Review: The Marquis: Inferno


We’ve all got our ideas as to what the foul things under our beds look like. Maybe we borrow a bit from a late night Wes Craven marathon or we somehow combine the appearance of an uncooked turkey and an aunt’s elderly schnauzer into one loathsome, hairless terror. More and more lately, my nightmares are furnished by the work of Guy Davis, probably best known as the artist on B.P.R.D.

Whenever I get my hands on a Dark Horse collection, I immediately flip to the back where I’ll often find a gallery of Davis’ monster sketches. If you’re unfamiliar with his style, imagine an ultrasound gone horribly wrong or a high school dumpster on the afternoon after an anatomy class has dissected a mammal and the cafeteria experimented with shepherd’s pie. He has some very exciting ideas about where a kneecap can go and how many teeth it might have, or what it might look like if a goat and a pair of egrets wandered into Jeff Goldblum’s malfunctioning matter transporter from The Fly. He’s drawn some really terrifying things, but even after all those mutant frogs and sentient tumors, I wasn’t prepared for him to tackle one of the most horrifying entities of all.

Religion.

Back in the late ’90s, Davis began work on an incredible side project. Between arcs of B.P.R.D. and a number of other things, he was writing and drawing a black and white comic about the black and white world of religious rule in 18th century France. A former inquisitor named Vol de Galle takes it upon himself to rid the land of Venisalle of all its hidden demons in the name of his patron Saint de Massard. Vol believes he can see past the artifice of demons, but when the smoke clears and Vol retreats into the shadows, only human victims remain. At first it is unclear whether Vol is a righteous man blessed with a powerful insight into unearthly evil or just a madman enacting needless murders. But the story grows more and more complex, and we learn that Vol truly is an agent for a greater power. Just not the one he originally believed. This is the story of The Marquis, originally published by Oni Press and now available through Dark Horse, where Vol de Galle’s story will soon continue. 

I wasn’t familiar with The Marquis before picking up this first volume of reprints from Dark Horse. The Marquis: Inferno collects all the previous issues of the series, including the five part origin story Danse Macabre and two further adventures previously collected as Intermezzo. It also includes a massive section of covers, sketches, and alternate sequences. I was a fan of the artist before, but I’m even more impressed now. This is a treasure trove for monster maniacs and probably my favorite work from Davis to date. Not only does he get to run amok with disturbing creature designs in period France, he gets to design his own underworld. When the architects of Hell finally receive their copy of The Marquis, they’ll creep back to their fiery drawing boards and set about planning a remodel. Oh, and their boss has nothing on the thing Guy Davis put in charge of his demons. It’s at once the funniest and creepiest design I’ve seen in a horror comic since Mignola and Corben unleashed the Crooked Man upon the pages of Hellboy.

It’s stuff like Davis’ vision of hell that left me wanting to do more good deeds in the case that there is such a realm for dishonorable souls. Especially if it looks the way he draws it. Give me a yell if you need help across the street.

But there’s more to the artistry of this book than the hellspawn. If you read B.P.R.D. you know Davis is a gifted storyteller and cartoonist. That’s even more apparent in this book, where he choreographs some great fight sequences. It’s more intricate than what you see in his collaborations. The Marquis predates a lot of that other material, but I think it’s more a question of his working from his own scripts. As I mentioned earlier, this is also in black and white, so we’re looking at a brilliant showcase of Davis’ linework. I’ve heard it called crude or hurried, but one look at his meticulous cityscapes and you’ll know you’re in the presence of a skilled draftsman. This is a passion project, and his devotion to these pages is wholly evident. 

In terms of scripting, The Marquis wields a fascinating and complex narrative. Initially, I expected a Batman of the Inquisition or Spawn in a powdered wig, but there’s much more to it than all that. I wondered about Vol’s sanity, but even when I felt I had a handle on his character, Davis introduced new elements, mining further depth into an already intriguing plot. Vol isn’t the only vigilante on a crusade. How does the local militia react to the bodycount? How does the church respond? Maybe things aren’t so black and white after all. How do you fight for the greater good when that good isn’t so easily defined? Can you afford to be uncertain, when the answers to such questions determine your final destination? 

