REVIEW: ‘Astonishing Times,’ Issue #1

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Astonishing Times #1

Astonishing Times #1 is a ComiXology original series written by Arris Quinones & Frank Barbiere, illustrated by Ruarí Coleman, colored by Lauren Affe, and lettered by Taylor Esposito. 15 years after a mysterious “Cataclysm,” the world seems to have taken superheroes for granted. Reporter Noah Sans is approached by the mysterious sword-wielding hero known as Kokin, who needs his help in solving the mystery of the Cataclysm. Noah is then drawn into a web of mystery-and possibly murder, as a mysterious force is hellbent on making sure the truth doesn’t get out.

Multiple creators seem to be tackling projects that redefine various aspects of the superhero genre, which isn’t surprising considering that said genre is one of the biggest pillars of pop culture to date. From shows like Invincible to comics like Crossover and Radiant Black, the genre has been remixed, challenged, and blended with other genres. Astonishing Times seeks to do something different: as explained by one of Noah’s columns in-story and in interviews with the creative team, the series is looking to explore WHY we love superheroes as a concept and why they continue to matter in the years and even decades following their creation.

A large part of what makes this premise actually work is the pedigree of the creative team. Quinones is the host of the Variant Comics YouTube channel, which covers the origins and storylines of various comic book heroes. Barberie has written for Destiny 2 and Avengers World, both of which feature first-class worldbuilding and unique characters that populate said worlds. Together, they manage to create a superhero universe that feels both lived in and fresh at the same time. There’s a sense of history, including the aforementioned “Cataclysm,” and people in this world cosplay as superheroes and line up to watch their movies and read their comics-which isn’t that far from superhero fans in the real world.

However, the biggest draw is the main character. Noah appeals to the writer/journalist in me: he’s passionate about his work, he struggles to find the right words, and he also had a strong relationship with his late father, who himself was a journalist. Noah’s career is even given life by his captions, which Esposito frames as text sections in a newspaper similar to Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels. Noah’s passion extends to his work-he manages to talk his editor into keeping his column-and his home life with girlfriend Renee and her daughter Harper, as he struggles to write the piece that will solidify his career and help them overcome financial straits. Much like Peter Parker and Clark Kent, Noah’s heart is his main superpower.

Coleman and Affe help bring the world to life with their art, which bears a rather strong resemblance to Mark Brooks’ work. The heroes of this world have fairly unique costumes; Kokin’s, for example, is laden with ninja weaponry and bears a frightening mask resembling a demonic oni. Kokin himself is a very tall, muscular man with a thick beard and hair, which serves as a contrast to Noah’s wiry frame. Lighting also helps set the mood for certain scenes; the opening is bright and sun-drenched, representing a world you could easily see heroes in, while scenes set at night have a darker, more ominous tone. I also appreciate that most of the characters in this series are BIPOC and Affe manages to give their skin the correct tone: Noah’s is light brown, Renee’s is olive, and Kokin is tanned. I’ve seen various comics where characters were colored lighter than they usually are, so I’m glad the artists are clear about how the characters look in this world.

Astonishing Times #1 is a unique entry into the superhero genre, as its creative team intends to explore why these characters have the resonance they do. Not only would I recommend this to longtime superhero fans, but I would also recommend it to those who potentially feel overwhelmed by the genre, as it truly feels like a unique approach was taken in crafting this series.

Astonishing Times #1 is available now via ComiXology.


Astonishing Times #1
5

TL;DR

Astonishing Times #1 is a unique entry into the superhero genre, as its creative team intends to explore why these characters have the resonance they do. Not only would I recommend this to longtime superhero fans, but I would also recommend it to those who potentially feel overwhelmed by the genre, as it truly feels like a unique approach was taken in crafting this series.