The Promise

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Gargoyles: Dark Ages #4 by Clayton Crain

"The Promise" is the fourth issue of the Gargoyles: Dark Ages comic by Dynamite Entertainment. It was released on November 1st, 2023. [1]


Solicitation

"It's a busy day at Castle Wyvern - Desdemona studies to become a Gargoyle Priestess and Goliath is given an important title, which makes Iago and Hyppolyta jealous. But things are about too get even busier when the younger Gargoyle's curiosity leads them into a dangerous cave, where an unhappy evil lurks!

The riveting tale of the Gargoyles' origin by writer and Gargoyles creator GREG WEISMAN and artist DREW MOSS continues in this 40-page issue, which includes a new text story from Weisman and all cardstock covers featuring art by CLAYTON CRAIN, ALAN QUAH, MIRKA ANDOLFO, KENYA DANINO, ERICA HENDERSON, and more!

The Story

Opening Quote

There is much to safeguard upon this hill . . .

Chapter Story

Alesand and her father are walking up Wyvern Hill. Alesand is trying to hurry her father along, wanting to see the new castle. Robbie isn't prepared to call it a castle yet, but as the reach the hilltop, Prince Malcolm can't help but revel in the significant progress that has been already been made. The prince is standing by the King's architect, Brother Valdez, who has uncovered ancient foundations that he and the Prince most certainly think will further speed up construction. Valdez is, however, unsure to the foundations origins. He speculates that perhaps the Wyvern Clan built them long ago, or he wonders if someone else allied with the clan in the past. Prince Malcolm is confident that no other stone castle has ever been built so quickly. Robbie commends the progress, but cautions the Prince that such speed might risk the gargoyles sleeping during the day. He is also concerned that further excavations could risk the safety of the eggs in the rookery. The mere mention of gargoyle eggs piques Alesand's interest and runs off to explore. Prince Malcolm agrees and ensures his new Captain of the Guard of no mishaps. Robbie is surprised to hear his new rank, but his old friend assures him the promotion is both "well-earned and overdue".

Deep in the caverns of the hill, Alesand finds the rookery, filled with gargoyle eggs. She sits among them, promising to name them all (even when she knows they don't use names) and to take care of them, hoping in return they won't scare her. "We will all be great friends," she says to the eggs.

Back outside, she walks among the sleeping gargoyles, in particular four rooklings and a beast. As the Sun sets into the sea, stone skin begins to crack and split. The four gargoyles explode awake, knocking Alesand off her feet. The commotion over, Alesand looks at one of them from the ground.

Back at the construction site, the gargoyles have taken over for the night, allowing progress to continue uninterupted. Mentor barks at two of his rookery sons to join the shift, and they tell the Rhydderch they are on their way. One tells Angel that they must part for the time being, while the other invites his love to join them. Angel and their rookery sister turn down the offer, explaining they have other duties they are committed to.

While the two rookery brothers race up the hill on all-fours, the two rookery sisters wave goodbye to their loves. A third rookery brother and sister silently watch the couples from a distance, eyes glowing.

As Angel's love tows a load of boulders to the construction site, his rookery sister arrives and suggests he needs assistance. He doesn't rise to the subtle antagonism, telling her that "help is always appreciated". His rookery sister responds that the help is both "appreciated and necessary" annoying her rookery brother further.

Elsewhere, the clan's warrior-priestess meets with her little sister, happy to help the younger gargoyle explore her spirituality. The warrior-priestess invites her to open herself up to the life around her, but the instruction confuses the student. Her teacher sees there is much to learn.

Meanwhile, the Archmage meets with Angel. She is eager to acquire the power the Archmage spoke of, so she could protect herself and her clan, but the Archmage asks her to read a passage in a book. Angel admits she does not know how to read, and the Archmage sees she has much to learn.

