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‘Arrowsmith, Vol. 1: So Smart In Their Fine Uniforms’ HC (review)

Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino
Published by Image Comics


I have been a sucker for alternative world stories ever since I first encountered the idea of an “evil” universe in the episode “Mirror, Mirror” of Star Trek. Some of my favorite alternative history takes are Earths, where the age of magic never ended, and magic itself was one of the key proponents of the industrial revolution. Author Piers Anthony famously created such a world in his Incarnations of Immortality series.

In recent times Greg Pak’s Kingsway West also imagined a magical Old West version of the United States of America. The idea that there are other versions of myself and Earth where history went far differently is fascinating.

Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco continue this tradition in Arrowsmith: So Smart in Their Fine Uniforms.

In this version of Earth, magic has been around since the fall of Atlantis. It has indeed come of age during the industrial revolution. Sadly because it is human nature to abuse most good things, magic plays a significant part in this Earth’s first World War.

In this graphic novel young Fletcher Arrowsmith learns the actual cost of war in an alternate history where dragons and magic spells are a part of World War I as bullets and barbed wire.

I mostly enjoyed this book; Kurt Busiek is a solid writer who does better work when allowed to play in a sandbox of his creation. Arrowsmith is thus a testament to how the future of comic books should be independent books and not those by the big two.

Busiek and Pacheco create a vibrant world but, most importantly, believable. Because this is a piece of historical fiction, it is not as fast-moving as a traditional comic book. Nor does the comic book glorify war nor attempt to typify war as good people versus bad people. Instead, we join young Fletcher Arrowsmith as he learns that being a magical spell-wielding hero comes with severe burdens and high costs.

Think of Arrowsmith as 1917 or Dunkirk with dragons.

Overall, a pretty enthralling read.

Final Score: 4.25 out of 5 stars


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