Rex Mundi (which is Latin for “King of the World”) is set in the 1930’s in an interesting, highly detailed world similar in many ways but very different from ours. For instance, magic exists, the Protestant Reformation never happened, the Confederate States were never defeated, and an Islamic state still exists on the Iberian Peninsula. One thing which is the same is a creeping darkness of the times with war clearly just over the horizon.
The protagonist, Dr. Julian Sauniere, stumbles into a conspiracy that reaches back to the earliest days of the Catholic Church. Early issues of this series were published before The Da Vinci Code and share with it similar themes about the politics of the Catholic Church and the question of Jesus’ bloodline. Along the way, Julian finds himself in conflict with the Duke of Lorraine, the most powerful man in France – perhaps even the whole of Europe.
The Duke is plotting to grab power by riling up the French population in ways similar to a certain German dictator of our world though his scapegoats are the Muslims of Europe. Julian gets captured by the Inquisition along the way but manages to escape with the help of Genevieve Tournon, the Duke’s personal physician and Julian’s ex-lover. The two flee in search of the Holy Grail, which may or may not be an ultimate weapon, with the Duke and his forces hot on their trail.
Do they succeed? Or does the Duke overtake them? And what really is the nature of the Holy Grail?
You’ll just have to read the series to find out.
Along the way stop to savor the art. Over the series, there were three different artists but each had a similar enough style that there are no abrupt disruptions of the narrative due to the changes. The art is what I call “comic book realism.” There is a good deal of detail with sharp lines and clear, somewhat muted colors. The figures and scenery look real but not so real that you would call them photographic or painterly (such as in the works of Alex Ross). It still looks like a comic book but without the exaggeration found in some of the genres (such as superhero or fantasy).
At first the emphasis is more on deep blacks in the figures and in the design elements. There are large blocks of ebony both within and around the panels. This leads to the gutters (the space between panels) being negative ones, pushing the scene up from the all black background. When they are not negative, gutters are often shades of gray, reinforcing a sense of gloom and mystery. Later in the series there is a wider palette of colors used so that the panels take on a distinct shape against – rather than just bleeding into – the stark black that continues to be the background of most pages. The colors pop more as the emotions of the characters intensify. Towards the series’ end, the heavy lines used by the inker to delineate forms becomes softer so the wider range of colors stands out all the more.
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Formats Available: Graphic Novel
Reviewed by Tony, Main Library