quarrel is mad at him for flirting with other women, as he flirts with Nightingale.
  • It Tastes Like Feet: Astra Furst says her breakfast tastes "manganese-flavor" (after her mother tells her it is supposed grape-flavor). Still, if anyone is going to know what manganese tastes like, it's probably Astra.
  • I Wish It Was Real: Loony Leo and Beautie.
  • Jerkass: The Point Man, the obnoxious Guy Garner-like 1980s anti-hero.
  • Kill Her Already: Mortally wounded and unlashing a Hate Plague across the city, Black Velvet begs the Silver Agent to stop it by killing her.

Silver Agent: "I can ease your pain. Take it away. Do you want me to do that?"
Black Velvet: "W-will I... live through it?"
Silver Agent: "I'm sorry. That, I can't do."
Black Velvet: "G-good... Do it. Please. Now."

  • Law of Conservation of Normality: Astro City refines this to a fine art. An early issue had a recent immigrant to the town (from Chicago) witness to an attack by a gigantic storm elemental. Heading to the roof to watch the fight between the monster and all of the town's superheroes, he sees a bunch of the people in his building have gathered to watch the spectacle. When he asks one woman where her kids are, she tells him that they're working on their homework, since if the city isn't destroyed, there'll still be school tomorrow. This almost terrifies him into leaving town the next day, but when he sees how quickly the place is cleaned up and how everyone pitches in, it charms him into staying.
    • And the story "Newcomers" reveals that this isn't the case for all new arrivals -- a fair few just can't take it and will go somewhere else. There are superheroes and villains in other cities, but Astro City is just an exceptional Weirdness Magnet.

But that's okay. Somebody's got to live in all the other cities.

