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

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TEMPLAR

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 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

BERLIN

BOOK ONE

This black-and-white historical narrative, written and illustrated by Lutes, collects eight volumes of his ongoing comic book set in Berlin during the late ’20s. It’s a multilayered tale of love and politics at the beginning of the Nazi era, as Lutes follows the stories of three characters: a 20ish art student from the provinces, a textile worker, and a young Jewish radical. Their lives intersect in only the subtlest way—Lutes depicts them crossing paths at some great public events, such as the Mayday march that closes this part of his book. And Lutes plays with perspective in a visual sense as well, jumping from point-of-view frames to overhead angles, including one from a dirigible flying above in honor of the Kaiser. At street level, Lutes integrates his historical research smoothly, and cleverly evokes the sounds and smells of a city alive with public debate and private turmoil. The competing political factions include communists, socialists, democrats, nationalists, and fascists, and all of Lutes’s characters get swept up by events. Marthe, the beautiful art student, settles in with Kurt, the cynical and detached journalist; Gudrun, the factory worker, loses her job, and her nasty husband (to the Nazi party), then joins a communist cooperative with her young daughters; Schwartz, a teenager enamored with the memory of Rosa Luxembourg, balances his incipient politics with his religion at home and his passion for Houdini. The lesser figures seem fully realized as well, from the despotic art instructor to the reluctant street policeman. Cosmopolitan Berlin on the brink of disaster: Lutes captures the time and place with a historian’s precision and a cinematographer’s skill. His shifts from close-ups to fades work perfectly in his thin-line style, a crossbreed of dense-scene European comics and more simple comics styles on this side of the Atlantic.

An original project worth watching as it shapes up to something that may be quite magnificent.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-896597-29-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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