A short time later, a caravan of covered wagons approach Wyvern Hill. They announce themselves as a troupe of performers, willing to "sing for their supper". Children from the village run up chase after them, excited at the sight of the visitors. The caravans stop in front of Prince Malcolm, the Captain, Brother Valdez, and Mentor. Excited for a good show, Malcolm asks what the troupe calls themselves. The head of the players proclaims their troupe is known far and wide as the Light-Bringers. Brother Valdez questions the name, and he is told that the name describes "the wondrous nature" of the stories the troupe performs. Prince Malcolm makes the introductions for himself and his advisors, and the troupe leader introduces himself as the Player King, with the Player Queen, Mack Kemp, Benvolio, Malvolio, General Bones, and Shahrizad in his company. While the Player King shares his pleasure to see humans and gargoyles living in harmony, Prince Malcolm comments at the novelty of female performers. Shahrizad notes how "true to life" female players are. Malcolm admits the accommodations at an unfinished castle might be sparse, but welcomes the troupe to Wyvern all the same. Brother Valdez questions the Player King's accent, which he believes to be Welsh. The Player King in return critiques Valdez's accent, describing it as "believably Spanish". The Captain of the Guard comments how Alesand will enjoy the troupe's talents, wondering where she has wandered off to.

Alesand introduces herself to the rooklings, and shares that her father has known Mentor for some time. The red beaked gargoyle explains that the humans and gargoyles are supposed to be allies now, and the dark haired gargoyle figures that means they should all be friends. Alesand and the gargoyles all express their mutual approval at the idea when they hear some of the village children. Nicolas, Mary, and a fair-haired urchin are all shocked to see Alesand spending her time with the gargoyles. While a gargoyle beast sniffs Nicolas, the dark haired gargoyle point out how they're all supposed to be friends now. Alesand asks Nicolas (still visibly uncomfortable in the presence of the gargoyles), what he wanted to tell her. He suddenly remembers that the Captain wanted her to see the Light-Bringers.

At the top of the hill, the children grow disappointed when the Player King explains that the troupe would need a day and a night to prepare for their first performance. In the meantime, Shahrizad offers to tell the children a story. As the night grows older, Mentor tells reminds the clan to stay alert, for "there is much to safeguard upon this hill" reminding them all that the gargoyles are responsible for Nightwatch. Soon enough, humans and gargoyles – children and adults alike – gather around the fire to hear Shahrizad's story of the Three Brothers. Before the story is truly underway, Brother Valdez sneaks away from the crowd only to be stopped by the Player Queen. Instantly suspicious of him, the Player Queen wonders why Valdez isn't "one for stories", and he declares that he makes his own.

Alesand and her gargoyle friends are captivated as Shahrizad tells them of how Duff and Kenneth II are ready to challenge Indulf's claim to the throne until word breaks out that Indulf also has Queen Katharine (and soon after, her newborn son, Malcolm) in his custody. The storyteller pauses her story shortly after, insisting it will be continued another night, unconvinced from the impatient pleas from the audience.

The rooklings prepare to sleep for the day, still frustrated that Shahrizad didn't finish the tale. Alesand promises to see them again after sunset, and once they turn to stone, she dubs her new friends Caesar, Alexander, Charlemagne, and Antiope. She dubs Antiope her new best friend. Realizing she's been up all night, she settles herself at a nearby boulder and falls asleep, dreaming of her next adventure with her new gargoyle friends, soaring through the night sky with her own set of wings.

The Tale of the Three Brothers

Alesand struggles to remember the third play the Light-Bringers performed for the locals of Wyvern Hill, before scribing the details of the next part in Shahrizad's story:

In 967, King Duff’s reign is a peaceful one but, now old and with no son as heir, the situation is uncomfortable at best. He chooses his brother Kenneth, who is both healthy and already has his own son, Maol Chalvim. Even only at the age of five, Prince Maol is pleased to hear that someday he would be king.

Alesand notes that by this point in the story, the audience is fully aware that Shahrizad is regaling a true story about Prince Malcolm and his family. They eye the Prince when he is mentioned, but he looks on, pretending to be eager to learn more about this "third brother" being spoken of:

Thirteen year-old Prince Malcolm is riding along the coastline with his old childhood friend, (now Corporal) Robbie, curious about a local gargoyle rookery.

Alesand further comments how her father Robbie isn't as recognizable as Prince Malcolm and the audience doesn't connect him to their current Captain of the Guard. He notices her attention mid-story, and quietly bids her not to interrupt the story:

Prince Malcolm and Robbie hear the clan waking up from their stone sleep (which sparks Charlemagne to blurt out, "I bet that was us!", prompting everyone to laugh).