  • Legacy Character: The Confessor, Jack-in-the-Box, The Blue Knights, The Silver Centurions
  • Legacy Immortality
    • Passing the Torch: Jack-in-the-Box III
    • Take Up My Sword: The Confessor
      • Also Jack-in-the-Box II, as the current Jack initially took up the mantle to capture the crime boss his father died pursuing.
  • Le Parkour: Practiced by the Trouble Boys, a bunch of young men who admired Jack-in-the-Box. When you can practically keep up with a guy on springs, you're good.
  • Literal Surveillance Bug: Jack-In-The-Box's doodle bug from "Father's Day".
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Even excluding one-shots and background cameos, the lack of a single main character/team (along with the Cryptic Background References and Continuity Nods) causes Astro City to have several dozen characters with regular appearances scattered throughout the series' run. This is especially true in extended story arcs like "Tarnished Angel" and "The Dark Age", which often star characters who only get a brief appearance in other stories.
  • Locked Into Strangeness: Samaritan has his hair turn blue after the Time Travel incident that gives him his powers. He can change it to white at will, but apparently not back to its original black. His archenemy Infidel's hair also changed color as a result of the same incident, going from black to green, though when not using his powers it's blonde.
  • Logging Onto the Fourth Wall: "Pastoral" featured a character looking up the hero Roustabout on herocopia.com. If you looked up herocopia.com at the time, you got taken to the same page as in the comic. These days, herocopia.com is the location of a sanctioned but near-moribund fan wiki.
  • Longing for Fictionland: As a child, the Mock Turtle always was trapped in wardrobes. Everyone thought he was an idiot. But he was trying to find a portal to Narnia. If he could have found a twister or a rabbit hole, he would have tried that too. Once he is an adult and gets to Astro City, where the super human community saved him from some assassins and accepted him, he gets to a building's roof to see all the city, put on her green visor, and all the city looks like an Emerald City.
  • Loser Son of Loser Dad: In "Confession", Brian wants to be a superhero to avoid this trope.
    • And in "The Tarnished Angel", Yolanda Costello -- daughter of the super-villain Golden Glove -- vows to avoid this by being a smarter crook than her dad was.
  • Lower Deck Episode: Some of the most memorable stories are of this trope.
  • Mad Scientist: Infidel combines this with the "Mad Alchemist" and "Mad Wizard" subtypes.
  • The Mafia: The main crime syndicate in Astro City is run by The Deacon. The "Dark Ages" story arc included a gang war between groups led by The Deuce, Bamboo, and Josef "The Platypus" Platapopulous.
  • Meaningful Name: Lots, but these are probably the least obvious examples - Charles and Royal grow up to become a cop and a robber.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Subverted by Crackerjack. An alien assumes his arrogance and bragging indicate his true character, and even when seeing his heroism wrestles with the idea that he might really be The Hero. The subversion is that Crackerjack is a genuine hero, and while he may not as good as he thinks he is by a long shot (it wouldn't take a huge leap to wonder if he thought he were on par with Samaritan), is still genuinely heroic and a highly effective hero.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Briefly referenced in "Confession", when a series of ritualistic killings becomes worthy of a public panic only after an archetypal blonde high-school sweetheart becomes one of the victims.
  • Mistaken for Badass: This happens to Mitch Goodman in "Great Expectations".
  • Mistaken for Gay: Crackerjack doesn't know this, but the old women in his apartment building think he's gay because he's a "theater type" with long hair.
    • Nightingale and Sunbird also face rumors of lesbianism after an unlicensed comic portrayed them as "closer than sisters" and strongly implied there was something going on there.
  • Molotov Cocktail: An angry mob uses them while attempting to storm Shadow Hill during the "Confession" arc.
  • Monster Clown: The Box and Jackson, evil versions of Jack-in-the-Box's son from the future.
  • Monster Protection Racket: El Hombre
  • Multinational Team: The Apollo Eleven, as shown here.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Happens several times in the "Dark Age" story arc, first with Black Velvet and the Street Angel, and later with Royal and Charles Williams.
  • Nebulous Evil Organisation: Pyramid, a recurring worldwide evil organization with an Egyptian theme.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Point Man, a brash, relatively new hero, firing the Innocent Gun and tearing a hole in reality. With supreme effort, the tear was fixed... almost.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Green Man, in addition to being a Swamp Thing Captain Ersatz, is also heavily inspired in appearance by Alan Moore, the best-known writer of Swamp Thing.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Atomicus was just trying to find love and acceptance in a world he couldn't understand, but LoisIrene just had to keep pushing and pushing...
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Jack-In-The-Box
  • Noodle Incident: For the longest time, this was the unexplained fate of the Silver Agent (complete with memorial statue inscribed "To our eternal shame"). It was finally revealed that he had been unjustly executed for a murder he was believed to have committed under mind control because the government wanted to make people know they still had control over metahumans... and he still returned to save the world several times afterwards.
  • Not Me This Time: The story "Adventures In Other Worlds" plays this to eleven. When Astra Furst goes missing, the First Family hunt down all of their usual super-villain enemies, convinced that one of them has captured her. Each villain's latest scheme gets disrupted, even though none of them are guilty of kidnapping Astra... who, instead, has run away from home to experience elementary school (and learn how to play hopscotch).
  • Not So Different: Samaritan and Infidel.
  • Not Worth Killing: Happens to actor Mitch Goodman (who plays the "Crimson Cougar" on TV) in "Great Expectations". He gets attacked in public by the Dark Centurion, who easily pummels him. When Mitch begs for mercy, the Centurion sneers that he's Not Worth Killing and leaves. It was a ruse set up by Mitch and his friends so Mitch could stop being a high-profile celebrity super-villain target.
  • Old Superhero: Several, due to the comic's aversion of Comic Book Time -- Supersonic, The Black Badge, Ironhorse...
  • One Last Job: In "The Tarnished Angel", Steeljack finds that almost all of his fellow low-rent supervillain peers are constantly lining up for that one last job, the one that will lead them to greatness and riches... but it never works out.

"Oh, there was always a new job. And always a sure thing, too. This time was the big one, always. This time, the one that'd end all our troubles."

