Jordan Mechner’s main claim to fame is that he created the video game franchise Prince of Persia, which is primed to reach its likely apex of popularity later this month when the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring summer movie opens.
Showing fine timing, publisher First Second is releasing not only a new edition of Mechner’s 2008 graphic novel Prince of Persia, a remarkably literary collaboration with writer A.B. Sina and artists LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, but also a brand-new work from Mechner, Solomon’s Thieves Book 1.
Mechner is once more joined by artists Pham and Puvilland, but this time out he handles all of the writing side of things himself. It’s a much more straightforward genre work, lacking some of the mystical, mythic edge of the Prince of Persia book (which was a surprisingly deep work for one sharing its branding with a video game), but it’s a perfectly executed work of historical adventure fiction.
Solomon’s Thieves, the first part of a planned trilogy, is set primarily in early 14th century France, just as the once-revered crusaders The Knights Templar are about to enter some pretty difficult times.
A trio of Templars—our protagonist Martin and his friends—break their vow against drinking, and get loaded enough to sneak out of their temple and into Paris for a night of carousing.
Luckily for them, it’s the very night that King Philip’s advisors decide to arrest the entire order of Templars on trumped-up charges of witchcraft and blasphemy, in order to seize their treasures for the king’s coffers.
Unluckily for the king’s men, the treasure was so well hidden that almost no one knows where it actually is. This first volume follows Martin through these rather tempestuous changes in his status in society—from heroic, semi-worshipped knight to despised outlaw and enemy of the state—and his gathering a few other former Templars in order to pull off what has to be the greatest heist in 14th century France.
Pham and Puvilland’s artwork is here even more polished than it was in Prince of Persia, and their gifts of character design create an exciting cast. It’s all-around masterful cartooning, and every panel of the books is bursting with life.
It’s a cliché to compare comics to movies—and perhaps not a very welcome comparison, given that the best comics are those that can’t be imagined in terms of films—but Solomon’s Thieves quite consciously pillages imagery from old Hollywood swashbucklers (The cover, for example, features an image from an up-the-stairs, onto-the-rafters swordfight in a building set to fire by an upset candlebras).
Mechner, Pham and Puvilland are able to take scenes, character types and familiar scenarios from such old-school period pieces, and seemingly effortlessly transform them into elements vital to, if not completely unique to, their comics narrative.
Mechner may remain best known for his video game work, but as Solomon’s Thieves demonstrates, he’s a talent worth knowing for plenty of other reasons. And if he continues to work with such talented collaborators, perhaps his comics work will eclipse his video game work eventually.
My colleague Michael Lorah interviewed the creators of Solomon’s Thieves a few weeks back on the main site. You can check out the piece here.