Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trade Waiting - Rex Mundi Omnibus Volume One

Omnibus. A word that strikes both fear and excitement of equal measure into the heart of many a comic fan and justifiably so. An omnibus is a great way to experience a large chunk of a property you are interested in, often entire runs of a series or a creators contribution to a property, yet an omnibus can usually set you back a pretty penny of your monthly comic book expenditure. Dark Horse Comics, arguably the number three or four publisher in the United States depending on where your tastes lie, have for some time collected their classic licensed work into affordable omnibus packages, offsetting the usual high price with slightly lower than usual quality paper stock and instead of going oversized, shrinking the comic book dimensions to just smaller than a regular comic book. They are now doing the same with some of their non-licensed work also, continuing in the tradition of last year’s fantastic Major Bummer collection. The question is, are any of the new batch of Dark Horse Omnibus editions any good? And is this week’s choice as good as the Grendel Omnibus that was reviewed last week? Find out after the jump.

Rex Mundi Omnibus Volume One
Written by Avrid Nelson
Art by Eric J, Jim Di Bartolo, and Juan Ferreyra
Published by Dark Horse

What if you found out a secret that was so dangerous that it put the lives of yourself and all you cared for in danger? But what if that secret was so shocking that it would shake the foundations of society as we know it down to its very core? This is the life that Dr Julien Sauniere, a physician whose position as doctor to the poorest sections of Paris belies his talent and inquisitive nature, finds himself thrust into after being told a mere sliver of a secret by a friend in the Catholic church who was in charge of keeping the secret just that, secret. But after his friends grisly murder Julien decides to dig deeper into the secrets of the church and slowly finds out some information that would not only bring France to its knees but would also change the entire world and the way that people have thought and acted for almost two thousand years. Whilst Julien is uncovering the secrets of the past we also get to meet the Lex Luthor lookalike the Duke of Lorraine, the closest thing France has to a president and a highly ambitious man who will stop at nothing to obtain power, mainly through political machinations yet sometimes through more nefarious means. Through the Duke of Lorraine we are not only introduced to the villain of the piece but also a window into the way the politics of this version of France works. Connecting the two is Dr Genevieve Tournon, appointed court physician to the Duke of Lorraine, classmate of Julien, and lover to both. Gen is, like the battle between church and state in Rex Mundi, someone who is at a crossroads of what path to take with her life. Does she follow her career down a potential path of damnation or does she follow her morals and lose everything she has worked so hard for?

The world of Rex Mundi is one that is not so different from the one we reside in yet it is one that diverged from ours due to the relationship that the church has with politics and the sway that religion holds over the governance of state. Sometimes these differences are slightly inconsequential but sometimes these differences have a massive impact upon the world. The United States is anything but, essentially still in civil war and still separated by the Mason-Dixon Line. Europe is the hub of this world’s politics and religion yet is plagued with infighting between the four factions that control the continent, the French, the Romans, the Prussians, and the Ottomans. France in particular has had the most drastic of changes to the one we know with the royal family still place and having as much say in the political arena as the government. There is one fundamental difference between this world and the one we are in that has nothing to do with either the church or the state and that is that this is a world where magic exists, and although it is a crime to practice sorcery the use of magic is prevalent throughout the book.

Avrid Nelson is without a doubt an excellent plotter of stories. The complexities of the characters motivations never feel forced and the continued shock reveals and sleight of hands show that, at the very least with Rex Mundi, that Nelson has a clear sense of the direction of where the story needs to go. The ability to have a clear direction of where you want your tale to go isn’t usually something to commend from the rooftops but with Rex Mundi, Nelson does this with a massive cast and two thousand years of fictional history to deal with and there is never a moment when the tale is anything less than easy to follow. Having said that do not think that Rex Mundi is shallow, it is anything but. With the use of newspaper front pages in the back of each issue, Nelson builds a living, believable world that whilst go against the show don’t tell policy, add layers of realism to an unrealistic world. In fact, Nelson would be missing a trick if at some point in the future, go back and tell stories within the world of Rex Mundi that have nothing to do with France or the Catholic church. This reviewer would love to see Constantinople and the rule of the Ottoman’s or how the Prussian’s control Northern Europe under the pen of Nelson as the newspaper columns are almost a tease that he has much more story to tell. Not only this, Nelson has a great handle on the actual characters he has created with them all having a consistency of not only voice but actions with the dialogue between the cast having a natural rhythm and their relationships between wholly different from one and other.

The three artists that are tasked with bringing the world of Rex Mundi are all very different but each have styles that suit the subject matter well. Handling the majority of the book is Eric J who has a style that oddly sits somewhere between Jim Calafiore and Darick Robertson and whilst isn’t going to reinvent the wheel any time soon. Second up is Jim Di Bartolo whose clear pencil style is very different to the heavy blacks that Eric J uses yet work incredibly well, especially in the scenes set in parliament. Saving the best until last, Juan Ferreyra handles the final two issues and has a beautifully soft line and incredible panel layouts that are just a step above the artists on display here. Finally, Dark Horse have decided to put a few back up tales that are not intrinsically linked to the plot of Rex Mundi but are entertaining enough. What makes this noteworthy is one of these back up tales is illustrated by the peerless Guy Davis, showing not only the three main artists of this book up but arguably most of the artists working in comics today. For the art in a book to start well but consistently get better can only be a good thing.

Verdict - Buy It.

To compare Rex Mundi to other secret history of Catholicism or secret stories of Jesus tales would be doing it a disservice, not only as most of those are pure fluff but because Avrid Nelson tells a compelling, exciting story that whilst being wildly ludicrous, (as most tales are,) is both exciting and horrifying in equal measure. Part political drama, part conspiracy story and part horror Rex Mundi has a lot to say and with this new omnibus edition, hopefully find a whole new set of fans. Add this to consistent art and you have a recipe for success that even the Duke of Lorraine would have to accept. Plus, it’s almost twenty issues of quality content for twenty five dollars, how can you argue with that?

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Archaznable said...

the art on the comic book looks really astounding and it must be a really good comic book to read to read at and it also looks like fun

Juan Ferreyra said...

Nice Review!!! the Second (and Last)Omnibus comes out on February!! and almost all the issues are drawn by me, I hope you like the second one too as much as I liked drawing the story!!

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