  • Opening a Can of Clones
  • Orphaned Punchline: Crackerjack gives us "...so the woman says 'You idiot -- This is a duck, not a pig!' And the bartender says "I was talking to the duck!'"
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The Confessor.
  • Papa Wolf: All the male Fursts, when it comes to Astra, but the crowning spot goes to Rex.
  • Patchwork World: The Gordian Knot.
  • Phantom Zone: Samaritan has access to such a dimension, but rather than use it for criminals or epic battles, he uses it as... a storage closet, mainly holding all the awards and plaques he regularly receives. It's also a convenient place to change his clothes when no phone booth is available.
  • Plant Person
  • Post-Modern Magik: Appears twice in the "Confession" story arc.
    • First is with Mordecai Chalk, a cyborg monster-hunter with iron- and silver-enhancements, assorted mystical runes, weapons that fire anti-monster ammunition, and an onboard database that references thousands of occult tomes. He tries to fight an occult serial killer and barely manages to survive.
      • In his defense, what was thought to be just some occult serial killer is implied to be some sort of Eldritch Abomination.
    • Second is an alien squad fighting a vampire with holographic crosses, holy water-soaked cables, and a two-handed stake-launching cannon.
  • Power Fist: Goldenglove's gloves gave him this power, but his daughter discovered they were capable of a lot more.
  • The Real Heroes: Samaritan says this in "In Dreams" when receiving an award from the fire service. He really believes it, though he wishes he could skip the ceremonies and spend more time saving civilians instead.
    • There's also a poster seen in one story of the Silver Agent next to a police officer. "Silver Agent says salute your local heroes!"
    • "Since the Fire" is all about this.
  • Reconstruction
  • Red Right Hand: Royal recognizes Aubrey Jason as his parents' killer by his distinctive facial scar.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Julius Furst is red to his brother Augustus' blue.
  • Redeeming Replacement: Quarrel, whose father was a super-villain with the same name.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Usually played straight, as Kurt Busiek wants to keep the stories recognizable as our world. Averted in Samaritan's origin (which involves him stopping the Challenger space shuttle disaster) and the development of superhuman-related legal defenses in the story "Knock Wood".
  • Reformed but Rejected: Steeljack is the poster boy for this trope, with his metallic skin representing the ever-present stigma of an ex-con.
  • Refugee From TV Land: Loony Leo, a cartoon lion accidentally brought to life by a supervillain.
  • Ret-Gone: In the Tear Jerker short "The Nearness of You."
    • Also the result of Samaritan's first mission. He eliminated the Bad Future and all the loved ones of his original timeline.
  • Ridiculously-Fast Construction: A newspaper clipping from the "Local Heroes" TPB mentions that Honor Guard often uses alien technology to quickly repair damages after super-powered fights.
    • It is also mentioned that quick repairs to the city's infrastructure is Serious Business to Astro City Department of Public Works.
  • Rings of Death: Street Angel's halos.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: A lot of the heroes have shades of this, but the Samaritan has it the worst.
  • Scary Black Man: Hellhound
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Simon Magus' glasses give off a constant glow, as if they're hiding some great power behind them.
  • Science Hero: Augustus Furst of the Furst Family. While the rest of the team charges into battle with their super-powers or BFGs, Gus will hang back and analyze the enemy's weakness to six decimal places, then whip up some Applied Phlebotinum to finish it off. His brother Julius may also qualify, managing to hold his own against all kinds of nasties that give his super-powered niece and nephew trouble with home-built Ray Guns and a big cigar.
  • Secret Identity
  • Self-Made Orphan: Technically speaking, Samaritan qualifies.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Played completely straight in "Knock Wood": a lawyer uses a genius defense to acquit the son of a mafia boss, who then wants to recruit him permanently. When the lawyer refuses, the boss says the trope name nearly verbatim to threaten his family if he turns down the offer...
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Blue Knight is the subject of much rumor and speculation. An ex-cop with a holographic skull face, an actual avenging spirit, etc. Whether or not he's 8 feet tall or has a skull collection is also disputed.
    • The Confessor originally existed as little more than a legend because no video footage or photos of him had ever been taken. This is because he's a vampire. The fact that after Altar Boy succeeded him there were photos made criminals even more confused on the matter, thinking that he's somehow immune to traditional vampire weaknesses and that he'd come back from the dead rather than making the more obvious connection.
  • Shout-Outs: Almost all the streets, neighborhoods and locations in Astro City are named for notable comic book creators.
  • Silent Scapegoat: The Silver Agent makes no effort to defend himself in his murder trial, and makes no appeal or request for clemency. Two minutes after he's executed, he saves the city via time travel. Later, it's discovered that the man he was convicted of murdering had staged the event using mind control and a body double. The Agent's motives for silence are unclear.
