Comics Time: The Last Musketeer

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The Last Musketeer

Fantagraphics, January 2008

Jason, writer/artist

48 pages

$12.95

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From a cover reminiscent of the playful pop-culture surrealism of Brandon Bird on down, this is the most straightforwardly funny Jason book since Meow, Baby!, and the most straightforwardly funny of his long-form narrative works this side of You Can’t Get There from Here. It’s still working the same territory of all Jason’s comics–the absurd finality of death, the emotional ravages of time, the use of de rigeur genre tropes to suggest lives at the mercy of going-through-the-motions routine, loneliness loneliness loneliness–only this time the lonely protagonist isn’t some sad sack but the zesty titular character, Athos of the Three Musketeers himself, inexplicably alive some 400 years after his heyday and defending France against Martian invasion. He’s treated like the living embodiment of those thin slivers of joy and hope that gleam briefly before being stamped out by futility and despair in Jason’s other books, here, finally, given a chance to come out on top. His id-like presence seems to spur some of Jason’s funniest-ever gags in the surrounding characters, seemingly through osmosis: the emperor who simply can’t bring himself to believe that his guard could possibly be happy with his job; the emperor’s daughter who’s never more than a second away from physically assaulting her milquetoast general boyfriend; the former royal’s one-liner about the latter’s presumed death–”Life is sad”–and its hilariously self-deprecating demolition of what is essentially Jason’s entire philosophical project. Meanwhile the art edges into “Best Jason Ever” territory: A rocketship chase through the Martian wilderness evokes Winsor McKay, a swordfight practically rings with the clash of steel on steel between its still-life panels, and I could practically bathe in the book’s blue-greens.

Ultimately the potential for a better, freer way of life represented by the Last Musketeer triumphs, at least for a while, and the lesson even appears to have been internalized by at least some of the other characters, perhaps even the larger world itself. Even so, Jason leaves us with a character who, like those in more standard works by this author, can only come to accept the possibility of a life worth living after being ground down by regret. But hey, it’s better than nothing.