Comics That Make Tom Cry – Astro City #1/2


My father once called me a "silky boy." It was because I was soft. Hunting wasn't really my thing and I couldn't care less about cars. I loved reading books and I got sunburned easily. Beyond all of that,  I believe my father could intuitively sense something deep within my personality. He somehow knew that I had a weak spot when it comes to emotional moments in comics. A well written and emotional scene in a comic will bring me to tears. That is why I have to be selective about what I read on public transportation. I don't want to freak out the guy next to me by being on the edge of gentle man-sobbing.

There are a number of stories that pull that feeling out of me. Every couple weeks I am going to share one of them with you. Take great care with this information. Imagine Superman inviting a stranger into his Fortress of Solitude and handing them a piece of kryptonite. I am entrusting you with the power to make me sob. There may come a day when I need to be stopped. One of you will have to step up to use this knowledge. The first bullet in the arsenal is The Nearness Of You from Astro City Vol.2 #1/2. The strange numbering is because it was a special edition Wizard issue. In the late 90s, early 2000s Wizard was putting out special edition one shots of various continuing series. These stories would supplement the main series but they weren't necessarily essential to the story. 

If you are unfamiliar with Astro City, it is a set of stories focusing around super hero exploits in the fictional city of Astro City. The series features fantastic art from co-creator Brent Anderson, and iconic covers by Alex Ross. Written by co-creator Kurt Busiek, the stories focus on the more human elements of a superhero universe. Astro City focuses just as much on how a hero feels as on what a hero does. It is an exploration of the human condition and how people relate to each other in extraordinary circumstances. I love when the book can give insight into how the average man on the street relates to the superhero. 

The Nearness Of You focuses on Michael Tenicek, an average citizen of Astro City. Michael's life is spiraling out of control due to strange dreams he has been having. It is a dream about a woman named Miranda. In the dream he knows her laugh, how she dances, and that she bites her nails. The dreams are incredibly vivid and they are haunting Michael. He becomes obsessed with trying to figure out who Miranda is. Is she someone he met in college? Is it a schoolmate from childhood? His professional life is falling apart. His friends perceive him as sleep walking through his life. He can't seem to keep a girlfriend. The dreams continue to get worse until a strange visitor comes to Michael in the night. It is the Hanged Man, a Spectre like character in the world of Astro City. Hanged Man has arrived because Michael's dreams are disturbing reality and Michael needs to know the truth about his dreams. Through a series of visions, Hanged Man explains an epic battle that has happened in time. A disgruntled villain by the name of the Time-Keeper traveled back to the beginning of time to wipe out all heroes. Time itself was altered. Eventually the heroes were able to beat Time-Keeper and rebuild history. 

The problem is that the reconstruction has flaws. Before the battle in time, Miranda was Michael's wife. In the newly constructed history her grandparents never met, and she was never born. Miranda never really existed in this new world.  Michael still has fragments of memories, and their presence is disturbing the fabric of reality. Now that Michael understands, the disturbance will go away. The Hanged Man is travelling the earth to deal with these disturbances. Now for the moment that always gets the water works going. Hanged Man offers to wipe Michael's memories, since there is no way to bring Miranda back. Michael refuses and asks Hanged Man if anyone asks to forget. Hanged Man says no and leaves. We are left with Michael sleeping and understanding who Miranda is.

This story works for me on a lot of levels. First of all I love the cover for the story. It looks like the standard sort of cover you would get on an "event" superhero comic. It doesn't give away the type of story that is waiting inside. Some would say that the cover might seem misleading, but I think the story is just a different way to look at a "crisis" type tale. It has just as much drama, and the stakes are just as high.

The impetus of the story is familiar to comic fans. We are used to stories where the nature of reality itself is capable of changing. The quick panels of the epic battles hint to what the standard comic book story would have been. Heroes gathered together, travelling through time, beating back the villains, dealing with the requisite setbacks. Characters can disappear, have their histories change, or come back from the dead. That is something that we expect from our superhero comics. The shifting world of a sci-fi soap opera. 

The magic of this issue is that the sci-fi opera is happening to an average person. Often in comics we can overlook the nature of the fictional world. A world where villains can shift entire continents, or extinguish the sun, or re-write history itself. The role of the average person is usually to be rescue fodder for the heroes. They get in trouble, the hero swoops in, saves them, and then just fade into the background. They don't really interact all that much except to either hate the misunderstood hero, or stand in awe of the glorified hero. This story gives us a chance to peak into some real interaction. The heroes' actions have real repercussions for the citizens of the world, repercussions that we can understand.