  • Silver Age: The debut and death of the Silver Agent (note the name) both coincide with the start and end of the real Silver Age (1958-1973) and represent the beginning and end of Astro City's own glory days of heroism before they're recaptured in the time of the Samaritan.
  • Sinister Minister: Subverted by The Deacon, who is the undisputed boss of all organized crime throughout the city, but not an actual religious figure. This is balanced by his greatest enemy, the Confessor, not only also being religiously themed, but actually being a real priest.
  • Skull for a Head: The Blue Knight wears a face mask that projects a holographic skull.
  • Slave to PR: Explored by Samaritan in "In Dreams", where he forces himself to make public appearances and accept awards -- instead of using the time to save more people -- so that the public won't think he's aloof and uncaring.
  • Slice of Life
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Highly idealistic.
    • Sometimes. It depends on the story, character featured, and arc. For example, the "Dark Age" story arc is (appropriately) very grim and cynical, since it explores how idealistic characters may become enticed into cynicism.
    • While it does have cynical moments, Astro City as a whole is more idealistic than not.
      • It varies by the viewpoint character. Recently (as in the Infidel and Beautie one-shots) Busiek seems to be experimenting with stories where neither the idealistic nor the cynical characters come out constitutionally certain that their core beliefs are correct.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Crackerjack is genuinely a fantastic physical specimen and often shows himself to be a true hero, but his grandiosity is too much for any amount of skill to back up.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Samaritan suffers from this when his super-heroic peers maneuver him into a dinner date with Winged Victory.
  • So Proud of You
  • Starfish Language: The Enelsians.
  • Stealth Pun: The supervillain Slamburger appears to be made of ground beef. Get it?
    • See also the Crossbreed: David (the giant), Daniel (the lion-man), Peter (rock-skinned stone manipulator), Mary (winged flyer), Joshua (sonic screams) and Noah (commands rain and lightning). Though in this case, the characters make it deliberately clear that these are religious references, not much stealth utilized.
    • And the astronauts-turned superheroes in the Apollo Eleven. Why, yes, they did land on the moon. Word of God is that the name came first (from Alex Ross), and the characters followed.
    • Confessor. Vampires can transform into bats. So he is literally a bat-man.
  • Sticky Situation: Glue Gun (who is regarded as a joke by the entire superhero community)
  • Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum: Infidel narrates that he once destroyed the universe in a "fit of pique." After discovering even that wouldn't kill Samaritan (and Samaritan realizing the same for Infidel), they collaborated to put everything back together. Once that was done, they decided to have lunch together once a year.
  • Super Family Team: The Furst Family.
  • Super Dickery: The story "Knight in Shining Armor" is a deconstruction of Lois's brand of Superdickery in the Silver Age Superman/Lois Lane relationship. Irene Merriweather tries to prove herself worthy of Atomicus' love by repeatedly trying to exposing his secret identity, but when she finally succeeds, he gets pissed off and leaves Earth forever -- he never wanted to play that game with her, but was too afraid to admit it. To reiterate so that the gravity of the situation: Irene was so obsessed about discovering Atomicus' secret identity that he, the greatest hero of the Atomic age, left the planet forever.
    • What's more? In her initial inquiries into his identity, word started spreading and Adam Peterson's house was blown up by the local mafia. Afterwards, she still kept trying to prove he was Atomicus.
    • There was also a brief mention in the story "Old Times" -- Supersonic, after an adventure that temporarily gave him 16 exact doubles, took his Lois-type girlfriend Caroleen to a dance as Supersonic and had one of his doubles come as his secret identity of Dale Enright. He did this just to mess with Caroleen.
  • Superhero
  • Superhero Trophy Shelf: Subverted with Samaritan, who has a Phantom Zone that he uses only as storage space for the many awards and souveniers that he receives, and which merely gather the extradimensional equivalent of dust.
    • Played straight with the Trophy Room in Honor Guard's flying base.
  • Super Registration Act: In "Confession", the city government starts a registration act to calm the public during a wave of serial killings. It does not go well. It turns out the Mayor was an alien shape shifter who was trying to contain the heroes before their invasion.
  • Super Villain
  • Strawman Political: Some citizens of Astro City view Winged Victory in a distinctively negative light because of her strong advocacy for women's rights and independence. Similarly, the Crossbreed are typically dismissed as religious fanatics because they believe their powers are a gift from God and proselytize when not fighting super-villains. Characters who get to know them, however, realize they're far more complex and sympathetic than the stereotypical view.
  • Tear Jerker: "The Nearness of You", and how.

