Crusade, written by Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Philippe Xavier, is a new series of Franco-Belgian bandes dessinee albums that Cinebook is translating into English for the first time. The first book, Simoun Dja, was originally published in French in 2007 and the series currently runs to four books that Cinebook intend to publish over the next twelve months. Set in the Middle East at the start of the second millennium, it tells of a crusade to the Holy Land that has been left out of the history books.
The holy city of Hierus Halem is controlled by Sultan Abdul Razim and a Christian crusader army led by Gregoire of Arcos has been raised to take it back. Gregoire's power hungry daughter Elenore and Robert, Duke of Taranto, persuade him to lead his army against the Muslims across the desert at the time of the Simoun Dja windstorm. Elenore's husband Gauthier and Gregoire's other daughter Syria realise the futility of attacking during this time but are overruled. Meanwhile Razim uses the powers of the Mufti of Alkar to give his men supernatural protection against the oncoming storm and, as the two armies clash and the storm begins, all does not go well for the Christians.
The book begins with two pages of text outlining the historical reality of the Crusades which takes in rather more that just Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. With this factual grounding writer Jean Dufaux then weaves a complex web of spirits and demons around the Christian and Muslim armies as they battle for control of Hierus Halem/Jerusalem. The political intrigue on the Christian side vies with the supernatural intrigue on the Muslim side as much as the two armies vie with each other on the battlefield and yet, as more and more characters and situations are introduced, you realise that, other than the initial battle, nothing is going to be resolved here, that most of the questions that the story raises are going to be left unanswered.
Philippe Xavier's art is clear and detailed, with his female characters appearing very much in the style of early John Bolton, while his layouts can be remarkably striking. His battle scenes are particularly well laid out with short fast vertical scenes differentiating the chaos of combat from the horizontal and more languid scenes of the battle's aftermath.
Crusade - Simoun Dja seems to be somewhat of a prequel to a bigger story that will happen in the rest of the books of the series and so, despite the complex storyline and excellent art, in itself it feels a little lacking. Yet with any luck this series will blossom as the story continues straight into the second book due to be published in February 2011. It certainly appears on its first outing to be a series worth watching.
• The are more details of Crusade - Simoun Dja on the Cinebook website.
• There are more details of the original Croisade books on Le Lombard website (in French).
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