Even if you’re not a former altar boy like me, there’s still a lot to chew on. Sure, there’s a lot of consciences being examined and saints being praised, but this is also about the kind of bureaucratic subterfuge and swashbuckling adventure you’d find in a Dumas novel. If you’re a sucker for great entrances, the Marquis is your guy. What Batman does with two pointy ears, Vol does with just his nose. 

Pick up Inferno and look for more Marquis from Dark Horse next year with The Marquis and the Midwife, the next of Davis’ five planned volumes.


Paul Montgomery will be turning down any and all masquerade invitations in the coming weeks. Find him on Twitter or contact him at paul@ifanboy.com.

Comments

  1. stuclach stuclach says:

    This looks very interesting.  I love the artwork in the sample.  I will check this out as soon as I get a chance.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention.  My wife loves everything Dumas, so perhaps I can get her interested, as well.

  2. stuclach stuclach says:

    Did you ever steal the wine?  Every other alter boy I have ever known stole the wine at least once.  Their explanation: "Wine’s wine until it is transubstantiated."

  3. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    From church? No. 

  4. stuclach stuclach says:

    @Paul – I’m impressed, but not surprised.

  5. Thomas Katers ThomasKaters says:

    I stole the wine

  6. stuclach stuclach says:

    @ThomasKaters – Everyone in the comic book community assumed you did.  Barry Allen is disappointed.

  7. PraxJarvin PraxJarvin says:

    Sounds interesting. Adding this to my already grossly over crowded reading stack.

  8. HerrStarr HerrStarr says:

    What an absolutley gorgeous book, i think the writing is a little tough to get through early on, but grows by leaps and bounds as the story progresses, easily my favorite of Davis work that i’ve read

  9. Neb Neb says:

    I saw this in my shop when it came out and debated with myself for a long time.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pick it up, but it’s officially on my radar.  It sounds awesome.

  10. mikegraham6 mikegraham6 says:

    you have sparked my interest Paul. So you mention vol. 2 will be released shortly, is this an ongoing series or does vol. 2 wrap it all up?

  11. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    As mentioned in the article, there are five planned volumes. If I’m not mistaken, the upcoming Marquis and the Midwife is considered the third of those because Inferno actually contains two "volumes" (Danse Macabre and Intermezzo). Davis is releasing The Marquis and the Midwife and two additional Marquis stories as self-contained graphic novels. I’ve read that they’re shooting for six months between each book, but this all depends on Davis’ commitments to B.P.R.D. and other projects. 

  12. drakedangerz drakedangerz says:

    @stuclach-I stole the wine…and the wafers *shame face*

    Great review!  It peaked my interest and I will definitely add this to my next order.  That cover art gives me the creeps.

  13. stuclach stuclach says:

    @Drake – Impressive.  You are probably going to hell.  Tell Gandhi I said hi.

  14. Seems very interesting.

  15. PostMan87 PostMan87 says:

    Very interested. I’ll check to see if my LCS has it in stock.

    @PraxJarvin – I second that dude. My reading stack is out of hand. Good problem to have? I’d guess so. 

  16. Jeff Reid JeffR (@JeffRReid) says:

    While my library doesn’t own this edition, it does have DANSE MACABRE and INTERMEZZO, so both of those are being sent to me. Looking forward to checking them out. This stuff isn’t usually my favorite, but I’m looking forward to checking it out. Thanks, Paul.

  17. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    "This stuff?"

    (Enjoy!) 

  18. Jeff Reid JeffR (@JeffRReid) says:

    @Paul – Caught that, did you? :) I meant horror comics. Stories of ancient demonic evil. That sort of stuff. It doesn’t immediately reach out to me. But hey, I’m more than willing to give new titles a go, especially with a solid recommendation behind it.