Set during the Renaissance, The Scorpion is a classic tale of swashbuckling action. Given that it’s a French bande dessinée comic translated into English, you might assume that it revolves around Musketeers. In fact, the action takes place in Rome.
Since the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic church has ruled Europe with its promises of heaven for the good and eternal damnation for the wicked. But it’s also kept its leaders rich and the populace subjugated. As a more liberal and enlightened view starts to wash through the population – supported by a Pope who believes the church must take a softer line if it hopes to survive – members of a secret cabal of ruling families that dates back to the Roman Empire decide that it’s time to take matters back into their own hands. Having infiltrated the Catholics since the rise of the church, a descendent of this family, now a high ranking Cardinal himself, lines himself up to usurp the papacy. But first there are a few things that he needs to get out of the way.
Enter the Scorpion. This master grave-robber has been busy raiding the catacombs of Rome for the ancient relics of Catholic saints and martyrs, selling pieces of them back to greedy collectors trying to pave their way to heaven. The Cardinal wants this son of a convicted witch dead but, having escaped his clutches a couple of times, the Scorpion decides to bring the fight back to the church.
The illustration in the book is beautiful, perhaps painting a rather fanciful picture of Rome in this period, though it’s clearly well researched. The book feels like it’s perching on top of generations of history and political turmoil, with this current cast of characters, willingly or otherwise, playing a part in forging the landscape for the next few generations.
While Desberg builds a supporting cast of goodies and baddies, his key players are more complex and interesting. The Scorpion himself operates outside the law but clearly has high moral values above and beyond those of the church he’s turned his back on. Those who run the church and the state, on the other hand, are a mixed bag of well-intentioned fools, unquestioning followers and downright evil maniacs with their own agendas.
The mix of political and personal makes for a great adventure story. There’s plenty of action in the foreground from this womanising grave-robber, but the machinations of the church in the background, alongside the calculated peeling back of the Scorpion’s own history, makes for an intense and deeply satisfying historical romp.
UPDATE: The 2nd volume in the series – The Devil in the Vatican – is out now.
|The Devil in the Vatican