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Arrowsmith #2

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Carlos Pacheco (p), Jesus Merino (i)

Publisher: Cliffhanger Comics

Plot:
The book opens in New York City where we find young Fletcher Arrowsmith at a posh party being held for the service men about to be sent overseas, and while he's barely mastered his flier training, let alone prepared for combat, we see Arrowsmith is looked upon as a brave solider, and this earns him the attention of a young woman. We then look in on his training, as we find he's having a bit of a rough go when it comes to controlled flight, as it would appear that the flying magic requires the user to go with the flow so to speak, and Arrowsmith is simply trying to hard. However, when an accidental, but moderately successful flight shows him & his drill sergeant that Arrowsmith is capable of mastering the spell, we see he slowly starts to show signs of progress. We also see that his success has earned him the animosity of a fellow soldier who used to be the squad's star pupil until Arrowsmith's arrival. We then join him while his off enjoying a three day leave with his young lady friend, and we see Arrowsmith is growing increasingly concerned by her belief that he's a highly cultured gentleman, when in reality he's just a kid from the country. When he gets into a fist-fight with a fellow solider, we see he lets her know the truth before taking off. We then join him later that night as he stumbles his way back to the base, where he makes a rather unsettling discovery.

Comments:
To anyone who has seen any war films that follow a solider through basic training (e.g. Full Metal Jacket, Biloxi Blues) than this issue is going to feel a bit familiar, as Kurt Busiek seems to have a check list that he's making his way down, from the super belligerent drill sergeant, to the sneaking back into base camp after getting royally tanked. However, even with these familiar trappings this issue does benefit tremendously from it's use of fantasy & magic elements, as the even the scenes that offer up the predictable outcomes are highly engaging thanks to the novelty that the fantasy elements bring to this familiar environment. From the scene where Arrowsmith earns himself the ire of his drill sergeant for his poor landing, to the moment at Ellis Island as he's watching the new immigrants file their way past the almost bored immigration officers, Kurt Busiek does seem to understand that the best way to make these elements seem even more wondrous is to have everyone but the eyes of our narrator treat these fantastic elements as mundane. I mean there's a wonderful conversation in the opening pages where we see a spoiled rich girl is offering up her opinion of the dwarves & trolls that are repairing a busted water main in the streets below, and the commentary offered by the dwarves of the quality of the pipe they're fixing was also rather cute.

There's also a fairly solid revelation in the final pages as Arrowsmith discovers crates that are essentially filled with the dog-tags of the fliers that have entered this war before him, and I can't think of a more effective means of showing the readers the idea that Arrowsmith has gotten himself into a very dangerous situation. Now Kurt Busiek further tips his hand by giving us a look at a letter that was sent to the higher ups demanding that the training of the new recruits be given the fast track, as the war effort is running desperately low of fliers, and this in turn would also explain why his training officers were willing to look the other way when it came to Arrowsmith being a couple years younger than the lower age limit. Now one imagines that since he's our lead character Arrowsmith is going to survive the dangers he's up against (at least until the final issue), and based on the tone of the letter I imagine next issue will have Arrowsmith involved in the war effort. The fact that he's got a best friend in the fliers with him also opens the door to his getting a fairly graphic lesson of how dangerous it is to be a flier, but I'm getting too far ahead of myself. As it stands the last pages of this issue simply does a solid job conveying a nice sense of impending doom for our protagonist, and there's nothing quite as good at building a sense of excitement as reminding the readers that our hero stands a very good chance of dying.

Carlos Pacheco is one of the best artists working in the industry as his name on a project is pretty much a guarantee that it's going to look fantastic, and this time out is no exception. Of course it helps that he's been given such an artist friendly story, as I can't think of a better setting for a visual showcase than a series that is populated by creatures like trolls & dragons, and starring a lead character who is training to be a flier. The world at war environment also lends itself quite nicely to the artist, as while this issue doesn't give us a look at the horrors playing out across the ocean, there are still some very solid visual cues, from the desperation on the faces of the people & creatures filing through Ellis Island, to the very powerful discovery of the crates of orichalcs that tell us that being a flier is not conducive to long life. In fact I've always want to see a war movie that focused on the poor guys who carried the flame throwers, as I believe their average life expectancy on a field of battle was 30 seconds, and I've always wondered about the mindset of a person who would rush into battle with what was essentially a big target strapped on their backs. In any event the art is gorgeous, as the page is littered with detail, and the flying sequences in particular manages to convey a wonderful sense of freedom, that act as a nice visual reminder of why Arrowsmith has chosen this dangerous path.

Final Word:
When I first heard about the concept for this miniseries, I must confess I wasn't overly convinced, as the idea of a World War I story set on an Earth where magic coexisted alongside technology didn't exactly sound like it had a great deal of potential. However, while Kurt Busiek is pretty much playing with the conventional trappings of the war genre, I'm very impressed by how well he's mixed in the fantasy elements, as much like Bill Willingham's work on the "Fables" series, Kurt Busiek shows a very clear understanding of how to balance the two elements, so that reality isn't overwhelmed by the fantasy, and visa-versa. This is an extremely well crafted story, and it's probably Kurt Busiek's strongest work outside of his work on Astro City. It also doesn't hurt that he's got Carlos Pacheco providing the art, which makes this a truly impressive creative combo. A likeable lead character, and a skilful execution of its core idea makes this a miniseries that miniseries that I strongly recommend.



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