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Marvel Classics Illustrated: The Three Musketeers #2

Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2008
By: Penny Kenny

Roy Thomas
Hugo Petrus, Tom Palmer (i), June Chung (c)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Marvel Classics Illustrated: The Three Musketeers #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, July 2.

In this issue the young Gascon d’Artagnan meets the second of the three women who will determine the course of his life: Constance, the pretty young wife of his landlord and confidante of the Queen of France. When Constance is kidnapped, her husband turns to d’Artagnan for help. Soon he and the three Musketeers are involved in the – literal – affairs of Queen Anne of France and Buckingham of England. Throw in the machinations of Cardinal de Richelieu, swordfights, ambushes, and midnight rides and you have one action-packed comic.

Actually, this is more of an illustrated book than a comic. Hugo Petrus makes no real attempt to catch action in the panels. Instead he concentrates on capturing the pose that best illustrates the text. It’s a design choice that’s perfect for Roy Thomas’s style of adaptation.

Thomas does a marvelous job of streamlining Dumas’ story. (And did I just miss it, or did Marvel forget to credit Alexandre Dumas for being the original writer?) This issue covers chapters six through half of nineteen of the novel, and while Thomas cuts out the extraneous material, he remains very faithful to Dumas’ work -- even to the point of keeping the rather confusing handkerchief bit in. Whenever possible Thomas uses the creator’s own narration and dialog. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but then Thomas is an old pro at making the difficult look simple.

Though most of the story is told through narrative boxes, it never feels text heavy. This is partly due to Thomas’s trim writing, partly due to Petrus’s design work. His panels have lots of open area, giving the book a sense of space. He sticks to the grid, with no deviation, but there’s nothing boring about the issue’s look. Large half-page panels depict outdoor scenes such as the edifice of the Louvre Palace and the streets of Paris. These are beautifully done, establishing the place and time without stopping the story to do so. Medium-sized panels are used for the iconic moments. Most of these have the feel of classic pulp spot illustrations: the Musketeers’ riding through the night, d’Artagnan bursting into a room to rescue Constance, Athos holding off the villains. N.C. Wyeth would be proud. Smaller, intimate panels feature close-ups on the characters, serving almost as ID photos.

Petrus and inker Tom Palmer don’t waste ink delineating the story’s extras. Background characters and characters in non-close-ups tend to have an unfocused look to them. In a couple of panels, they have muddy, blurry features, which is somewhat disquieting.

In contrast, when a character is in close-up, magic happens. When d’Artagnan says, “what every gentleman would have done in my place” after being exposed to Constance’s ample charms, the smirk on his face and the twinkle in his eyes are palpable. A latter panel showing the youth tossing a coin purse in the air catches his cockiness and eagerness for adventure. The villainous Cardinal de Richelieu, dressed in red robes and standing before a fire, wears an appropriately devilish expression in his close-up. Queen Anne leans against her hand in melancholy repose as Buckingham leaves, lacking only the crystal, falling tear to make it the classic romance pose. All of these poses tell you everything you need to know about the character. They’re exceptional examples of artistic characterization.

June Chung’s choice of color is something of a personal disappointment. She uses a very subdued palate that’s heavy on the browns. Even Anne and Constance’s gowns are rather dull to what they could be. If any story deserves the Technicolor treatment, it’s this one. On the other hand, by using the darker shades the night scenes take on an added sense of moody danger and the backgrounds look lived-in, which grounds the adventurous elements in a realistic environment.

Taken all together, this is an adaptation well worth picking up.

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