The Knights Templar have been fodder for any number of conspiracy theories, ranging from the mundane to the supernatural. A character in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum notes that the sure sign of a lunatic is that he eventually brings up the Templars. The order’s even been used as the basis for the bad guys in the Assassin’s Creed series. But in Templar (excerpt here), written by Jordan Mechner and illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, the dissolution of the Knights Templar becomes the basis for a heist in the best tradition of Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job . Mechner’s experience as a screenwriter and the writer behind games like Prince of Persia pays off here, resulting in a fast-paced and unexpectedly moving adventure against one of the great historical dramas of the Middle Ages.
Our flawed hero is one Martin of Troyes, a rank-and-file Templar who never quite made it to Jerusalem in the Crusades, and who joined the order less from spiritual devotion than from heartbreak after the woman he loved married someone else. He drinks a bit too much and he has a temper, but he also has an honorable streak and his devotion to the Knights Templar is genuine. A chance glimpse of the lady he loved, now Madame Isabelle de Chalançon, sends Martin and his friends on a drunken bender in Paris—just in time to miss being caught up in the arrest of the Templar order by King Philip’s men on October 13, 1307. He flees, is caught anyway, and tortured; after he manages to escape, he meets another former Templar, Dominic, who has come into possession of a letter meant for England’s master Templar William de la More—a letter which points to the greatest treasures of the Order, hidden somewhere in Paris.
Martin assembles a rough company of former Templars—along with Isabelle, in what is effectively the Tess Ocean role—determined to secure the Templar treasure before the King’s men can find it. Meanwhile, as a papal commission scrutinizes the Templars’ arrest, the imprisoned Templars are being questioned “rather forcefully” by the King’s inquisitors as to their alleged heresies and the location of their legendary gold, and devious royal chancellor Guillaume de Nogaret closes in on Martin and his band. As the stakes increase, Martin’s group discovers the location of the treasure, and plans a daring act of trickery and engineering to steal it (literally) out from under Nogaret’s nose.
Templar is yet another terrific book from First Second, which has been consistently producing high-quality editions of excellent original comics and graphic novels. The full-color artwork by the married team of Pham and Puvilland, colored by Hilary Sycamore and Alex Campbell, is vibrant and dynamic; the illustrators excel at portraying the many action scenes and in rendering an appealing, distinctive cast of characters. For his dialogue, Mechner employs a casual, contemporary idiom as Brian Wood did in his Northlanders series, which doesn’t distract from the story and which keeps the pace of the narrative from flagging.
The story is dense without being confusing; Mechner interlaces Martin’s heist with the historical events of the Templar dissolution, and his enthusiasm and passion for the subject is plain on every page. He moves deftly from the excitement of the heist and the comedy of the bickering would-be thieves to the horror of a mass burning at the stake, and to tragic acts of self-sacrifice. Fans of historical fiction will find a lot to enjoy in this rich and engaging adventure—Eco to the contrary, you need not be a lunatic to be fascinated by the Templars.
Templar is available now from First Second.