Astro City #10 by Kurt Busiek & Brent Eric Anderson
For the past three issues, readers have watched as Winged Victory’s life has crumbled apart around her. She had always prided herself on being more than simply a super-powered heroine, but also a role-model. She saw herself as a shining example to other women that they never had to accept being beaten down in any sense. To this end she opened women’s centers which were more than shelters for troubled women. These centers gave women a place to heal and learn. Most importantly, it gave them the space to find not merely a purpose for their lives, but the strength to realize it. In many ways, it is the good works of these centers that Winged Victory considers her greatest legacy.
So, when the villain Karnazon, sets about destroying Winged Victory’s life, he begins with sabotaging her work with women. He replaces former residents with doubles who smear Victory’s good name. These imposters claim she was always in league with the criminals she battled, their fights as faked as any film brawl. Her real motive was to lure unsuspecting women to her centers where she would turn them into cogs for her malicious enterprises. Winged Victory challenges these accusations as strongly as possible, while the falsified evidence continues to accumulate. Yet even if she does clear her name in a court of law, what of public opinion? Could it ever be possible for to recover her good will with the people?
Throughout this arc, Busiek has revisited the conflict which Winged Victory feels within herself. She is grateful for the support and assistance from fellow heroes The Confessor and Samaritan (the latter also being her lover), yet cannot shake the sensation that she should be working alone. How can she be a role model of independence for women, when she requires help from men herself? Shouldn’t she be able to do it all on her own? Busiek elaborates this theme when Winged Victory is summoned before The Council of Nike. The Council is a gathering of women who bestowed on Winged Victory her powers for the sole purposes of being a role model to women. The Council begins by berating Winged Victory for the bad publicity, yet, quickly moves to what they consider to be her worst offense: publically allying herself with Samaritan and other male heroes. The Council seems to imply that the second charge has tarnished her more in their eyes than the first.
The answer that Winged Victory ultimately gives The Council is one which accepts both potential and limitation. There are times when it is good to stand alone, while there are others when comrades are necessary. She is not a trophy for Samaritan to brag about, or an ornament amidst the male members of The Honor Guard. No, she is their equal who has earned her place in their ranks. Does she rely on them? At times, sure, just as at others her aid is required by them. She knows that she is not perfect, yet what use would she be if she were a perfect role model? Her imperfections make her human, something to which we can all relate. During the course of this issue, a role is played by an ordinary young man, who had come to Winged Victory seeking shelter, something never granted to a male applicant. Winged Victory sees a great potential in this young man, musing if maybe he could grow into a great hero himself someday, even if his heroism consists of nothing more than being “a good man who’ll leave the world a better place than he found it.”
Time and again, Busiek returns to stories of everyday people swept into the sphere of heroes. He uses this perspective not only to maintain a sense of wonder, but also that of example. As readers, it’s easy to look at Captain America or Superman or Winged Victory and say “of course they have the ability to do the right thing—for them it’s simple.” Busiek reminds us of the power of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. (For an early example, think back to the chapter of Marvels where Phil Sheldon wrestles with mutant prejudice). None of us live in isolation from others. We have our support systems, our friends and family who lend us strength in the tough times. In return, we lend a hand or provide a shoulder when it is their turn. Even if all we do is help a friend through a troubling time in life, we have made a difference. Within our own tiny corner of the world, we have left things better than we found it.
Busiek is working at the height of his powers in this issue and the results are truly lovely.