21 Jan 2010


By Matt C

Writer: Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art: Igor Kordey
Acrhaia $5.95

I realise I’m a little late in getting to these two books seeing as the were released in November and December respectively, but since Book Five came out back in March 2008 (the delay caused by various difficulties – thankfully resolved now - at Archaia) I don’t see how taking a few more weeks to deliver my opinion can be that much of a bad thing. Besides, the collected hardcover of this English-language translation of the French series, Histoire Secrete, was due to be released at the end of December (although I haven’t been able to locate anywhere stocking it - maybe this has been delayed too?) so perhaps it’s an pertinent time to have a look not only at these two issues, but also reflect on the series as a whole.

The first thing that grabs you about The Secret History is the sheer ambition of the subject matter: commencing in 1350 BC for Book One and running right up to The Great War in Book Seven, the scope of the project alone takes some beating. Following four immortal brothers and sisters – the Archons – as they lurk in the background of various seismic historical events, pulling strings to divert humanity’s destiny for their own gain, Pécau has packed his plot with a dizzying amount of detail. Civilizations rise and fall, men of great power fade into obscurity, the only constant being the Archons themselves. It’s a consistently impressive read although there’s often so much information being thrown at the reader that it becomes a little overwhelming.

Book Six picks things up in Egypt 1793AD, with Book Seven jumping forward to Europe in 1914. Obviously the delay between the releases of Books Five and Six didn’t really do the series any favours, rather it only served to make an already complex storyline become a little less easier to sift through. Although there is a certain element of the ‘standalone story’ in each chapter, the overall arc is not that clear when read erratically. That said, I can envisage there being problems even if all chapters are read in quick succession. For me, the Archons aren’t as prominent as they perhaps should be, spending too much out of the limelight, relatively speaking. When dealing with such an immense, epic tale I would have preferred a more constant, familiar presence amongst the a large cast of characters that – naturally – come and go over the course of three millennia. And, as I mentioned earlier, the absolute onslaught of information can be a hindrance at times, making it difficult to keep up with what’s going on. Of course that’s a preferable approach to oversimplifying things, but you do still need to hold the attention of your audience.

The majority of the art for the series has been from Igor Kordey. The name may be familiar to many for his stints on various US comics including, most prominently, New X-Men. While some found his art a bad fit for Marvel’s money-making mutants, it’s patently far more suited to this kind of storytelling: superb renditions of historical locales across the globe and some thrilling action sequences are enough to make anyone who dismissed his work before reassess it immediately. It’s engrossing and tremendously exciting, the only drawback being the occasionally difficultly distinguishing various characters from one another.

Neither of these issues were high points of the series for me - to be honest, I felt a little lost on a frequent basis. Having said that, I can’t do anything but recommend The Secret History: it consistently aims far higher than most books even dare to consider, and while it may not hit its target every time you can’t fault it for trying. Praise then for Archaia for putting out this series in English (my French skills are just too rusty for me to attempt to look at the original texts!) – this, alongside The Killer, shows just what continental European comics can offer, and I do hope they continue to plunder the vast reservoir of material available. I’m enormously pleased to see the second volume (commencing with Book Eight) is due out soon - while it may frustrate in parts, it’s a far more stimulating read than much of the predictable spandex fodder clogging up the racks these days. The score at the end of this review is for these two highlighted issues, but I’d add another point for the series as a whole (so far). 6/10

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