By Richard D. Nolane, Francois Miville-Deschenes, Sabrina Lim, Fabien Alquier, Daniel Perez, Tatto Caballero, and H. Sebastian Facio – Translation by Natacha Ruck, Ken Grobe, and Lindsay Marie King
On the verge of a coming apocalypse (so it has been written) the world is riddled with monstrous ghouls, religious and political maneuvering, violence and perhaps even otherworldly visitors. Can’t you feel that Y1K mania? But while quite a bit is shrouded in darkness and malevolence, the world is not fully consumed by darkness; not so long as the amiable tandem of relic merchants known as Raedwald the Saxon and Arnulf are afoot. Richard D. Nolane and Francois Miville-Deschenes’ Millennium absolutely enraptures in its ability to entwine genres and tropes while remaining ostensibly a sharp and gripping detective tale set in an alternate history that endlessly entices.
This hardcover is composed of five individual books, each building atop its predecessor while remaining distinctly its own sliver of a larger epoch. The opening chapter sees our heroes stumble upon a horrific act with the goal of disrupting a royal lineage. Quick: how familiar are you with 10th century Frankish Royalty? Fear not, this inaugural outing’s intention is to lay the groundwork for the larger mysteries at play and introduce most of the major players, while also providing a wholly contained supernatural mystery of its own. Humanoids’ describes Millennium as a blend of X-Files and The Name of The Rose and kudos to that marketing department employee for absolutely nailing the vibe of this first installment. Nolane and Miville-Deschenes ease the reader into realizing this is a world where the supernatural are more than just the empowered religious relics Raedwald trades in, but rather demonic beasts and spontaneous combustion comfortably interlace themselves in the Middle Ages tapestry. This isn’t traditional Medieval Fantasy, there are no dragons or wizards or trolls (wait…there are trolls, but the Nordic kind), it is very much Mulder and Scully styled police work, which itself was very much like the similarly inspirational The Hounds of Baskervilles. With the pieces in play and the immediate mystery solved, Nolane structures the remaining four books building towards a much larger reveal about humanity’s place in the cosmos than one might have expected while traversing all across Europe, having his protagonists play both hunters and prey, all while the spectral and astral mesmerizingly dance with adventurous thrills.
What begins as a brutal act of savagery as a carriage convoy travels through bandit-populated woods elegantly effloresces into a complex narrative replete with conspiracy as guided by a dynamic pairing that’s one part Han Solo and Chewie, one part Robin Hood and Little John, and one part Sherlock and Watson. Nolane’s protagonists, the debonair silver-tongued Raedwald and the massive, loyal brute Arnulf, are interminably endearing throughout their numerous adventures all birthed from coming upon aftermath of that aforementioned carriage massacre. Arnulf’s ability to consume copious amounts of liquor and Raedwald’s sharp mind are the heart of Millennium’s enjoyment as watching their familiar buddy dynamic in a world slowly going mad is endlessly satisfying. The well-dressed (it seems every new person he comes across comments on his attire) Raedwald may occasionally be deceptive, but ultimately is working towards a greater, honorable good. His nature is wonderfully reflected in the cross he wears that also happens to hide a lethal blade.
There’s no doubt plenty of theological metaphor to examine, but Nolane doesn’t dwell or look to overtly comment on modern organized religion, no, instead he’s content to let the symbolism heighten Raedwald’s own character as one who will do what it takes to find justice for a young woman named Adelaide who was driven to suicide after being raped by a Bishop. Hmm…fine, perhaps there is more to it. Between the villainous white-hooded Hounds of God, a vampiric Pope (seriously) and fornicating monks, organized religion is depicted by Nolane through a science-fiction lens as being a tool for destruction and disorder, an occasional agent of chaos that is shaping the worlds’ events in equally depraved manners as…gasp…actual government. Well, 10th Century monarchial government anyway. And while there might be some commentary on organized religions sanctity, Nolane keeps it subtle in favor of the supernatural elements of religion and myth and the occasional Game of Thrones-like machinations of those whose heads are adorned with crowns. His ability to slowly progress a much larger, jaw dropping-level conspiracy just under the surface of all the other intricate elements is impressive. It’s as though Nolane got to have his very own Ozymandias 35-minutes ago reveal in the midst of a truly compelling menagerie of genres.
Francois Miville-Deschenes is a fiend for details, creating a spectacularly realized world that both reflects the historical imagery as well as the impossibly mythical. What’s most astounding about the level of detail Miville-Deschenes incorporates is the amount of space he has to do so, with many pages laid out into at least eight panel grids. But, Miville-Deschenes alternates his panels effortlessly, letting them constrict and expand like breaths as they seamlessly transition from horizontally to vertically aligned never allowing for the multitude of images in front of you to overwhelm. Anatomy is convincingly natural, even for hellish beasts, and the steely demeanor of Raedwald’s poker-face stands in great contrast to the cheerfully cartoonish features of the Santa Claus-like Arnulf. The hyper-detailed castles, boats, mountain ranges, abbeys, fjords, caverns, huts, fabrics, weapons, relics, (*deep breath*) and every manner of flora and fauna found across 10th Century Europe are rendered with a sharp line that is conservatively inked in relatively little page real-estate that the world Miville-Deschenes thrusts you into can’t help but feel utterly real. And while he is a master of the human form, there is the slight tinge of unnecessary nudity driven from a distinctly chauvinist perspective. Whether it was entirely the artist’s decision or entirely the writer’s, the fact remains that literally all but one woman introduced in the book is depicted nude at some point. While some of it is contextually justified, some certainly feels as though it was solely there to add a spark to a male audience. The art itself is quite plainly, beautiful by any standard however, in its attention to detail and refined finishes that create what feels like an entire unknown universe fully alive and waiting to break free from Miville-Deschenes’ mind.
The plethora of colorists (many of whom representing Protobunker Studio) provide the art with a dramatic emphasis that will immediately strike you upon opening Millennium. The colors are bold and rich and thoroughly modern, infusing Miville-Deschenes art with a type of (forgive me) joie de vivre. Deeply saturated for the most part, but perfectly manipulative of lighting throughout a diverse set of interior and exterior locales to change the tonality appropriately, the colors are hugely impressive in their ability to set the mood. Especially for a book that likes to blend genres as much as Millennium does.
Starting slower than one might expect, Millennium gradually lulls you into thinking one thing only to continually pull the carpet out from under you as Nolane and Miville-Deschenes weave an impossibly intricate and ornate web. Its characters are endearing even when they’re at their most devious or savage. It never ventures into noir, but toys with being that gritty detective yarn that lingers on your bedside nightstand begging you to pick it up and forgo sleep for just one more chapter. Give in to that feeling and get lost in what feels like a thousand years’ worth of history in beautifully packaged Y1K-compliant graphic adventure.