Monday, May 26, 2008

An appropriate occassion for a return

I have been away for this blog for too long because [insert usual description of RL interference with blogging responsibilities here], but some synchronicity compels a few remarks.

It had been a while since I have even bought a comic; I finally caught up with Comic Book Comics from Evil Twin and was very disappointed, but more on that later. But the other day I was in one of my LCS, and this cover caught my eye:

Arrowsmith: So Smart in their Fine Uniforms

Wildstorm: 2004
by Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, and Alex Sinclair

What caught my eye first was the sort of art nouveau design sensibility; as I leafed through the book, I could see that it was some sort of alternate history WW1 story, and something about it just hooked me. I took it home and read it over the next few days.

It turned out to be a well-done (if fairly typical) story of an idealistic young man who goes off to war for noble reasons and discovers that it is difficult to keep his moral stance in the middle of the horror of battle. The difference is that alongside traditional armaments, both sides use magic - sometimes nasty magic.

The book is beautifully drawn, the alternate world fully realized, and the characters engaging; the plot, however, could have been lifted from any of a number of war movies, and without much alteration would work just fine without any of the magical or other alternate history elements. Yet I feel the book is a worthwhile addition to the genre and well worth a read, for two reasons.

The first is that is is extremely well-done. Although the plot mechanics may be a little trite, Busiek's actualization of the trope is sophisticated and compelling. He makes us care about the characters and lets us feel their pain, their growth, their joys, and their losses. Within the fantasy realm, he paints as strong a picture of the realities of war as I think anyone could, and Pacheco's art more than meets the challenge of carrying the weight of the story. It is truly a tour de force for both creators.

Perhaps more importantly, the book called me to read it and to be open to its message. As jaded as I can be at times, I might not have read just another anti-war war book; I mean, there was All Quiet on the Western Front and Paths of Glory and Johnny Got His Gun and yeah, I've been there. But the alt-history pulled me in, and then the book slapped me in the face with a heaping dose of reality and made me think clearly again about about something incredibly significant, and made me feel again how I feel about it. And that is a good thing to have happen, and a nice achievement for any Art, whether fine, pop, or junk.

That this book made this statement to me on this particular weekend just made it all the more meaningful.

I guess Arrowsmith may be old news to some, but it was a new discovery to me; I suggest you check it out if you ever have the chance.