Arrowsmith #1

Written by Kurt Busiek
Pencilled by Carlos Pacheco
Inked by Jesus Merino
32 pages, color
Published by WildStorm/DC Comics

It’s usually when I write something off that it comes back with a vengeance. Take, for example, the Cliffhanger! subimprint of Wildstorm. It had just gotten to the point where I’d decided the line (essentially a creator-owned branch of Wildstorm) was quietly retired when it decided to come back with a bunch of new project announcements—and the book I was really ready to see was Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s Arrowsmith.

It’s 1915, and the Great War is raging across Europe. This isn’t the World War I that you and I may remember, though, because this is a world where magic grew up alongside science, and this is a war that has fire demons alongside trench warfare. All of this shouldn’t bother Fletcher Arrowsmith, because he’s on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, safe at home; Columbia may have entered the war to aid its allies, but as Fletcher’s father reminds him it’s Europe’s problem, not Columbia’s. Right?

Busiek’s first issue of Arrowsmith will probably have a familiar ring about it for most readers. That’s because it’s a very traditional look at the young hero’s journey beginning; the outside world coming to visit, the understanding that one can’t hide from the rest of the world. The important thing is how Busiek tells it, and he succeeds here quite nicely. Busiek’s put a lot of work into creating this alternate history of the world (science-fiction author Lawrence Watt-Evans is listed as an Alternity Consultant, which gives you an idea of just how seriously Busiek took this), and in many ways it’s what tipped the scale for me. A setting isn’t the deciding factor on if something is good or not, don’t get me wrong, but it’s adding a lush feeling to the world of Arrowsmith, that this is a place that we’ll be really enjoying exploring through the eyes of Fletcher. And after all, now that Fletcher’s leaving Connecticut for the first time, both his eyes and ours are about to get widened…

The last time Busiek and Pacheco worked together, it was on the Avengers Forever mini-series, which was fun if not necessarily aimed at someone like myself who only had a passing familiarity with the characters. I was thrilled when I heard they wanted to work together some more, though, because I really wanted to see Pacheco illustrate a script of Busiek’s that I’d be excited about… and let me tell you, Pacheco has succeeded in making me act pretty thrilled about the whole thing. His pencils and Jesus Merino’s inks look fantastic here, bringing a real sense of awe to the bigger things here. In the early pages of Arrowsmith when we first see the trench warfare in Gallia, the fire demon crashing through the troops is a really powerful moment; it’s so out of place with what we’re used to, and the visuals are a wonderful cross between reality (military-issued pants and belt) and fantasy (horns, flaming skin, eight feet tall) that it’s a great “whoa!” moment for the reader. Pacheco doesn’t have to cheat and use a splash page to do this, either; each panel is given enough proper attention and care that the impact is still there. At the same time, though, it’s a lot of the little details that bring the whole package home. Having a rock-based being grow foliage for hair on the top of their head is something we’ve seen before… but Pacheco thinks this all the way through and goes a step further, with little patches of greenery on the rock-creature’s chest and arms makes a gimmick suddenly look very natural and completely in place. He’s able to take the fantastic and make it feel almost every day just as easily as awe-inspiring, and that’s a talent not many have.

This is a really fun first issue; with five more issues to go, anything can happen, of course. With this much energy and potential behind Arrowsmith, though, I’ve got all the confidence in the world that we’re going to have a lot more enjoyment in the months to come. Arrowsmith is a six-issue limited-series from Wildstorm; the first issue is on sale at better comic stores everywhere.

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1 comment to Arrowsmith #1

  • JD

    The background idea of Arrowsmith is very similar to the Anno Dracula (the Bloody Red Baron) written by Kim Newman in 1995, near ten years before Busiek’s Arrowsmith but I can’t recall mention ever being made of this in any review. Can’t think why not, credit where credit’s due?

    Anno Dracula is an alternate history of what happened after the end of Bram Stoker’s original novel,in the 2nd book the Count plunges Europe into WWI, he is on the side of Germany but vampires of various bloodlines fight on both sides. Some of the vampires of Dracula’s bloodline have shape-shifting powers so von Richtoven & German aces Jagdeschwader Eins are giant bat monsters weilding heavy machine guns opposed by British flying aces. The books are littered with real & fictional historical figures from the Victorian/Edwardian period (incl Jeckyll, Moreau, Mata Hari, Biggles, Albert Ball, Mycroft Holmes etc) so might also be considered as the inspiration for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There’s even a character called Dr Arrowsmith, believe it or not.