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Arrowsmith #5

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2004
By: Jason Cornwell



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

Publisher: Wildstorm Comics

The Plot:
After he accidentally overhears a conversation that leaves some concerns about the magic spells that are being given to soldiers for use against the enemy, we see Arrowsmith is part of an attack that leaves him even more troubled, as an attack that was only supposed to destroy the church in the middle of a town goes completely off the rails and ends up destroying the entire town. We then see injuries that he suffered during this attack leave Arrowsmith stranded far behind enemy lines.

The Good:
This issue stands up as one of the most action intensive of the entire miniseries, as out of all the battles we've received up to this point this is the first one where I got the sense that Arrowsmith had gone past the point where he would be able to walk away from this fight. In fact the scene where he's surrounded by the green flames and those creatures advance out of the fire toward him I was starting to convince myself that Kurt Busiek had tricked us by having Arrowsmith writing this letter from the other side, as things looked pretty bad for the character at this point of the story. I also rather enjoyed the simple fact that the issue doesn't end with him making a narrow escape back to safety, as while he gets away from the immediate danger, he's quickly knocked out of the sky well behind enemy lines, and next issue should be quite entertaining as he tries to make his way back home. The book also does a great job of capturing the idea that this is a war being fought with magic, as the idea that the weapons used against the enemy in this issue are giant fire lizards that were magically contained inside glass vials is a wonderfully cool idea, that is perfectly realized when the attack goes completely off the rails. There's also a nice secondary plot in which Arrowsmith overhears a conversation that seems to imply the magic they're using might be causing harm to the soldiers being asked to use it on the enemies.

Carlos Pacheco is a member of a small group of artists whose name in the credit box is enough to make me pick up a book, and he's yet to disappoint, as he's far and away one of the best artists working today. It also doesn't hurt that he seem to be quite good at picking out projects that play to his strengths as an artist, as this miniseries is full of fantastic elements that allow his work to shine. From the double-page spread of a wartime Paris, to the devastating shot of the town of Logan being consumed by the magical fires, this issue is full of fantastic pieces of art. The shot of the fire lizards emerging out of the flames is also an exceptional piece of art, and the art also does a commendable job conveying the horror of the situation, as we literally see people being burned alive. I also have to give full credit to this issue's cover, as not only is it a striking image that cast a very real sense of doom over our lead character, but the level of detail on this cover is truly amazing.

The Bad:
I realize that it's a little late in the game to be making noise about the main character, but I find myself becoming increasingly concerned that Kurt Busiek hasn't done much to develop Fletcher Arrowsmith beyond the square-jawed do-gooder that we started out with. I mean he's involved in a romance that is pretty much the definition of conventional, and this issue has him thrown into a situation where he's part of a horrific attack that gets out of hand and the best he can do is act horrified, and make a failed rescue attempt. I guess what I'm trying to say here is I'd like to see him exhibit some character traits that don't present the character in his best light. I want the character to get angry at the things he's being called upon to do. I want to see him do something that reflects negatively on him, as right now Kurt Busiek has this story being told by a character who is coming across as almost too perfect, with the only negative thing one could possible say about him is that he's a bit naive. I not saying the book has to turn him into a jerk, but even Superman, the ultimate boy scout hero, has days where one would cast a nervous glance his way. I also have to say that I felt the narrative device of the letter was a bit of a mistake, as it's a little difficult to maintain the illusion that out hero is in real danger, with a continuous reminder that he has to survive this encounter so that he can write a letter about it.

Cry Havoc, And Let Slip The Fire Salamanders Of War:
A fairly exciting issue that is somewhat undone by the decision to have the action narrated in the past tense, which made it a bit difficult to believe that our brave hero was in mortal danger, as how could he write about the situation if he was killed before he could write this letter? Still this stands up as my favorite issue of the miniseries thus far as the action is wonderfully intense and the big attack manages to perfectly capture the horrors of wartime, while also acting as a fairly solid reminder of the idea that this war is being fought using magic. The issue also manages to place our hero in a fairly dicey situation as we see his attempted rescue of a young child leaves him stunned, and at the mercy of an advancing group of rather sinister looking creatures. There's also a couple of interesting side-plots as we see the people who a crafting these spells are being called upon to deliver spells without much time to figure out whether there may be harmful side-effects of the soldier being asked to deploy these spells. The scene where Arrowsmith sees the gods abandon the earthly realm was also a powerful little moment.



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