"Rex Mundi Omnibus: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Arvid Nelson
Illustrated by EricJ, Jeromy Cox, Jim Di Bartolo, Juan Ferreyra, Brian Churilla, and Jason Millet
2001, 585 Pages
Trade Paperback released on August 29th, 2012
Paris, 1933. This should be a beautiful time and place and it is...on the surface anyway. We're in between World Wars and France is having a great time being French or whatever it is they do. There are secrets buried deep here though. These are not the kind of things like who slept with who or what some guy is getting his wife for her birthday. These are deadly secrets that people can -- and have -- killed for. Dr. Sauniere finds himself at the center of these conspiracies and he just doesn't know when to let up. He knows that there's a deep dark truth buried below the bodies and the burnt remains of buildings and he has to find out what it is. This is how Rex Mundi starts out, with great promise and a big mystery.
Sauniere quickly goes from a man on the sidelines that does what's right at all costs (including serving the Jewish population in the area, which is frowned upon by the sorcerer's guild of which he is a member) to someone that is making waves in the church, government, and other local groups. He doesn't realize just how deep this rabbit hole goes, but once he's uncovered a small piece of the mystery, he has to keep going to find out more. These secrets were long buried and they were hidden by very powerful people, dating back to the era of Jesus Christ. If discovered, they'd wreak havoc on the foundations of Christianity and the church itself.
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While I liked the initial premise of the comic, Rex Mundi got old fast. Sauniere is an interesting enough character, but he's basically a version of the guy in The Da Vinci Code circa the 1930s. When confronted with a problem that he can't quite figure out, he either sits and thinks about it until he remembers some long forgotten piece of history or someone just comes by and tells him what the answer is. It's not very exciting.
Author Arvid Nelson does bring up some interesting points on the religion though. It's clear that a lot of research went into Rex Mundi and Nelson put together a handy website if you'd like to find out more information. The site is referenced numerous times throughout the comic, but it felt like homework to have to go look something up if I really wanted to learn anything else about it. That being said, there are several tidbits throughout the book that could have easily been put on the site instead of being explained in painful detail on the page. I don't need to know how to draw a perfect pentagram. Just do it and say it's perfect. I don't care. Similarly, most chapters end with a couple pages from a fake edition of the local newspaper that provides a different perspective on some of the more public events in that issue. It's very dry and takes away from the momentum that the book had up to that point and it happens over a dozen times.
The art in Rex Mundi is split up amongst a few artists. EricJ and Jeromy Cox handled the first 14 chapters and created a very cohesive set of comics. Their style reminds me a bit of that of Howard Chaykin, but less squiggly on the pencils. The artwork is clean and well detailed. Where things get tricky is the last four chapters, which are split up between Jim Di Bartolo and Juan Ferreyra. It's an abrupt change and a very different style, neither of which live up to the original artists on the book. Di Bartolo has a nice style that looks very much like a fairy tale, but it does not fit with the tone that was established over the previous chapters. Making matters worse, he does not keep the look of Sauniere consistent, so the main character of the comic looks different throughout the same chapter. It's very distracting.
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You have to give it up for Juan Ferreyra's cover for this collection. It's such a simple design that works incredibly well. It gives you an idea of what you might be in for without giving anything away.
This Rex Mundi omnibus collects the first 18 issues of the comic (issues #0-#17 to be precise). The finale of the book is an ending, but it leaves a lot of loose ends. It feels like it's over right when it was starting to get going. Considering the first batch of stories ended with issue #18, it's odd that it's not included in this collection as it should have wrapped everything up. There's another chunk of issues that would probably be included in a second omnibus, but the cutoff point for this one feels very strange and doesn't satisfy the story that the 500+ pages work to create.
The overall premise dealing with the secret history of Christianity and the forgotten kings of Jerusalem is an interesting one, but it often falls flat throughout Rex Mundi. I compared the story to The Da Vinci Code, which is another story I did not care for. This kind of stuff can be exciting and really cool if handled correctly (see The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde), but when it's presented more as straight facts it can get boring quick. I read comics because they're fun and entertaining, not to be lectured to about how great John the Baptist was.