I actually had to look to see if I had already reviewed this issue of Archer & Armstrong. Of all of the original Valiant comics, this one is probably my favorite. It doesn’t hurt that it was written and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. Early Valiant comics by him are the best of the bunch.
I got this because I was diligently following Archer & Armstrong. Eternal Warrior held no interest for me. I felt that he wasn’t an interesting character. It seemed like Jim Shooter really had an interest in Gilad, because so much important stuff in Valiant seemed to come from his world. It seems like after Shooter left, the comics went a little more wherever the fans were flocking. Yes, I know its pandering. I’d like to think that the solution isn’t just to write what the fans want, but to make a comic better and more interesting along the way.
Barry Windsor-Smith made a great comic with Archer & Armstrong, a comic that tied very closely to Eternal Warrior. It tied to it so closely that for the eighth issue, they went double sized to tell a story that involved all of the immortal brothers and counted as an eighth issue for Eternal Warrior as well. On top of it all, it worked in one of the greatest adventure stories in the history of western literature, The Man In The Iron Mask.
Writer and Penciller: Barry Windsor-Smith
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Colorist: Maurice Fontenot
From an idea by Jon Hart
Based on the work of Alexandre Dumas
Cover Art: Barry Windsor-Smith
Archer and Armstrong are driving through France. Armstrong begins to share a story about his brothers that was published by Alexandre Dumas. He changed the names of all of the musketeers save d’Artagnan . Armstrong suspects that Dumas and d’Artagnan has made an arrangement.
The musketeers are spending an evening celebrating in a bar when a young woman named Ilysee enters. SSHe is a player in a plot by Armstrong’s brother, the eternal warrior named Gilad and the Duchess Angelique D’Terre, that era’s Geomancer. Gilad pushes d’Artagnan into buying a staged attack on Ilysee. The young man rescues her and Ilysee pushes herself onto the young musketeer sexually.
Meanwhile, King Louis XIV is being distracted by the Duchess D’Terre so she can steal his ring before a Christmas Eve ball. She teases the king with promised sexual favors at the ball. All the while, Ilysee has convinced the young d’Artagnan that their tryst has resulted in true love. Unfortunately, she cannot marry until her mistress, the Duchess D’Terre has her lover imprisoned in the Bastille by the evil Cardinal Richelieu. Naturally, d’Artagnan promises the aid of the musketeers.
They sneak into the Bastille, pretending that Armstrong is a criminal that has been caught by them. Armstrong overpowers the guards, letting the others seek out Duchess D’Terre’s lover. Gilad immediately finds the captive Henri in a cell in an iron mask. D’artagnantries to verify his identity by asking him for his love’s name. Gilad whispers the correct answer to Henri so they hurry out.
Once in a safe place, the Duchess aids the musketeers in removing Henri’s mask. The others recognize him as a twin to Louis XIV. Henri is Louis’s twin brother with a claim to the throne of France. Gilad pledges loyalty to Henri. The Duchess announces a plan to put Henri on the throne without bloodshed. Ivar voices concern, but relents at Gilad’s insistence.
Outside , the Duchess tells Gilad that the Earth has told her that a bloody revolution is coming to France. Gilad wonders if Henri could be the cause of that. The Duchess tells him that it will be Louis’s descendant that will bring the revolution. She also reminds him that as the fist and steel, he should not question Earth’s Geomancer. All the while, Ivar hides in a tree with a Polaroid camera.
Ilysee is fixing Henri’s wig. After countless years in prison, Henri desires Ilysee for sexual gratification. He knows the Duchess is a Geomancer. He then forces himself on Ilysee.
On Christmas Eve the Duchess is surprised to find that Louis has scratches on his face from a falconing accident. She leaves Ivar and Gilad to entertain the king with a swordplay demonstration. She first comes to Ilysee, wearing a mask to hide a black eye from Henri’s attack. The Duchess tells Henri of the king’s scratches, but Henri refuses to mar his royal features. Armstrong and d’Artagnan leave the women with Henri. to lure King Louis away.
Ilysee then takes the opportunity to remedy the Duchess’s problem by scratching Henri across the face. The Duchess asks Ilysee why she did that and Ilysee confesses Henri’s crime against her. She also knows that no one would believe a maid over the King of France. Henri is enraged and stabs Ilysee in the back. Meanwile Armstrong and d’Artagnan knock out Louis.
The Duchess now sees Henri as a monster. He tells her to mind her words or he’ll have her burned as a witch. She then tells him that he’ll never be King. Henri then marches out to the ball. Armstrong and d’Artagnan see him without the Duchess and know the plan has gone awry. Henri sits in the King’s chair and Gilad knows it is Henri. Henri reveals himself to be mad with power and anger. He demands to be crowned. When Ivar explains that only the son of God is crowned on Christmas, Henri raised in captivity assumes that the son of God is a pretender to the throne, then accuses Ivar and Gilad of mocking him.
The Duchess carries Ilysee’s body to Armstrong and d’Artagnan, begging for their help. The Duchess goes into the ballroom and accuses Henri of being an impostor. As he is trying to expose her as a witch and a geomancer, Gilad kills from behind with a single piercing sword stroke. Armstrong wakes up Louis and the Duchess acknowledges him as the rightful King of France, while d’Artagnan cradles Ilysee’s lifeless body.
Armstrong reveals that the next night, he and Ivar confronted Gilad. Gilad and the Duchess’s plan has resulted in poor Ilysee’s death. When he seems indifferent to it, Ivar raises his sword. Gilad argues that whil Ivar galavants through time, he acts as a champion for people and nations that need one. The Duchess enters as Gilad begins to lose his temper. He disarms Ivar, but the Duchess stops Gilad from killing his own brother.When Gilad doesn’t show remorse, Armstrong knocks him unconscious with a single punch.
Armstrong ends his story to Archer by telling him that Gilad never changes, always stubborn. He shows Archer a polaroid of himself, Ivar and d’Artagnan, who resembles Armstrong. Archer points out that Armstrong can’t have a polaroid from 1659. Armstrong then reveals that Ivar does travel through time.
Barry Windsor-Smith is one of those creators that can create timeless perfection. Here, he is re-imagining the Three Musketeers as immortal brothers. His interpretation of Gilad, the Eternal Warrior is probably the best version of the character that I’ve ever seen. At the same time, it also shows the problem with the character. He’s played here as almost a secondary villain. Here, we are in the peak of the 1990s boom and Gilad is the prototype for the violent hero.
The introduction of Ivar’s time travel is used well. Gilad does convert him to aiding the conspiracy to replace Louis by appealing to his knowledge of historical tragedies. This unique perspective also leads to his outrage at Gilad’s callousness. This is the first appearance of Ivar, and this might be the most interesting the character ever got, in my opinion.
The art is Barry Windsor-Smith perfection. There are very few times that colorists have done his line work justice. Once he hit his stride in the 1980s, there is no comparing him to other artists. His writing can get dense, but here it’s a real nice piece of work. Every time I see his artwork, I just take the time to study every line. This comic is no different.
If you’re looking for the issue itself, then don’t expect to pay too much for a copy. It’s very possible to find it in some bargain boxes. If you want to read it digitally, then you can find it on Comixology and its even included in Comixology Unlimited. Valiant collected the story in Archer & Armstrong: The Complete Classic Omnibus (ISBN: 978-1939346878).
Final Rating: 9.0 (out of 10)