By Brenda Clough
I am famously a slow adopter — good grief, I knit and write fiction! I may acquire my very first laptop this year, if the budget holds up, and only this month did I pick up a copy of the Beatles’ Greatest Hits Vol. 1. So it was that I didn’t discover Kurt Busiek’s Astro City series until recently, more than a decade after its first appearance. Oh the bliss, of finding something wonderful that is not new! Because then you can scarf up all the issues and devour them in an orgy, happily delve into wikis and fan sites, and in general have a wildly self-indulgent time.
Unquestionably the most superb volume of this series is the arc collected in vol. 2 of the graphic novels, Confession. It has everything your heart could possibly desire: The ambitious young sidekick. An athletic detective crimefighter in a sweeping black cloak. A serial killer. Religious prejudice and political persecution. Stunning Alex Roth painted covers. Tragic origin accounts and heroic demises. The attempted alien invasion of Earth, space fleet, storm troopers, BEMs and fifth column all complete. Cliffhangers like a thunderclap and a plot like a Coney Island roller coaster. Secrets everywhere: in basements, behind grand facades, under surplices, in spaceships in low-Earth orbit, even in the reflection of a mirror!
Oh, but there’s more. This is a story of fathers and sons, and about the nature of heroism. Why do good, when nobody appreciates it? You flip the pages and it looks like nonstop excitement and rockin’ action. But a surprising proportion of pages are devoted to the Confessor and his sidekick in their secret HQ, chewing over these issues. I assure you, the scenes are taut and fully structural, and will go down like butter.
Reading this volume is wildly exciting, like climbing a peak in Darien and viewing a thrilling new world that is familiar. When young writers moan about the difficulty of finding an original idea, this is the work I point them at, because it demonstrates how over-rated, how unimportant, how negligible mere originality is. Not a word or an incident or a character in Confession is novel. You can tell by my summary (which I hope you appreciate does not spoil the plot) that everyone who has read comic books any time in the past twenty years has seen this story before. And yet the power of the writing is such that the creation rings true and original on the counter of your imagination, like a newly minted silver dollar. The creators shuffled all the standard cards and dealt out a brand new hand.
And possibly all writers should get hold of the introduction, written by none other than Neil Gaiman. In which he confides the secret, the true secret, of all great fiction. It is reprinted in one of his collections, but to save you googling, I am going to quote it in its entirety:
"There is room for things to mean more than they literally mean."
This is it, the concept. This is all that we do. Go read Confession, and see it made real.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Press.