Digging Up the Backissues: Rex Mundi

So, if you read the first installment of “Digging Up the Backissues” and thought that you might get into comics, here’s another series to help you break into the medium, and just have a good story to read.

A Parisian man is murdered while guarding an ancient secret. Soon after, his friend and unlikely detective must track down the killer, and find out why the man was murdered, getting caught up in a centuries-long conspiracy involving secret societies and the Holy Grail.

No, I’m not talking about The DaVinci Code. I’m talking about the single best comic book of the last decade, and a story created a few years before The DaVinci Code: Rex Mundi. While Dan Brown’s novel was a lackluster, disappointing thriller that relied solely on controversy for its success, Rex Mundi was a smart, creative mystery and political thriller that used a twist on the Holy Grail myth to explore faith, dogma and Machiavellian machinations.

Created by writer Arvid Nelson and artist EricJ, Rex Mundi is the story of the Holy Grail told as a murder mystery. Set in the 1930s, it is an alternate history where magic is real and the Protestant Reformation never happened, so robed, masked Inquisitors roam the streets, hunting down heretics and acting as the law.

The series works on many levels. The mystery that drives the plot is revealed gradually, with each revelation holding impact, and actually gets wrapped up rather well. In the background, a political crisis builds until it intertwines with the mystery of the Grail. Caught up in all of it is Doctor Julien Sauniere, a sharp, driven and moody character — almost a European Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. Nelsons’ characters are fully rounded and in many ways the character drama is just as effective and compelling as the mystery.

The art is another highlight. The series goes through three artists in its run, and each artist’s style fits perfectly with the story. EricJ gives the initial story arcs a sharp, noir-style look, perfectly creating the urban feel of Paris. Jim Di Bartolo came onboard for a story set in the catacombs of the city, and his moody, atmospheric pencils only add to the suspenseful story. Juan Ferreyra finishes up the series with a softer, Art Nouvaue style as the story moves out of the city and into the sprawling countryside. Despite the different artists, the art always fits with the story, and a realism that permeates the series.

Smart, creative, and very compelling, Rex Mundi is the best comic of the decade. It takes a popular conspiracy and uses it to tell a suspenseful, genre-defying thriller that ultimately deconstructs the modern theories of the Holy Grail. Nelson and his artists have created a masterpiece for the medium, and a story that holds up among its prose cousins and rises above them.