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 thin sliver of illustrated memoir that barely hits its stride before fading away.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS

Satrapi (Embroideries, 2005, etc.) recalls the tragic final days of her great-uncle, an Iranian musician who died of a broken heart after his wife destroyed his favorite instrument.

Set for the most part in Tehran circa 1958, this graphic memoir tells the story of Nasser Ali Khan, a renowned master of the tar, an Iranian stringed instrument. A man of taciturn demeanor and moodiness, Khan believes himself too much of an artist to perform non-creative labor; he barely contributes to the household upkeep with either work or money. Not surprisingly, his firecracker of a wife doesn’t take well to this attitude and eventually cracks, snapping his beloved tar in two and sending Khan to his bed, where he grows gloomy and frets. This day-by-day reconstruction shows Khan’s wife and brother trying to rouse him back to the land of the living. But his artist’s pride (the tar was Stradivarius-like in its perfection) is not easily mended. As always, Satrapi’s artwork is simple and expressive, with its rich pools of black ink and swooping, lyrical curlicues. Only occasionally does she break out of a strict frame-to-frame design, but when she does, the results are breathtaking. One beautiful page depicts the family of one of Khan’s sons seated around the TV: In the top half, they’re happy and chatty, watching a woman sing; in the bottom, all is in perditious shadow, a bearded man lecturing on the screen, with the text reading simply, “But in 1980 war erupted and that was the end of happiness.” Unfortunately, the volume is so short that the story doesn’t have enough time to take root, and what could have been an emotional and heart-rending drama becomes instead an intriguing footnote.

A thin sliver of illustrated memoir that barely hits its stride before fading away.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-42415-6

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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An enjoyable creeper that needs a bit more room to run.

THE ABSENCE

A village on the English coast wrestles with postwar realities and quantum physics in graphic designer and playwright Stiff’s debut six-issue horror/science fiction miniseries.

At the center of this tale set amid the cliffs, moors and pub of a seaside English village are dapper, disfigured veteran Marwood Clay and Robert Temple, an aloof scientific visionary who fought—and won—World War II on a radically new front. Marwood was born in the village, but he and Temple are both considered outsiders thanks to a fiery tragedy in Marwood and the villagers’ shared past. Temple has come with deep pockets and bizarre plans to erect a mammoth, meticulously designed structure referred to by his local foreman as “this pile of shite.” After an initial, congenial introduction, Marwood and Temple soon find themselves at odds as each attempts to engage with the villagers. Meanwhile, the village struggles with a rash of inexplicable disappearances. Is it murder? Is it Marwood? Or does something darker lurk beneath the village’s quaint facade? An opening scene of a localized cataclysm shares the date with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, quickly establishing a connection between advanced technology and primal fear (exemplified by Temple’s boss, a decrepit, amputee government agent who wants Temple’s knowledge to further his own agenda). The story maintains a creepy atmosphere throughout, with elements of The Twilight Zone, The Manchurian Candidate and Donnie Darko, well served by Stiff’s simple, expressive black-and-white illustrations that have the outsized chunkiness of Howard Chaykin and the energetic crudity and classic paneling of Steve Yeowell. Stiff stuffs his story until it bristles with science-fiction tropes like liquid mirrors, sinister German doctors, prognostication via equations, crumbling religious iconography and nods to Schrödinger’s cat, but the sheer number of ideas and the brevity of the series give any individual concept short shrift.

An enjoyable creeper that needs a bit more room to run.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1782760382

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Titan Comics

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2014

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