Wednesday, July 5, 2017

All For One and One For All

In a comic book universe, all myths are true. Robin Hood really existed. King Arthur really existed. And so on. This concept often extends into public domain characters from classic fiction. So, in 1976--probably in response to the Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers theatrical films--DC Comics added D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis to their universe.

Well, actually, the four issues of DC Special in which the Musketeers appear do not overtly tell us they share a universe with Batman and Superman, but what fun it is to assume otherwise?

The first of the Musketeer stories appeared in DC Special #22, with art by Jorge Moliterni, was written by Denny O'Neil. In it, the Musketeers are tasked with delivering a treaty to the Spanish ambassador at Calais. Along the way, they stop some outlaws from robbing a coach and briefly encounter an ape-ish monster.

They lose track of the monster in some woods, but stumble across a beautiful woman who is also traveling to Calais. Sharp-eyed readers at this point might notice that the monster and the woman are both wearing identical amulets around their respective necks. This is actually a nicely placed clue. It's never mentioned overtly until the end of the story and it's a tiny enough detail to miss.

When the Musketeers stop at an inn for the night, they are attacked by the monster, who proves to be nigh-invulnerable and gets away with the treaty.

It's D'Artagnan who has a Sherlockian moment (or, considering who wrote this story, a Batman moment) and figures out that the woman is both the monster and an English spy. The Musketeers gallop to Calais, leaping their horses about the woman's ship just as its leaving port. D'Artagnan improvises a tactic for defeating the monster and--once it transforms back into a human--capturing the spy. The treaty is recovered and properly delivered.

The next three issues of DC Special also had Musketeer stories, each one by a different writer. These later stories did not have any Bat-deductions or supernatural elements, but were pure swashbucklers. I don't know if this was just writer's preference or an editorial decision.

All the stories are fun, so it's a shame the Musketeers did not catch on as comic book characters. The main flaw of the stories is probably too many protagonists. In fact, in this first story, Athos is out of most of the action with a wounded shoulder, almost certainly because O'Neil needed to pare down the number of main characters. In none of the stories is there room for the Musketeers to get more than one-note personalities (Porthos is a big eater, Aramis is a womanizer, etc.). Had they spun off into a regular series, there would have been time to flesh out their characterizations.

Next week, we'll jump ahead three centuries to World War II and watch Nick Fury go nuts.

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