The problem with period pieces, at least in film, is they cost too damn much. When it comes to realistic looking costumes, props and sets it all costs way too much to produce so of course, with far fewer historical films, humanity as a whole suffers. Why stick your interesting protagonist in the year 500 when it’s so much more cost effective to stick him in 2010 Los Angeles?!
Enter comics, a viable visual medium to tell the stories with the cost of ink and paper alone! Humanoids Publishing recently published a hardcover collected edition of the popular French comic Millennium originally published in 2003. The question remains, in the year 997 are supernatural detectives just as cool as our modern ones?
Millennium (Humanoids Publishing)
This is a review of the full 292 page edition, collecting the first five volumes of the series. Before describing this series in full it should be noted the first 55 page volume is available free to read over at humanoids.com. If you’re not feeling so adventurous in reading the book let’s delve into the plot, shall we? The story follows a renowned relic dealer named Raedwald who is aided with some muscle by Arnulf who is an ex-slave he rescued. The millennium is fast approaching and many people fear the end of the world is nigh. Raedwald and Arnulf trek through this tumultuous time discovering new relics, encounter ferocious monsters and uncover some truly epic secrets inside the Catholic church.
Writer Richard D. Nolane has quite a bit lined up in this series for his characters to run through, from shapeshifting clergymen to ghouls, Krakens and Trolls. The creatures are not the main feature though; they are instead spotted throughout to give the narrative an otherworldly and dangerous feel. Raedwald and Arnulf have plenty to do regardless as they attempt to keep their necks clean and their coffers full. Raedwald is something like an ancient Sherlock Holmes using a bit of detective work throughout the story to uncover secrets and locate valuable relics. He’s not necessarily a do-gooder, but his persona is valiant enough given the lawlessness of people at the time.
The series opens on a horrific attack on a queen and her child, with gruesome violence and gore taking place on innocent victims and the child and queen themselves. From there our protagonist faces ever more dangerous situations, but Raedwald never loses himself in the madness. It’s his level headedness and inquisitive nature that drives the story forward. Also his tenacity to uncover the secrets that lay behind creatures known as Sylphs.
Time to do some detective work.
Of course, with any mystery the character must have a complicated and largely layered onion of a conspiracy to uncover and this series has a quite doozy of a reveal when he peels back that onion. There are many more uncoverings throughout the series and it’s fun to come to your own conclusions as they occur. They are well placed throughout the series so you’re always getting just enough to keep the overarching thread relevant and at the same time slowly build to an X-Files-level reveal that will blow you away. It’s a reveal that would make most scoff if told outright, but when built up throughout these pages it’s actually quite believable. You buy it because there are so many strong moments supporting it throughout the narrative.
Similar to X-Files, the supernatural elements are seen and heard in a limited way to keep the believability of it all high. There’s also a nice bit of science added in to keep everything level-headed. The creatures and overarching conspiracy/mystery that drive the story also seem all the more real due to the adult nature of the story. Nolane’s dialogue, while a bit verbose, is realistic and believable. The violence is also never overdone and maintains a gritty believability that reminds one how gruesome it was to live hundreds of years ago. There’s also a bit of nudity throughout the series, female and male, that’s tastefully and realistically done. Sure, there are more topless females than bottomless dudes, but it’s typically done to show the lawlessness of the time. For a book that has major Catholic players involved there sure is a lot of sinning going on.
That is one gorgeous and realistic looking castle.
The art by François Miville-Deschênes is incredible in its detail, accuracy and cinematic nature. More often than not François uses a widescreen panel to convey the detail of the scenery or placement of the characters. The fact is this isn’t always the case with comics, with many artists choosing to use a wider panel to stretch the comic further with blank space decompressing the story. Instead of empty space though, François fills every panel with gorgeous landscapes or to convey an emotional aspect on the characters.
François has a strong bead on the time and place of this series, and the details are undeniably realistic. You never doubt what you’re seeing is the year 997, from the costumes to the vehicles and villages. In a lot of ways this comic is, to the best of my knowledge, as good as any historical reference. Okay sure, the monsters throw things off a bit, but you’ll never wonder if the characters are out of place or time.
Though the overarching mystery is compelling, monsters litter the pages, and there are plenty of action sequences, the book as a whole feels a bit long. This may be in part due to the long bits of dialogue that Nolane gives Raedwald when he’s attempting to uncover the mysteries. At some point the dialogue gets tiresome and reads like it could be cut down a bit. This may be due to the translation, but it gets boring when scenes run on too long. There’s usually some action or reveal to cut to, but it does make portions of the read a bit of a slog.
As the protagonist, Raedwald is an interesting character and drives the narrative well. I can’t say the same for Arnulf, who is very much a muscled bodyguard stereotype. He serves that character type well, but never gets fleshed out, nor is he given much purpose beyond unquestionably following Raedwald.
Now that’s peculiar.
Mystery and monsters collide in this vividly drawn and entertaining historical adventure.