Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Rex Mundi v1 The Guardian of the Temple

Picture a world where the American Civil War ended in a stalemate, the Catholic Church is the primary power in Europe, and sorcery and mysticism are practiced behind closed doors.  Now consider what this might make the political situation of the Eurasian land mass look like and you've got a good starting place for Rex Mundi.

This first volume, The Guardian of the Temple, is set in Paris.  When an ancient scroll goes missing from the secret chambers of a church, Doctor Julien Sauniere is called upon, by his old friend, Father Marin  -the guardian of the secret chamber- to investigate.  Marin confesses that he revealed the whereabouts of the secret chamber to a friend, who is currently a practicing prostitute.  Marin also suspects that sorcery was used to breach the chamber.  Sauniere rushes off to track down Marin's friend but is too late and discovers she is the victim of a brutal, ritualistic murder.  As Sauniere digs deeper, he discovers that an ancient secret society may be behind the murder.  All the while, the Catholic police, the Inquisition is hot on his heels.

While all this is going on, plots, and counter plots are hatching in the political arena as France inches closer and closer to a war with their neighbors.

In many ways Rex Mundi: The Guardian of the Temple reminded me a bit of The DaVinci Code, except with better writing, more complexity, and a wider scope.  While The Guardian of the Temple is basically an opening salvo to a much grander plot, it does a great job of giving the reader a feel for the alternate historical setting, and the elements at play.

In many ways, Rex Mundi is a comic where the art does much of the talking, but make no mistake there is some solid writing going on too.  This is a comic rich in complex elements, with a fully fleshed out alternate history that I am dying to learn more about.  The writer, Arvid Nelson fills the story up with lore, mysticism and mystery that only make the setting more intriguing.  There are a lot of elements thrown at the reader in this first volume, but I never felt over my head, and instead felt like I had been invited into an amazing, fully realized version of Earth that never happened but could have.  So far, the world building has been excellent, and I'm hungry for more.

As great as the plot, and the alternate historical setting is, I found it hard to connect with Sauniere, who is, for all intents and purposes, the primary character.  So far he has mostly been the tool that cranks the story and the plot forward, moving it along towards the eventual destination.  Aside from that, there hasn't been much development of his character.  There were a few tidbits here and there, but nothing I could firmly latch on and connect to.  Despite this grand scope of the plot, there are only a couple of secondary characters thus far, and none that really stand out.

The art element of Rex Mundi is handled by Eric J, and is the perfect companion to the writing and the setting.  Eric J brings the world of the 1930's to life brick by lovely brick.  Each scene is wonderfully detailed and quite nice to look at.  He expertly captures the decadence and the dinginess alike of the environment.  That said, his figure drawing felt a bit off for me. All the people in the comic look like they are about nine feet tall, and men and women alike all have elongated, broad-shouldered swimmer's bodies.  It almost looks as if a nearly human alien race is walking around Paris, pretending to be human.

After reading this first volume, there is not doubt in my mind that this is a comic with a rather epic scope.  In some ways this intimidates me a bit, as I'm not sure I'm quite ready for a journey of such proportions.  There is no doubt that there are much bigger things to come, which to me can be a blessing or a curse.  My fear is that Nelson wont be able to hold all the strings of such an ambitious plot.  However, I am quite intrigued by all the potential.  Even though I haven't connected with any of the characters yet, this is still a strong first volume, and I'm definitely on board for the next installment.

Grade: B-

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