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Arrowsmith/Astro City

Posted: Sunday, May 9, 2004
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Brent E. Anderson and Carlos Pacheco (p), Brent E. Anderson and Jesus Merino (i)

Publisher: Cliffhanger! Comics

The Plot:
The Arrowsmith story looks in on the headquarters where the magic spell that are used on the battlefields are created, and the continual rush for new, more destructive spells is starting to weigh on the head wizard, as the failure rate of the new spells continues to increase. The Astro City story looks in on a pair of young children who are on hand to witness an early battle of the Honor Guard, but they are more impressed by a meeting with the Black Badger, who looks to be one of the first minority heroes in Astro City.

The Good:
The Arrowsmith story is the stronger story of the two, as it is able to tell a more engaging story, as we get a look at a magic user who is responsible for the spells that are used by the soldiers, and the idea that the desperately needed spells are being rushed to the battlefield doesn't exactly allow much testing and experimentation, results in a man who is haunted by the idea that the weapons he's sending out to the troops are not nearly as effective as they need to be. In fact I was so intrigued by this character and his personal crisis that I must confess I was disappointed that the book only had eight pages to follow him. Still, it does make for a nice teaser of the Arrowsmith universe, and here's hoping it inspires some Astro City readers to pick up the miniseries. As for the Astro City half of the flip-book it's a essentially a set up for the upcoming Dark Age arc, and it does what Astro City does best in that it gives readers a ground level view of the world of super-heroes as a couple young children bear witness to a huge spectacle that is a battle between the newly formed Honor Guard with the evil forces of the Pyramid. Now this is a fun look at the Silver Age of Astro City as one has to love the over the top quality of the battle, and there's also a great little moment where the young kids have a closer encounter with a hero that they can more readily identify with. In fact my fingers are crossed that the Black Badge will have a role to play in the upcoming Dark Age arc, as I'm curious to learn what happened to this character.

First off Carlos Pacheco is far and away one of the best artists working in the industry, and his highly detailed style is a perfect match for the fantasy laden world of Arrowsmith. The art on these eight pages if full of cooler than heck visuals, as we get a visual tour of the headquarters where the spells are being churned out, and the art give us ample opportunity to be impressed as they are unleashed on test subjects. There's also a lovely cityscape shot of Paris that acts as a great visual introduction to the fantasy concept. As for the Astro City half of the issue, it features art by the ever dependable Brent E. Anderson, and he offers up a lovely double-page shot of a battle between the Honor Guard and the Pyramid gang, that perfectly captures the Silver Age quality of the encounter, as we're treated to a small army of characters, as well as a sky full of energy beams. The design work on the Black Badge is also pretty impressive, as our first shot of the character looks wonderfully heroic.

The Bad:
The problem with this flip-book is that by cutting the book in half, combined with a four page text feature, and a two page map of the altered world, the stories that Kurt Busiek offers up are little better than teasers, that only scratch the surface before coming to an end. I mean the stories make good use of their eight pages, but I couldn't help but finish the issue with the sense that there was so much more potential to both these stories that it was a shame their abbreviated lengths didn't allow for more than a quick taste. I also have to say I'm not quite sure I agree with the decision that was made on the Astro City story, as it ends with what is essentially a cliffhanger moment, and while the Kurt Busiek question/answer session that follows the story makes it clear that this moment is going to act as the springboard event that impacts the lives of the characters who will drive the Dark Age Astro City arc, I'm a little concerned that the new readers who pick up this one-shot will be more annoyed by the fact that they were left hanging at the end of this story, rather than intrigued enough to pick up the arc where it'll be addressed, especially since Astro City has a somewhat uneven track record when it comes to the timely arrival of its issues, as I'd be surprised if we saw the Dark Age arc within the next couple months. Than again I might be making to much of this ending as the Local Heroes miniseries wasn't all that late, and Kurt Busiek has trimmed down the number of books he's working on, so perhaps it'll be here before this issue's cliffhanger loses its impact.

The Calm Before The Storms:
The length of the stories is a bit of a disappointment as eight pages simply isn't enough room to fully develop that ideas that are introduced in the two stories. This in turn results in one story that ends with a cliffhanger, while the other left me feeling like there was so much more to tell, that I would've gladly have traded the two pages of maps for another couple pages devoted to the head wizard's plight. Still, there is something to be said for a story that leaves you wanting more, and both stories in this flip-book left me with this feeling. The two stories also act as a solid display of the potential of both series as they both manage to capture the respective sprits of both projects, and if nothing else I hope it inspires fans to check out the one that they didn't read, unless they're like myself, and were astute enough to read them both. The text feature is also a wonderfully informative feature that I recommend to all Astro City readers, as it spells out the future plans for the series in far more detail than I've ever seen before. In the end this is a highly enjoyable reading experience, if somewhat frustrating, as the stories were both deserving of more pages.



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