Story by Tou Ubukata
Adaptation by Kiriko Yumeji
208 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey
Comics in any country often have a large number of similar plot points or genres that get repeated from one work to the next, regardless of creator. From the evil sibling to the secret identity, seeing these ideas crop up over and over again becomes less and less of a surprise the more you read. In the case of Le Chevalier d’Eon, though, I must admit that Tou Ubukata and Kiriko Yumeji managed to sneak up on me with a well-known trope in Japanese manga. After my surprise faded, it hit me as to why they’d managed to get me—I’d never have expected it in a historical horror saga.
In 1742 Paris, King Louis XV rules over an uneasy France, his police trying to keep the peace by any means necessary. With a mad killer sacrificing virgins and using their blood to write demonic Psalms with supernatural powers, though, the Secret Police must be activated to stop these evil forces—and no member wants this stopped more than the mysterious Chevalier d’Eon. But no one would ever guess her own dark secret that connects her with the killings…
Reading the first volume of Le Chevalier d’Eon, it’s easy to expect the book to only be full of horror tropes and touchstones. After all, you’ve got the sacrificing of virgins, words written in blood, even spiritual possessions. But if you’ve gone into the series cold, the revelation in the first chapter that the Chevalier is in fact the deceased Lia de Beaumont, possessing her brother D’Eon de Beaumont during times of need? Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting gender-switching to show up here—while somewhat common in manga, it’s usually in works that are a bit lighter and is played a bit for laughs. It gets a little more interesting when you realize that this is based off of Ubakata’s novel of the same name, making one wonder if gender-swapping is just as common in Japanese prose.
More importantly, though, once you get past the early surprise factor of Le Chevalier d’Eon, this is a very solid horror comic. Ubakata and Yumeji’s adaptation of the novel feels well paced here, with this first volume having just the right level of creepiness at any given moment. It’s hard to not feel bad for just about all of the characters in this book, from the victims of the killers, to the royal family and their connections to the deaths, to D’Eon and Lia themselves. The story is always very serious, never treated as a joke or something even minorly amusing. It’s this straight-faced, unblinking attitude that helps maintain the creepy, slightly unnerving tone of the book. I am a little worried that Le Chevalier d’Eon is going to fall into the trap of so many books where each new installment becomes a rehash of the previous (a new wielder of the Psalms appears; D’Eon senses the latest evil and Lia possesses him; Lia as the Chevalier kills the new wielder of the Psalms) but the writing in the first book is strong enough that I’m willing to hope that Ubukata and Yumeji have more waiting up their sleeves.
Yumeji’s art in Le Chevalier d’Eon really helps set the tone of the story. It’s a dark, creepy style, using thick and uneven brush strokes that seem to waver and crawl across the page. It almost instantly brought to mind artists like Frank Teran and Danijel Zezelj and their own moody, distinctive art. Even pages that are supposed to seem somewhat innocent, like Lia looking over her shoulder at her page Robin have an air of creepiness about them, and it was at that point that I knew Yumeji was a great choice of artist for Le Chevalier d’Eon.
Le Chevalier d’Eon may have defied some of my expectations, but ultimately it did so in a good way. I’m already preparing to read the second and third volumes, and there are at least three more still in the pipeline, waiting to be translated. For those looking for a traditional historical horror comic, you certainly can’t go wrong here.
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