Templar (First Second)

Many a hit movie has cast the Knights Templar as would-be world conquerors, but Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner has a different take in this epic graphic novel.

 

 

480 pgs., full color; $39.99
(W: Jordan Mechner; A: LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland)
 
Pop culture hasn’t been kind to the Knights Templar. Franchises like National Treasure and Assassin’s Creed feed into centuries-old conspiracy theories, and often portray the Templars as would-be world conquerors. In Templar, Jordan Mechner goes against the grain and tells us the story of a rag-tag band of knights plot to steal back the Templar treasure waiting under their enemies’ noses.
 
It is the French King’s Chief Minister, Guillaume de Nogaret, who brings the hammer down on France’s Knights Templar. Accusing them of heresy, witchcraft, and “acts of unnatural intercourse,” Nogaret has the whole of the nation’s Knights Templar arrested. The sad, principled knight Martin of Troyes escapes prison and wanders the countryside, often starving but refusing to resort to crime. When Martin stops another former knight from robbing a man in the woods, he finds himself embroiled in a plot to steal the Templars’ hidden treasure. Martin initially intends to hold the treasure until the Templars are cleared of charges, but soon things get murkier. New and old friends join Martin’s group, including his former lover Isabelle, a converted Arab knight, and an old Italian curmudgeon. Some want to keep the money for themselves, some want to hold the money in trust, some just want to get back at the Templars’ enemies, and others refuse to help at all. The group splinters and falls apart, but comes back together once the knights who weren’t lucky enough to escape are finally punished by the King in a horrific spectacle.
 
The overall tone of Templar is a little surprising. Quite a bit of historical research went into the GN (Mechner lists a number of books he researched in the Afterword), and Mechner doesn’t shy away from the violence of the time. The Templars as a whole endure numerous tortures and their ultimate fate is neither quick nor merciful. And I think it isn’t spoiling too much to say that a healthy chunk of Martin’s band doesn’t make it to the end of the story. Yet the mood is often very light and fun. Templars is funny and action-packed. There are a lot of fun chase scenes when you can practically hear the score of an Indiana Jones film in the background. And characters like the roguish Bernard, the stubborn Jehan, and the not-so-holy Brother Dominic provide a lot of laughs. The lighter mood and the “Big Heist” aspect of the story tends to make Templar feel a lot more like Ocean’s Eleven than Game of Thrones. Yet the bloody ending isn’t the kind you’d ever find in the Ocean’s franchise.
 
My single complaint about the story is that I don’t feel like we ever get a real sense of Guillaume de Nogaret’s motivations for his crusade against the Templars. At one point Nogaret’s strongarm Captain Devoet asks his master why he hates the Templars, and Nogaret’s answer doesn’t feel complete. He calls the Templars sanctimonious, hypocritical, and greedy, but considering the fervor with which he pursues the knights, this answer seems far too cold and ideological. I felt as if Nogaret experienced a much more visceral urge to wipe out the order, but we never really see why.
 
Artists LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland give us a rich, tangible 14th century France to explore. Their characters are unique and expressive, and the battle scenes are expertly done. And I have to say that Hilary Sycamore and Alex Campbell’s colors are wonderful. They make every scene and every setting feel absolutely its own.
 
Templar is a fun, smart book with an expert sense of history. The price tag isn’t small, but it’s a thick, beautiful graphic novel. I’d love to see more from this particular team of creators. | Mick Martin
 
Click here for more information and a preview of Templar, courtesy of First Second!

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