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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.