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Ten Moments that Mattered: Astro City #16's Poignant Twist

Ten Moments that Mattered: Astro City #16's Poignant...

By Tim Beedle Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

With a new year on the horizon and the holidays upon us, it’s a good time to take a look back at 2014 to remember and remark upon a few of its key DC Entertainment moments. Some of these moments played out on the comic book page or the screen, others were real-life happenings that shaped what we’ll be reading and seeing over the years ahead. If you’re a DC Comics fan or just an entertainment fan in general, they all mattered. It’s been a great year full of both ups and downs, but these are the big ones. These are our “Ten Moments that Mattered” for 2014.

It was one of the best twists in one of the greatest comic books of the year, and we’re going to ruin it for you. So if you want to read the amazing and absolutely essential Astro City #16 unspoiled, this is your last chance.

Still here? Well, unfortunately it’s impossible to discuss the importance of Kurt Busiek and Brent Eric Anderson’s excellent one-shot without revealing the story’s ending. Like most issues of Astro City, issue #16 is a done-in-one super hero tale told through a filter of human complexity. Looking back from the present day at the teenage relationship between a Firestorm-like hero named Starbright and his young arch-villain Simon Says, it reveals a sympathetic and hopeful relationship between hero and villain, with Starbright clearly wanting to help the unwilling Simon Says rather than fight and defeat him. To that affect, he makes an agreement that sees the two teaming up for a day in exchange for helping Simon throw a 16th birthday for himself with other teenagers from his former high school.

In doing so, it’s revealed that for all his angry destruction, if you put aside his super-villain status, Simon is an ordinary teenager, with the same needs, interests and desires of other teenagers. His villainous turn was largely driven by anger at the cruel bullying he received in school for coming off as a little different.

It’s a neat revelation, but not exactly a rare one for comics. No, that comes later as we return to the present day and discover that the hero narrating and looking back at the past isn’t Starbright, but a now fully female Simon Says—who has adopted Starbright’s powers and is trying to settle on a female name. Sadly, Starbright died in action shortly after Simon’s birthday, and his death, along with his final words to her about being true to herself and the revelation of Starbright’s human identity motivates Simon to accept and embrace her gender identity. It also convinces her to change her ways, trying instead to use her intellect for good.

The impact of the story is diminished by our brief summary—Busiek’s script is a master class in flashback use and the dialog is quite moving in places. But the importance of it remains. This is a story about a transgender protagonist told with understanding, complexity, respect and warmth. It tosses to the curb any overused, hurtful tropes and instead presents (as well as any 25-page comic can) the very real difficulties faced by men and women struggling and coming to terms with their gender identity, while ultimately ending on a note of hope. It’s a story that can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone, but for some, it could stand as a true touchstone. It’s the sort of comic that deserves to be read and discussed, if for no other reason than to remind us that there’s no shortage of ways that super heroes can inspire us. All of us.

Be sure to check again tomorrow for another moment that mattered in 2014.