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Acursian (Review)

Writers: John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman, and Erika Lewis.

Artists: Beni Lobdel and Rubine

Legendary Comics, 2018-2020 (printed version December 2021)

Acursian is a mature fantasy graphic novel written by the trio of John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman, and Erika Lewis. The art is handled by Beni Lobdel. The project was originally released in webtoon format, but it has recently been granted a physical incarnation by publisher Legendary Comics.

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The hefty story of Acursian revolves around successful lawyer Charlie Stewart, who comes from a line of individuals who have been cursed by the gods after one of their ancestors makes a deal with the Celtic god of war, Bregon. This curse is an unintended side effect of the deal, as Bregon is in trouble with the gods after stealing three talismans from his sisters, the Fates.

The curse is very specific – every time a descendant of the Stewart bloodline reaches their 40th birthday, they are destined to lose everything. The gods themselves have been struggling with the effects of the talismans’ theft. The Fates, who are the goddesses of fate and time, lost control over their dominion. It is now up to Charlie Stewart, with help from a father that he believed to have died a long time ago, to stop the curse and bring order back by recovering the talismans from across time and space.

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The concept of an adventure across time and space may seem like familiar territory, especially given that co-author John Barrowman is famous for his roles as the haughty antagonist Merlyn from superhero TV soap opera Arrow, and also the time-traveling (and immortal) con man Captain Jack Harkness, from BBC’s long running sci-fi franchise Doctor Who.

The similarities between Acursian and Doctor Who end with the time travel aspect. Acursian leans more heavily on fantasy than sci-fi. And it tackles more mature themes than the relatively kid-friendly BBC series.

Narrative-wise, Acursian takes a little bit of effort to get into. We don’t know if this is a result of the original webtoon format not being suitable for a collected edition or just the way the first few pages are paced. The early parts of the story will jump around between three to four different scenes (in non-chronological order) as it tries to establish a disconnect in the reality that revolves around the protagonist. Some readers may find themselves backreading to get their bearings straight, but fortunately the story picks up and gets a clear sense of direction once Stewart is introduced to his mission.

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As mentioned before, Acursian tackles mature themes. Sex, death, and violence are covered in equal measure on the first few pages. Charlie Stewart himself is not a role model, at least at first. Stewart is a self-centered career man that enjoys status and material wealth. But he gets his much-needed character development, ultimately realizing how much family means to himself, and going so far as to confronting gods themselves for his family’s sake.

The use of Celtic mythology is also a breath of fresh air. The Barrowmans lean heavily on their Scottish heritage, and bring to life a pantheon of gods that frequently take a backseat to Norse and Greek gods when it comes to mainstream media portrayals. Or maybe we are just tired of having gods in a comic, only for it to be yet another uninspired take on Thor.

The art on Acursian is exceptional, and not at all what most casual readers expect from a webtoon. Charlie Stewart’s likeness is based on John Barrowman, and this likeness is easily seen at a glance in both the cover and inside pages.

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And there are no dark and ominous panels to underscore how mature and serious the comic is. Instead, the panels in Acursian are bright, colorful, and detailed when the story requires it. It is usually very easy to discern from the art what is happening on the pages, only getting confusing at times due to jumpy scene transitions, which have nothing to do with the artists.

Readers who are not familiar with Mr Barrowman, or only familiar with him as an actor, might expect Acursian to be a flimsy vehicle banking on a celebrity’s name. Acursian might be a surprise, then. Mr Barrowman is multidisciplinary artist who has had several novels to his name, usually with help from his co-author and sister Carole (who is a crime fiction columnist). And Acursian stands on its own and will satisfy readers even without Mr Barrowman’s star power attached to it.