Solomon’s Thieves

Posted by on June 27th, 2010 at 10:01 AM

Kent reviews the latest swashbuckler from First Second.

Solomon’s Thieves. Jordan Mechner, LeUyen Pham, Alex Puvilland, Hilary Sycamore. New York: First Second, 2010. $12.99, 199 pages. Full color. ISBN 9781596433915.

A few weeks ago I reviewed Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel, an elegant, time-bending fable that is no doubt much better than the movie. Based on Jordan Mechner’s long-established multiplatform franchise, the graphic novel features a portents-laden script by A.B. Sina and visuals by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, with colors by Hilary Sycamore.

First Second has reunited Pham, Puvilland and Sycamore for the first of a projected series of three Mechner-authored graphic novels that concern the adventures of renegade Templars after the fall of their once-famous religious order. The Knights Templar were arguably “the most powerful military monastic order of the medieval world,” says Mechner, and they “became heroes to Christians everywhere.” “Pledged to protect pilgrims during the Crusades,” they were embraced by the Vatican in 1129 only to be forcibly disbanded nearly two centuries later by papal decree. The Church now recognizes that closing the Order was a mistake. (The relevant wiki page is here.)

The secretive nature of the Templars, combined with their dramatic rise and even more dramatic fall, has helped inspired numerous fictional and conspiratorial narratives. Jordan Mechner is the latest in a long list of authors who has turned to the Knights Templar for storytelling purposes. He is unlikely to be the last.

Solomon’s Thieves is centered around the travails of a well-meaning Templar named Martin who returns from the Crusades only to find that the French authorities are starting to move against his Order. A representative of the King insists that the Brothers of the Order “have been conducting secret, blasphemous, obscene rites…ceremonies of black magic in which they deny and spit on the image of Christ our savior.” The only evidence for these accusations, of course, are the “confessions” that are subsequently tortured out of Templars. Mechner and his collaborators do a nice job of conveying a sense of how political and religious disputes were settled at the close of the thirteenth century.

As the public fervor against the Templars rises, Martin finds himself on the run from the law. At one point he’s captured by the King’s men, and tortured, but he makes a daring escape during a snow storm. He ends up joining a gang of robbers who have learned to embrace their status as wanted criminals. The outlaws pledge to “reclaim the treasure of the poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon,” which they believe to be hidden in Paris. The stage is set, in other words, for the next volume.

Jordan Mechner has clearly done his homework. The book includes a useful afterword that places these events in their historical context, as well as suggestions for further reading. But, once again, it’s the artwork – pencils, inks and coloring – that really pops. Two samples will have to suffice. Here is the page that opens the book:

And here is a wordless panel that depicts the “old tower” where the Knights who made it to safety were to leave their mark:

Both titles – Solomon’s Thieves, and Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel – left me wanting to see more pages by LeUyen Pham and her husband Alex Puvilland. Their work is historically grounded, psychologically observant and fun to look at. Hilary Sycamore’s work as a colorist is also quite strong. In both cases they have taken what could have been merely competent exercises in all-ages, genre-based storytelling, and lifted them onto a higher plane. If you have a fifteen-year old nephew or cousin who hates to read, and especially hates to read about history, then these books might do the trick.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.