Review by Ian Keogh
This very good historical adventure series continues with some time again having elapsed since we last saw Jean-Baptiste Poulain solving a mystery in the French countryside during the course of The Black Virgin. He now has a reputation, one that occasionally needs defending from the sarcastic barbs thrown in the Enlightment era salons of Paris. His is an open minded curiosity, learning from traditional sources during a time when education was increasingly becoming entrenched and codified.
If his investigations have taught Poulain anything to date it’s that there’s far greater horror to be feared among humanity than superstitious beliefs, and that’s reinforced as he travels to Spain. The opening sequence apart, the entire story is set at sea, and Matthieu Bonhomme delivers stunning cartooning, whether picturing the open sea or the cramped conditions on board an early 18th century boat.
Fabien Vehlmann’s plot shifts into high gear as Poulain’s boat is almost destroyed when a larger galleon passes, completely out of control. A man is spotted on deck. It’s the following morning before the ship can be tracked, and everyone aboard is dead, most already in skeletal condition. This is the Providence, and maritime tradition demands the boat be towed to port, but soon after the ships are joined strange things begin occurring aboard the Amorica. Once again, Vehlmann’s plot exploits the fear and ignorance of the era, stoking tension via the cast’s belief in the unknown. This fear, though, isn’t of supernatural matters, but a socurge of all maritime endeavours of the time.
Vehlmann has been progressing Poulain’s character with each successive graphic novel. He began with an inner confidence, but now several years older and more experienced this has an outward blossoming. It’s required because the story is more dependent on the man Poulin has become and less on the tension created by the unknown. That focus also takes something away, as what we’re left with is a rollocking good seagoing adventure, and certainly one that features its share of horror relating to desperate men, but one that lacks the depth of the previous work. A success is building Poulain’s experiences and making him aware of what he’ll do to preserve his own life. It’ll stand him in good stead for The Beast.
As a bonus feature we’re presented with a pamphlet exaggeration of Poulain’s exploits complete with grotesque illustrations and a reference to his supernatural powers concerning events seen in The Black Virgin.