An explosive but overly wound clockwork whose center doesn’t hold.

TEMPLAR

A sweeping medieval caper set amid the persecution of the Knights Templar during the early 14th century.

After righteously serving Christendom during the Crusades, the Knights Templar returned from the Holy Land and faced their new reality as a powerful army that answered only to the pope yet operated in lands ruled by kings. Mechner (The Making of Karateka, 2012, etc.) unspools their downfall—the result of trumped-up charges orchestrated by Nogaret, chancellor to the king of France, who is determined to seize the vast treasure the Templars have hidden in their Paris temple—by following the order’s less pious members. Boozing and lust keep a trio of knights, led by valiant Martin of Troyes, out of the initial sweep that imprisons nearly the entire order. Martin goes on to lead a ragtag team of Templar misfits on a quest to decipher the location of the treasure and spirit it away before Nogaret can claim it. The sprawling, often circuitous tale features a large cast of characters and a rich historical setting, but the two elements don’t fully mesh, both settling at the depth of a Hollywood blockbuster. Few Templars resist the outrageous persecution, and their limp response is addressed only in a remark by their browbeaten grand master: “In this new world there is no place for men like us.” The sentiment is poignant but largely unexplored, and the lack of fight from the Templars—who are, by all accounts, fierce warriors—gives the story an odd hollowness that undercuts its rousing third act. Illustrators Pham (The Boy Who Loved Math, 2013, etc.) and Puvilland (Solomon’s Thieves, 2010, etc.) imbue the book with a sketchy beauty that feels akin to the work of Guy Davis, though the influence of Puvilland’s role at DreamWorks Animation is also apparent. The art’s small details are the best, like a flung canteen frozen in midair, windblown shrubs on a lonesome street, a long-imprisoned Templar shielding his eyes from the sun, or the tilted head and closed eyes of a distant kiss.

An explosive but overly wound clockwork whose center doesn’t hold.

Pub Date: July 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-393-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

THE GIGANTIC BEARD THAT WAS EVIL

Cartoonist Collins’ debut graphic novel is a long, smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here.

Here sits on an island, surrounded by the sea, separated from the far-off land of There. And whereas Here is all row houses and trimmed trees and clean cheeks, There is a dark, disordered place that would mix your insides with your outsides, your befores with your nows with your nexts—unpleasant business brilliantly depicted in panels breaking across a single body as it succumbs to chaos. So the people of Here live quiet, fastidious lives, their backs to the sea, and neighbor Dave delights in doodling it all from his window as he listens to the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” on repeat. But an irregular report at his inscrutable office job triggers the single hair that has always curved from Dave’s upper lip to be suddenly joined by a burst of follicles. Try as Dave might, his unruly beard won’t stop pouring from his face in a tangled flood—and soon it threatens the very fabric of life in Here. Collins’ illustrations are lush, rounded affairs with voluptuous shading across oblong planes. Expressions pop, from the severe upturn where a sympathetic psychiatrist’s brows meet to the befuddlement of a schoolgirl as the beard’s hypnotic powers take hold. With its archetypical conflict and deliberate dissection of language, the story seems aimed at delivering a moral, but the tale ultimately throws its aesthetics into abstraction rather than didacticism. The result rings a little hollow but goes down smooth.

Rich, creamy art and playful paneling make for a fun read.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-05039-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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