COMIC REVIEW: Humanoids' CRUSADES Deluxe Hardcover
The Templar's Crusade Meets Unexplained Extra Terrestrial Enemy...
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Before there was the fan-favorite Heavy Metal Magazine, which began in 1977, there was the French publication called Métal Hurlant. First published in 1974 by Les Humanoïdes Associés, the sci-fi and fantasy magazine's success inspired the publisher to continue to bring hard-hitting, gritty, and violent comics to the marketplace. Now, thanks to the publisher's American counterpart, Humanoids, fans of the classic old and modern new sci-fi, fantasy, and hardcore comics can pick up a variety of graphic novels and unique hardcover books.
CRUSADES Deluxe Hardcover
If you're anything like me, your two favorite genre include sci-fi and fantasy. And nothing makes me smile more than when the two genre cross paths and, thanks to the guidance of talented creators, combine to make an impressive, entertaining and unique piece of media. That's exactly the artists and writers have done in the Humanoids' oversized hardcover comic release CRUSADES.
I've reviewed a number of Humanoids' books over the last couple of years and find myself looking more and more towards the publisher as my main source for brilliantly written, thought provoking, well drawn and entertaining sci-fi and fantasy work. There's something about the books they publish which both creeps under your skin and infests your brain (in a good way) and CRUSADES is another one of these books.
Written by Izu & Alex Kikolavitch, translated by Quinn & Katia Donoghue and with art by Zhang Xiaoyu and colors by Zhou Hualong & Lia Jian, CRUSADES brings to life a unique medieval tale of deceit and horror with a touch of sci-fi which transforms the entire story into something truly original and frightening. Set during and after the fifth Crusade and spanning nearly 100 years, CRUSADES begins with one of the most cinematic and engaging opening chapters to a comic story I've ever read...and doesn't let up. Ever.
The Siege of Demietta (above), a historical Crusades battle in 1218, hosts the beginning of our tale as the pivotal port city in Egypt soon becomes the grave of many a Crusading warriors who find themselves attacked by unknown, silver-eyed, demon-like creature. The Legate Pelagio, the Pope's representative in the region, declares the abominations must be identified, studied and harnessed for the good of the Crusades. Thus our tale begins in earnest as we jump ahead in time and we're introduced to a cast of bold warriors whose task it is to seek out, battle and - if possible - tame this unknown evil for the Crusader's cause.
Like all impressive assembly casts, the main characters in CRUSADES each feature a unique personalities and specific character type. As members of the Pugnus Templi, a secretive band of warriors with varying skills and abilities, they're borderline outlaws, unaccustomed to heeding authority and always willing and able to kill with ease.
Led by the astute Templar Knight William of Sonnac, the war band includes the seditious alchemist Gautier of Puysegue, the fearless seneschal Ulrich of Syracuse, the female warrior Clotilde of Angers, and the brutal battle brother Robert Renfrew among others. Eventually joined by the Hand of Saint Peter and the Pope's personal assassin Jehu and the Mameluk General Ali Musafir, this oddly composed band finds themselves not only discovering the frightening reality of the demonic creatures, but evidence of extra-terrestrial interference in the war between religions. This of course leads to the Christians and Muslims compromising and working together to battle an unexplained and underestimated enemy the likes of which they'll never understand (below).
Engaging characters combined with an entertaining plot drive every story ever created and CRUSADES is no different. Brilliantly written, the tale only engages readers more as we learn more about each character's back story through flashbacks, revealing to we readers individual motivations, desires and - above all - fears, hopes and dreams. The characters - whether good or bad - have personality and we learn to care for them, even if they don't care for each other or themselves.
Of course, the artist likewise helps bring these characters to life and again CRUSADES is no exception. Artist Zhang Xiaoyu draws brilliantly and brings each and every character to life, screaming with personality. The individual looks of each character are only enforced as the story reveals more information about their personalities, histories and hearts. Likewise, colorists Zhou Hualong and Lia Jian compliment Xiaoyu's pencils and I'd be remiss to not mention their impressive work here as well.
Along with impressive artwork, the page design and story layout is brilliant. Truly cinematic in scope, the use of 10 or more panels on a single page combined with the use of multiple double-page spreads gorgeously reveal the setting and characters while propelling the plot forward. Broken into three separate volumes; Vol 1 - The Silver-Eyed Specter, Vol 2 - The Door of Hermes and Vol 3 - The Battle of Mansoura; the book's central plot stays firm while each individual volume reveals separate themes and motivations, culminating in a postlude of sorts which readers will never see coming.
Overall, CRUSADES takes readers an an inventive, cross-genre jaunt the likes of which readers rarely find in comics. And that's a good thing...no, a great thing. Creative, exciting and wholly entertaining, CRUSADES is thought-provoking, intelligent and simply fun. You'll wish there was more and, thankfully, the writers leave the story open to a sequel which I sure hope is coming soon.
Humanoids' CRUSADES is available in Deluxe Hardcover format wherever fine comics and books are sold.
- Jess C. Horsley