Review by Frank Plowright
The first Caligula graphic novel introduced us to Junius, a farm boy whose family were sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered by the Emperor Caligula and his cronies. Junius made his way to Rome vowing revenge, only to become thoroughly immersed in corruption himself as he learned Caligula’s secret. Six years have past since Caligula’s death, yet brutally dismembered corpses, artistically arranged in public places still appear. Laurentius, one of the few upright men among Caligula’s former guard is tasked with investigating.
In their previous collaboration David Lapham and German Nobile set out to offend with their explicit portrayal of Caligula’s historical depravity, and this is more of the same, deliberately graphic torture, murder and mutilation. The difference is this time Lapham makes an effort with the plot, introducing demons to the known Roman figures of the first century, and swivelling the spotlight around the political intrigue taking place. The identity of the new serial killer isn’t going to surprise anyone who read the first Caligula graphic novel, but is a natural progression from that. There’s also a sense of humour evident, given the design for a character named Pallus.
German Nobile is the same frustrating artist, with a great eye for page design, but not quite the technical skill to populate it convincingly, and no qualms about unleashing his own inner Caligula when it comes to the explicit nature of the illustration.
Lapham leaves the ending open for a third story that never arrived, but anyone who knows their Roman history can figure out the direction he seemed to be heading in for a definitive conclusion. Heart of Rome has a little more artistic integrity than Caligula, but is still nasty and exploitative.