What would the world be like if magic were real? Many stories try to answer this, but Rex Mundi takes a different approach than most. In this comic book, magic is real and controlled by the church. This control has kept aspects of the middle ages alive well into the 20th century, Paris in 1933, to be exact. There, the power of the church and the inquisition are formidable.
The story follows a French doctor as he tries to find the mystery of the Holy Grail. This is not the Da Vinci Code. We spend as much time following the machinations of the highest strata of French society as we do hunting the Grail.
When the plot elevates to war (spoiler: a comic set in Europe in 1933 has a war), the imagery is startling. The French, representatives of all that is not bada-- in WWII, employ strong Nazi symbols and display a shocking aggression. This is effective shorthand, but the story is more interested in why the world is different than how it is the same.
The result is a delightfully different book. The story is grand in scope and aspiration. The fact that there are a few small stumbles is inevitable. There are a few instances of Deus Ex Machina that show up. There is a mysterious thing that is explained and then has some important details revised. This revision is explained well enough, but it is not seamless. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
This is one of the better alternative histories that I have read. The differences range from earth-shattering to barely noticeable. There are strong ties to the world that we all know and love (including a cameo in a train station by the greatest Grail hunter of all time), but the alterations to the setting do as much to draw your curiosity as the plot.
I thought that this was a joy to read. Sure, I had a few gripes, but the story was fun and the setting was awesome. I can recommend this one to anyone looking for a fun alternate history, or just an interesting political comic.
Four Displays of French Military Might out of Five