As Shahrizad continues her tale, Alesand notes how Prince Malcolm and the Captain are stunned to witness the storyteller recite the exact words to a private conversation they had shared four years earlier. They don't let their concerns interrupt the tale:

Suddenly, Prince Malcolm and Robbie see a fleet of Culen’s ships approaching the shore. They race back to the castle to alert Duff just as he and Kenneth II are celebrating the birth of the King’s new heir, Kenneth III. Duff rallies a small army and meets Culen’s forces at Gaine.

While the audience remained anxious to hear the next part of the tale, they had finally become accustomed to waiting another night.

Review

"The Oath" ended with an effective teaser; the eye of some enormous scaly beast, apparently a dragon. "The Promise", alas, does not advance this new thread, but makes up for it in the further development of other aspects of the tale of how Castle Wyvern came to be.

For a start, we discover an exciting new mystery; the remains of a previous structure stand atop Wyvern Hill. While these help the construction crew with their castle-building project, they also raise the question about the nature of these ruins. Brother Valdez, a monk serving as the architect for Castle Wyvern, speculates that there might have been an earlier human-gargoyle alliance at Wyvern. While we probably won't learn more about that in the remaining two issues, it offers new possibilities for future stories.

In the meantime, Alesand, Robbie's young daughter, explores the rookery, with some delightful scenes as she meets the eggs and make friends with the quartet. (She even bestows "unofficial" names on them all; "Caesar" for Brooklyn, "Alexander" for Lexington, "Charlemagne" for Broadway, and "Antiope" for the female gargoyle who's fourth member of the quartet – explaining those names in the "Once Upon a Time There Were Three Brothers" section.) Her response to the gargoyles is charming, especially at the end, where we see her dream that she sprouts wings and goes gliding with her new friends. (We also see that the other children in the nearby village are less at ease with the gargoyles, though, indicating that not all humans are as open towards these beings as she is.)

And the castle receives visitors – the very troupe of players mentioned in the "Once Upon a Time" sections, now fully on-stage. They call themselves the "Light-Bringers", and their leaders, the Player King and Player Queen look familiar, as does another member, the storyteller Shahrizad. While most of the folk at Wyvern gladly welcome them, Brother Valdez displays strong suspicions towards them, suspicions that I hope will also be followed in the two issues to come. (The Player King only regards the monk with gentle amusement, though his wife is another matter . . .) As an additional treat, we now see the "storytelling framework" of the first instalment of "Once Upon a Time There Were Three Brothers" dramatized, watching as Shahrizad recounts the tale of Prince Malcolm's family to an audience of not only children – humans and gargoyles alike – but also including Robbie, Prince Malcolm, and a grim-faced "Iago".

To top it off, we get the start of parallel scenes of "Desdemona" training to become a "warrior-priestess" under "Sacrifice"'s tutelage and Angel's first lesson under the Archmage. The two scenes are shown side by side (a feature common in the Dynamite Gargoyles comics), and display the contrast between the two teacher-and-pupil scenes effectively; my favorite part is at the end, where Sacrifice and the Archmage's statements to their charges – almost alike except for the difference of one word – illustrate the difference in their nature and style.

My only concern about this issue is that I'm not sure that two issues will be enough to tell and complete the story that was hinted at one issue earlier, about the dragon. But what we did receive was a joy, and certainly makes a good interlude between the war with Culen and whatever adventure awaits . . .

Featured Characters and First Appearances

Gargoyles Humans Others


Miscellaneous


Tidbits

The troupe of players, fittingly, continues Gargoyles' fondness for Shakespeare allusions. The Player King and Queen's titles evoke the players in Hamlet, two of the other actors are named "Benvolio" and "Malvolio" (adding Twelfth Night to the list of Shakespeare plays referenced in Gargoyles), and in the "The Tale of the Three Brothers" section at the end, Shahrizad is called the "Dark Lady".

The gargoyles' nighttime duty at Wyvern Hill is referred to as the Nightwatch, a name that will later be adopted by the news program hosted by Travis Marshall in "The Journey".

Cover Gallery

Dynamite Gargoyles Dark Ages 4 Gallery1.jpg Dynamite Gargoyles Dark Ages 4 Gallery2.jpg



Links

<< Previous Episode: "Alliance" Chapter Three: "The Oath" Next Episode: "Alliance" Chapter Five: "The Dream" >>