The Scorpion is a swashbuckling action-adventure comic set in Rome during the second half of the eighteen century. The Devil’s Mark is the first volume of an ongoing series which introduces us to the titular main character and sets the stage for further adventures. The easiest way to summarise the story is to imagine an Indiana Jones-style action comic with grave robbing, where the main character is slightly less noble and more interested in the artefacts as a means of improving his personal wealth. Armando Catalano, The Scorpion, is not just an acquirer of relics, he is also an infamous brigand who regularly clashes with figures in authority when he is not out enjoying himself. But there is a lot more to the handsome rogue than meets the eye, and now someone powerful has targeted him for death just as he stumbles across a dangerous plot.
The Scorpion is a Franco-Belgian comic book series that has been translated into English in the last few years by Cinebook. The Devil’s Mark is the first of four comics available so far, and each is the equivalent of a short trade paperback in terms of page count. Each volume builds on the previous, drawing the reader further into the world of The Scorpion, unravelling new mysteries that are hinted at during the course of the story.
It begins during the fall of Rome, where a mysterious group of nine families meet to decide the fate of the Empire. This clandestine meeting foreshadows many events later in the book, and is very important to several of the main characters for different reasons which I won’t spoil. As mentioned, the rest of the story takes place during the late eighteen century where we first meet The Scorpion, robbing a reliquary with his friend and slightly bumbling sidekick, The Hussar. No sooner have they dug their way out with the loot then they are attacked by the Swiss Guard, elite soldiers who protect the Vatican and the Pope. The Scorpion and the Hussar see them off and after collecting some cash for their prize, they spend the rest of the night drinking and carousing with some local women.
On the surface, The Scorpion seems like nothing more than a lucky rogue, but there is a lot more to the character than meets the eye. Without giving away any spoilers, we find out why Armando is called The Scorpion in this first graphic novel and his history is closely connected to some of the larger mysteries.
Without knowing why, he also acquires a dangerous enemy in the form of Cardinal Trebaldi. The Cardinal bears an uncanny resemblance to Cardinal Richelieu, a character who often appeared in the Three Musketeers stories by Alexandre Dumas. Like Richelieu, Trebaldi is also portrayed as an extremely driven, determined and ambitious man who will let nothing stand in his way. For a reason that is not immediately obvious, he hates The Scorpion and hires a special assassin to kill him. This is only one strand of a much larger plan that Trebaldi has been working on for many years. He has no compunctions about murder and I have the impression that his religious vows are nothing more than a convenient cover, that he joined the church because it would help him further his ambition and put him in a position of power.
There are a number of fascinating elements to The Scorpion, and it can be enjoyed on different levels by people from different age groups. For younger readers it’s a swashbuckling adventure story like The Three Musketeers, where the handsome rogue defeats the villain, escapes with the treasure and then spends the rest of the night drinking and dancing with women. For older readers there is also the mystery surrounding The Scorpion’s origin, and why Trebaldi hates him so much and is determined to see him dead. There is also the ancient story about the Nine Families, their part in history, how they might have shaped events over the centuries and how The Scorpion is connected to them. The story dances between fact and fiction, and like other comics such as Rex Mundi or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code novel, The Scorpion also touches on the subject of The Templars and the treasure they were rumored to be protecting.
I think it’s also worth mentioning the artwork because the style is slightly different to that of American comics. The setting for the story is incredibly rich and the artwork is suitably lush and colourful to match. The costumes and landscapes are beautifully portrayed, and all of the larger-than-life characters are distinct and look like real people. The use of colour makes it look more like it was painted rather than digitally coloured, but that could just be the style. Overall it gives it a very distinct feel that is perfectly in keeping with the setting and era.
The Scorpion is an exciting, funny and very entertaining action series with dashes of history, politics and mythology. If you like the Indiana Jones movies and that sort of mix of archaeology and adventure, then I would highly recommend this series, or the previously mentioned Rex Mundi from Image Comics.