Well, it has been far too long since I last reviewed a graphic novel (I think that the last time was in 2013, unless you count this webcomic review from last year), and I hadn’t planned to review one today.
But, the day before I originally prepared this review, a relative happened to find one in a charity shop and thought that I might like it. So, I found myself the proud owner of a copy of Sente and Juillard’s “The Oath Of The Five Lords”.
So, let’s take a look at it:
Despite the obvious influence from Hergé’s “Tintin” comics, this graphic novel is a stand-alone comic in a series featuring two characters called Blake & Mortimer.
Although these characters were originally created during the mid 20th century by a cartoonist (who was a friend of Hergé, and also contributed to several “Tintin” comics) called Edgar P. Jacobs, “The Oath Of The Five Lords” is part of a modern continuation of the series by Sente and Juillard – with “The Oath Of The Five Lords” first being published in 2012, before being translated into English in 2014.
“The Oath Of The Five Lords” begins with a short segment set in 1919, depicting an argument between T.E. Lawrence and a military intelligence official about a book that Lawrence is writing. Thirty-five years later, in 1954, a mysterious hooded figure breaks into Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and steals an antique violin.
The next day, Captain Blake (of MI5) learns of the death of an old friend, whilst his academic friend Mortimer ends up getting drawn into the investigation during a visit to Oxford.
And, yes, Blake really does look like a “Daily Express” reader too. They got this detail absolutely right!
Needless to say, when a second theft occurs at the museum and another one of Blake’s friends dies, it soon becomes obvious that there is more to this case than first appeared. So, it is up to Blake & Mortimer to solve the mystery…
In terms of the story, this comic is really good – being reminiscent of both an episode of “Poirot” and possibly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sign Of The Four“, but with a very slightly harder “edge” to it than these classic stories.
The story treads a fine line between being an exciting old-fashioned thriller (with lots of old cars being driven ridiculously quickly, dramatic phone calls etc..), being an old-school spy story (slightly) and being a more traditional detective story – with lots of red herrings and clues along the way.
For example, in this part of the story, Mortimer purloins a Turkish candlestick (on Blake’s instructions). Why? Well, you’ll have to wait until later in the comic to find out…
The solution to the mystery is also somewhat surprising too but, although the comic leaves a few very subtle clues for the audience, it does feel a bit like an unforeshadowed plot twist. With the revelation of the masked criminal’s identity feeling very slightly like the conclusion to a somewhat ‘serious’ episode of “Scooby Doo”. Even so, the story surrounding the events of the comic is surprisingly compelling, and the criminal’s motivations fit into the events of the story fairly well.
However, one slight criticism I have of the writing in this story is that it is perhaps a little bit too “formal” sometimes. Yes, it’s set in 1950s England. But, the formality of this time is played up to the point of unintentional comedy in a few scenes (with 19th century-style lines like “Compose yourself, dear fellow”).
Still, given that it is a stylised version of 1950s England based on a comic series from 1940s/50s Belgium, it still gets a lot right. Seriously, occasional over-formality aside, this comic really does come across as very traditionally British. So, Sente and Juillard certainly did their research!
The art in this comic is, in a word, superb. Yes, it is a little unusual to see classic Franco-Belgian “ligne claire“-style artwork being juxtaposed with 1950s England, but it works really well. Although there are a few slightly modern flourishes (such as a glowing lantern in one scene), the art here is absolutely timeless. Whilst the ligne claire style invites comparisons with Hergé, Juillard’s art still manages to have a fairly distinctive style – being slightly more detailed than I had originally expected too.
Seriously, not only does this church look absolutely perfect, but the level of detail here is astonishing too. Seriously, I cannot praise the art in this comic highly enough!
Likewise, another cool detail is that the speech bubbles in “The Oath Of The Five Lords” are very similar in style to those from “Tintin”. Not only that, the quantity and quality of the dialogue in this comic is much closer to a “Tintin” comic than a more traditional British or American comic.
All in all, this is a fairly good graphic novel. Yes, the ending is a little surprising. Yes, the dialogue can be hilariously over-formal at times. But, if you want a compelling old-school detective thriller comic, then you can do much worse than this. The art looks beautifully timeless and vividly detailed, whilst the story often attains a novel-like quality through it’s drama and complexity ( even if it is a little bit contrived in parts).
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about a get a four.