No one forgets. No one.

  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Infidel took his name as a badge of honor when people rose up against him as a monster and a jerk and a heretic and, yes, an infidel.[2]
  • Think Nothing of It
  • This Means War: Played for drama in "Serpent's Teeth", when an alternate-timeline version of Jack-in-the-Box's son uses Jack's "Of course you realize, this means war" as motivation to become a Knight Templar on the city's criminals... without realizing Jack was quoting Bugs Bunny.
  • Time Crash: Is a background element in "The Nearness of You."
  • Top-Heavy Guy: Krakkaboom of the 80s Astro City Irregulars, whose bombastic proportions are evidently a side effect of his powers.
  • Trick Arrow: Part of Quarrel's arsenal.
  • Troperiffic
  • Vigilante Man: The Blue Knight, amongst others.
  • Villain Episode: The Eisner Award winning "Show 'Em All".
    • As well as the amusing "Voice of the Turtle", which is part of a larger arc starring a small-time superpowered hood.
  • Walk, Don't Swim: Steeljack does this in the "Tarnished Angel" story arc.
  • Warts and All
  • Weirdness Magnet: Even thousands of years before the City existed, the land attracted heroes of legend, including the super-powered kind.
  • Welcome to the Big City: Altar Boy gets one of these.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Explored in the "Dark Age" story arc when Royal and Charles go undercover as agents of Pyramid.
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: One issue featured a flashback to The Assemblyman, who built weapons and gadgets for anyone with the cash.
  • Whip It Good: El Hombre
  • Wonder Twin Powers: The Jade Dragons are a brother/sister martial arts team who can summon a giant dragon by linking their arms together.
  • You Are What You Hate: Done intentionally in the "Astro City: Dark Age" story arc. Royal cops to the fact that while he and Charles didn't care for superheroes and villains, by the mid-80s they had almost become a vigilante team of their own. Eventually Royal starts to see that at that point there was virtually no difference between them and Aubrey (and Stonecold and the Blue Knights and even the Street Angel).
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: Humorously deconstructed in "Show 'Em All" -- the Junkman pulls off a major heist without a hitch, and lives a life of luxury while everyone wonders who the brilliant criminal was who committed the robbery. However, he is soon frustrated at not getting recognition for the coup and the public's assumption that the heroes caught the criminal somehow. This drives him to repeat the plan again -- albeit with deliberately-induced minor flaws -- until he becomes famous for the initial robbery. He is eventually arrested and sits through a high-profile trial, at which point he escapes the consequences anyway.
  • You Killed My Father: Aubrey Jason, a Pyramid agent, killed Royal and Charles Williams' parents during a fight with the Silver Agent. When Royal learns his identity twenty years later, he uses that information to give his dying brother Charles the will to live on.
  • You Know I'm Black, Right?: A boisterous, money-grubbing comic publisher did not know that the supervillain Glowworm was black before depicting him as a white supremacist in a Jack-in-the-Box story. The results were not pretty.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: In one story, the Golden Age villain Professor Borzoi uses a Belief Ray to make a giant gorilla attack the crowd at a movie theater. A side effect of the ray brings the cartoon character Loony Leo to life. When Leo smashes the ray, he and the gorilla start to fade away, but The Gentleman convinces the crowd to believe in Leo and saves him. That's how Leo's troubles began...
  • Zero-G Spot: Referenced in the Astra Special.

Notes

  1. Samaritan had to study our era extensively, while Infidel despises his home time period as being full of ignorant plebes, so it was easier than you might think.
  2. Granted, the guy really is pretty darn evil long before this.