I read this story and I think about my wife. What would my life be like without her? Who would I be? What would I do? The idea of having someone you love simply disappear from existence is terrifying. No grave to mourn. No one else who remembers. No mementos of a life together. As horrible as that thought seems, it isn't the reason that this story makes me cry. It is the scene where Hanged Man says that no one chooses to forget. I have always read that scene as a celebration of the nature of love and of the human spirit. We would rather have love and lost than not love at all. To forget would ease the pain, but it is good to feel that pain sometimes. It functions as a celebration of what I believe superhero stories are built on; the good of human nature in defiance of the pain of the human condition.

If you are interested in reading this story, it is collected in the Astro City: Confession trade paperback. Go ahead and just get all the Astro City books. They are good. 

Tom Katers is not afraid of his feelings. It is the voices he is concerned about.


  1. I think I still have this. I’ll go dig it out of a long box and have a good cry.  A good manly cry.

  2. I recall getting a sizable lump in my throat while reading this in the trade. Powerful writing. I love this stuff. Thanks for reminding me.

    Any chance the next iFanboy t-shirt is going to say "I’m a Silky Boy" across the front of it?  

  3. The thing that frustrates the shit out of me about Astro City is the art.  I can’t stand it.  I’ve read the series in entirety through about 5 times ’cause the stories soooo good, but I could never get over the pencils.  Who knows though.  Maybe in a few years my tastes will change.  Used to hate Corbin, but I’m starting to get used to him.

    In regard to tearing up, I think I Kill Giants is honestly the only comic that’s led me to tears.

  4. This story is A-MAZE-ZING! Not to mention it’s contained in a trade with a main story which makes what Geoff Johns and Bendis do look like amateur hour.

  5. Love this idea!, Keep the tears coming Tom 🙂

  6. Yeah, I Kill Giants made me actually cry. I think before then it was Too Cool to be Forgotten.

  7. This is a particularly excellent issue of Astro City.

  8. The last issue of Y: The Last Man really does it. Specifically those few pages with Ampersand. Yeah. I turn into a little girl for those issues.

  9. Strangers in Paradise made me cry a number of times. 

  10. Green Arrow / Black Canary #4 when Ollie’s son, Conor gets shot and Ollie is screaming into the air hoping Superman will hear him… *snif*    The gorgeous Cliff Chiang art only made matters worse.

  11. All Star Superman: #6: Funeral in Smallville, When Clark can’t hear Pa’s heartbeat and he flies back so fast his hair catches fire. he’s screaming "I can save him. I can save everyone." and then the eulogy. "He taught me the measure of a man lies not in what he says but what he does." Morrison makes me cry, and it’s not from a headache.

  12. This is easily my favorite issue of Astro City. I find it more uplifiting than sad when it’s revealed at the end that nobody chooses to forget.

  13. "Dear Billy" from Garth Ennis’ Battlefields had me doin’ the mansob.  And agree with Crumulent about I Kill Giants too.

  14. This is one of my top 5 single issues of all time. Kurt Busiek may have done his finest work between those covers. Love it.

  15. "I Kill Giants" made me tear up.  It’s weird but this article makes me want to read that story again.  Speaks to a lot of things but most importantly how good that story is.  Now I guess I gotta go long box diving for this one too.

  16. Last week Chris Sims wrote a serious essay over on Comics Alliance. This week Tom writes a serious article about a serious book. 

    Where’s my comedy? Where are my dancing monkeys? I want to be entertained, damn it. I don’t want to *choke* think. 

    I’m gonna go read that last issue of Y: The Last Man and cry again. Poor Ampersand. They said he wouldn’t feel anything. They lied

  17. Great article as always Tom. Looking forward to this being a regular.



  18. i have to agree with spoons, the closest i have come to tears while reading a comic was i kill giants

  19. Holy crap Tom that’s the one issue of ac I can’t take on a bus. It’s a gut wrencher. Again Another fantastic article.

  20. Damn Tom, you’ve got me a little tear-y eyed here reading the article.

     Well done!

  21. I remember being disappointed Josh, Ron and Conor didn’t mention this issue when they did their video of Astro City. It’s really one of the greats.