By Jean Dufaux and Philippe Xavier
Crusade is attempting to tell a really interesting quasi-historical tale mixing the dubious morality of the Crusades with a healthy dose of mysticism and fantasy. It’s well done, with plenty of action and intrigue and overall, it’s a damn fine introduction to the series.
Crusade is set in an uncertain time, somewhere around the 13th Century, with yet another bunch of crusading Cristian knights being pushed and cajoled into invading the Holy Land by a mix of religious zeal and egotistical desire for conquest. As usual, the two opposing forces of Christianity and Muslims clash over their two dubious ideologies that always seem to have far more in common than either side ever acknowledges.
Like most religious conflicts, the sense of futility and wasted life is all over the book, and Dufaux’s writing does a fine job of creating believable characters on both sides of the religious and cultural divide, and does an equally fine job of pointing out so many of the ridiculous reasonings for the conflicts – in the end it’s all down to the vanity of men and the desire for power – both territorial and religious.
(…. “He may no longer be the only one making the decisions” – indeed. Their are too many players vying for power in this Crusade. From Crusade Volume 1 by Dufaux and Xavier, published by Cinebook)
The Christians are marching into war, led by the ageing Gregoire Of Arcos, a reasonable leader who finds himself swayed by the urgings of the church and the bloodlust of his close aides. The timing for the battle ahead couldn’t be worse – the Holy Lands are due to be ravaged by the Simoun Dja, a terrible wind that blows across the battlefields. Legend has it that this wind can rip flesh from bone, tear armour to pieces and devastate any army, regardless of religious bent.
Only one man; Gauthier Of Flanders raises a voice of reasoned objection, but his words are unheeded and the Christians march to battle, unaware that the opposing Muslim forces have called upon ancient sorcery to protect them from the Simoun Dja. But their sorcerous seer’s ability to protect the Muslim army comes not from the heavens, but somewhere far hotter and lowly – it seems the devil has a personal interest in this particular crusade.
And the devil’s own representative, the seemingly immortal Sar Mitra, has a major part to play on the oncoming battle for this most holy of lands. A part that looks certain to be expanded upon in subsequent volumes – as do the wanderings of Gauthier, his reason dismissed as cowardice, who is seen here heading to the Jewish lands, looking to recruit more men to his fight.
(The Muslim forces have a powerful ally in their fight, a powerful, devilish ally. From Crusade Volume 1 by Dufaux and Xavier, published by Cinebook)
The big issue I have with Crusade is one of the ending. Or lack thereof. I’m used to Cinebook’s slim Euro volumes ending with cliffhangers, as that’s often the way they are written. But thus far, where a cliffhanger is used, it’s always in keeping with the pacing of the story and functions as a satisfying yet thrilling way to stop the volume.
But with Crusade, it pretty much just stops dead on page 54. It’s almost as if Dufaux was writing a script without thought to page count, realised at some point he had to end the volume and quickly attempted to add a teasing mild cliffhanger. But it just doesn’t work sadly and the whole thing slams to an unstatisfying halt. Maybe when I get chance to read this as part of a few volumes I’ll feel more charitable toward it, but closing the book it just felt unsatisfying, no matter how enjoyable the preceeding pages had been.
(Xavier’s artwork – so impressive in those battle sequences – epic? Oh yes. From Crusade Volume 1 by Dufaux and Xavier, published by Cinebook)
Xavier’s art deserves mention as well. He does a great job of detailing so much of the book, especially some of the stunning battle sequences.
It epitomises a certain movement in Euro-comic art towards a more British/American style – in fact, I could narrow it down even further and say it’s a very specific 2000AD style, with bits of US comics thrown in. That Philippe Xavier worked for many years in the States for Marvel (amongst others) does rather explain this. But his work sometimes lacks some of the subtlety and beauty of a more Euro style. There’s a over-reliance on stock poses and an occasional lapse into rather bland and formulaic set of facial expressions. But when he gets it right, which is more often than not – it’s lovely to look at, and bodes well for the series as it continues.
Crusades is by no means my favourite Cinebook title. In fact, it’s not my favourite Cinebook title with a historical fantasy aspect (that would be the swashbuckling Scorpion), but Crusade is a fine example of a good, action packed bit of Euro comics. Light and enjoyable, good art, nice story, interesting concept. Worth a look, definitely worth sticking with to see how it develops.