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An explosive but overly wound clockwork whose center doesn’t hold.

A sweeping medieval caper set amid the persecution of the Knights Templar during the early 14th century.

After righteously serving Christendom during the Crusades, the Knights Templar returned from the Holy Land and faced their new reality as a powerful army that answered only to the pope yet operated in lands ruled by kings. Mechner (The Making of Karateka, 2012, etc.) unspools their downfall—the result of trumped-up charges orchestrated by Nogaret, chancellor to the king of France, who is determined to seize the vast treasure the Templars have hidden in their Paris temple—by following the order’s less pious members. Boozing and lust keep a trio of knights, led by valiant Martin of Troyes, out of the initial sweep that imprisons nearly the entire order. Martin goes on to lead a ragtag team of Templar misfits on a quest to decipher the location of the treasure and spirit it away before Nogaret can claim it. The sprawling, often circuitous tale features a large cast of characters and a rich historical setting, but the two elements don’t fully mesh, both settling at the depth of a Hollywood blockbuster. Few Templars resist the outrageous persecution, and their limp response is addressed only in a remark by their browbeaten grand master: “In this new world there is no place for men like us.” The sentiment is poignant but largely unexplored, and the lack of fight from the Templars—who are, by all accounts, fierce warriors—gives the story an odd hollowness that undercuts its rousing third act. Illustrators Pham (The Boy Who Loved Math, 2013, etc.) and Puvilland (Solomon’s Thieves, 2010, etc.) imbue the book with a sketchy beauty that feels akin to the work of Guy Davis, though the influence of Puvilland’s role at DreamWorks Animation is also apparent. The art’s small details are the best, like a flung canteen frozen in midair, windblown shrubs on a lonesome street, a long-imprisoned Templar shielding his eyes from the sun, or the tilted head and closed eyes of a distant kiss.

An explosive but overly wound clockwork whose center doesn’t hold.

Pub Date: July 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-393-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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A gorgeous symphony.

Illustrator McGuire (What’s Wrong With This Book, 1997, etc.) once again frames a fixed space across the millennia.

McGuire’s original treatment of the concept—published in 1989 in Raw magazine as six packed pages—here gives way to a graphic novel’s worth of two-page spreads, and the work soars in the enlarged space. Pages unspool like a player-piano roll, each spread filled by a particular time, while inset, ever shifting panels cut windows to other eras, everything effervescing with staggered, interrelated vignettes and arresting images. Researchers looking for Native American artifacts in 1986 pay a visit to the house that sprouts up in 1907, where a 1609 Native American couple flirtatiously recalls the legend of a local insatiable monster, while across the room, an attendee of a 1975 costume party shuffles in their direction, dressed as a bear with arms outstretched. A 1996 fire hose gushes into a 1934 floral bouquet, its shape echoed by a billowing sheet on the following page, in 2015. There’s a hint of Terrence Malick’s beautiful malevolence as panels of nature—a wolf in 1430 clenching its prey’s bloody haunch; the sun-dappled shallows of 2113’s new sea—haunt scenes of domesticity. McGuire also plays with the very concept of panels: a boy flaunts a toy drum in small panels of 1959 while a woman in 1973 sets up a projection screen (a panel in its own right) that ultimately displays the same drummer boy from a new angle; in 2050, a pair of old men play with a set of holographic panels arranged not unlike the pages of the book itself and find a gateway to the past. Later spreads flash with terrible and ancient supremacy, impending cataclysm, and distant, verdant renaissance, then slow to inevitable, irresistible conclusion. The muted colors and soft pencils further blur individual moments into a rich, eons-spanning whole.

A gorgeous symphony.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-40650-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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Gorgeous and troubling.

Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.

As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.

Gorgeous and troubling.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-63564-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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