After using the healing power of the blue apple Grail wine to bring the villagers back from the dead, Dr Julien Sauniere makes his preparations for the final, desperate assault again the fortress of his mortal enemy. However his preferred plan of attack is not without its detractors among his companions and he is forced to integrate their strong religious convictions into his campaign strategy. Meanwhile, the Duke of Lorraine is attending his daughterâ€™s cremation ceremony and his obvious mental and physical deterioration is causing the armyâ€™s high ranking staff officers to believe that Plantardâ€™s grip on power is slipping and that it may be time to find a new figurehead to lead their twisted enterprise.
The easy assumption to make about this book is that itâ€™s a barefaced Da Vinci Code rip-off but in fact the first issue of this groundbreaking series appeared a couple of years before its more famous literary cousin conquered the worldwide bestseller lists. The comparisons were obviously easy to make because both titles make extensive use of famous Parisian locations and both chart the twists and turns of a hunt for the Holy Grail but the main difference is that this book is set in an alternate history world where centuries ago the Catholic Church crushed the Protestant Reformation movement in its infancy which in turn has lead to a greatly different modern geopolitical reality.
The main action of the story is set in an early 1930â€™s Europe where feudalism still exists, occult magic is openly used and colonialism is still a potent political force. The rise of fascism in this counterpart, parallels the National Socialism model but here the aggressor nation is France and not Germany. There is also a Hitler analogue in the form of the David de St.Clare, a disaffected member of the nobility, who overthrows the monarchy and using his newfound authority to militarily annex neighbouring countries. However there is no chance of the United States Army being mobilised to come to the aid of its European treaty partners because in this reality the American Century never came to fruition. America is divided into two disunited states, one Union — one Confederate, who have been trapped in a decadeâ€™s long ensanguined stalemate, which has necessarily kept their attention firmly focused on their neighbours and has left them no time for other worldwide affairs of state.
To me this particular issue felt a bit of a placeholder and thatâ€™s definitely not the conviction that I should have had with only one issue to go before this extremely complex story is finally finished. The explanation as to why I had that impression was a bit hard to pin down so I had to read through the entire book again before I came to a concrete conclusion in my own mind. I belatedly realised that it was because I have been following this series since the prequel Brother Mathew tale which was serialised in the British â€˜Comics Internationalâ€™ magazine and during that time I have really bought into the whole concept of the search for the Grail in this surrogate macrocosm.
The twists and turns of the perilous journey that Dr Sauniere has taken have really captivated my interest and the accompanying text pieces that fill in the larger political back story have significantly added to the overall experience. I really do want to know how the story ends and when I read an issue that seems only to be a long expository laden piece with some bloody action sequences hastily thrown into the mix I get very disappointed because I know that this creative team are capable of so very much more. This book should have been preparing me for next issues big finish but it was really just a very damp squib. Mr Nelsonâ€™s script contained no dramatic tension whatsoever although it must be said that the religious debate that Sauniere had with the village elder was at least up to the standard of the writer previous good work and this scene obviously grew out of the writers own obviously held Bahaâ€™i faith.
As for the art, the majority of Juan Ferreyraâ€™s work was competent but no more than that. His frontispiece was extremely nice but the Escher inspired dungeon panel was just a little bit silly. I am not one of those fetish fans who constantly mourn for the original artist on this series, Eric J. His time on this title has passed years ago and Mr Ferreyra has been an able replacement but he has also previously produced much better pages than these and I feel that he is also partially guilty for the creative team under-surpassing my expectations in this issue.
Rex Mundi means king of the world and even though this story hasnâ€™t exactly taken the planet by storm it is fair to say that this quintessentially European tale has garnered a large and faithful audience in the States. Itâ€™s rumoured that Johnny Depp is a fan and plans to make a big budget Hollywood movie of the story. He would be better off getting funding for an H.B.O mini-series instead because the complexity of this story cannot be captured in one hundred minutes of cinema time. The journey that I embarked on when I started reading this series has been long and labyrinthine, and this particular issue felt like a large stone in my shoe just when the finish line is coming into view but that doesnâ€™t mean that I am going to abandon the race and neither should you. With the publication of the final issue in the coming months, there is definitely a case to be made that this wonderful series, including the very rare self-published first issue, the Brother Matthew prequel and all the other extra background material that didnâ€™t make it into the main book, should be collected by Dark Horse into Absolute sized editions. I believe that because of their subject matter they would sell very well indeed in mainland Europe.
I give Rex Mundi #18, two and a half stars.