In this weekly weekend column I’ll be reviewing a graphic novel you may want to sit back and soak up on your downtime. Whether that be the weekend, or whenever. This weekend’s offering: Sanctum: Genesis, from Humanoids.
Sanctum: Genesis is a graphic novel that acts as a prequel to Xavier Dorison (writer) and Christophe Bec’s (artist) Sanctum, which was set in 2029 and under water. But, the same arcane threat is what links the two. The threat of Mot, the ancient Syrian God of Death and his ages long attempt to be freed form his buried sanctum. And, as I read this book, there were certain nods to Sanctum; filling in some of the gaps and developing a strong backstory that illuminate the events of Sanctum, but is also a good standalone story in its own right too.
While any story set in the future will have the odd element of science fiction, this book is all horror, set in the past. The well worn theme of Hitler’s obsession with the occult and his endeavours to possess the most powerful mythological artefacts of antiquity are once more mined in this book from Humanoids and, like in the obvious go-to example, Raiders of The Lost Ark, this is also a tale of ancient evil lurking just below the Earth’s surface and in exotic far off climes; in this case Syria in 1934.
Syria is a land suffering under the colonial cosh of both the French and later in this graphic novel, the Nazis. All of whom roam these foreign lands as though they owned them. Thereby ignoring the advice from local nomads who clearly know a bit more about the land and its horrific history than these foreign, unwanted interlopers.
But, rather than a handsome, whip-wielding Indiana Jones, we have a middle aged, balding archeologist, Professor Lucas Delorme, and his unhappy, younger wife, whom he drags around with him from dig to dig, with each dig promising to be his last. A story she is getting all too familiar with hearing. Marlene, a bright, beautiful woman admits to this being more a marriage of convenience than of love. A sentiment I doubt her husband shares.
Delorme’s wife, Marlene, is a rather impossible woman to sympathise with as the book progresses, and who is ready to dismiss her husband because he has principles! Imagine that, a person willing to stand up against the Nazis. And, it’s principles Marlene seems to be greatly lacking in, given how quick she is to lie to save herself and how much quicker she is to fall into another man’s arms. Not the nicest of people in a book full of a purposefully unlikeable characters.
As the cuckolded Delorme continues to dig, any comparison with Raiders of The Lost Ark begin to fade away to reveal a story of betrayal, lust, jealousy and a growing unease as they get closer to their goal of unearthing the ancient power of Mot hidden within the sanctum. What lies beneath? What curse is there over this place in the middle of the desert? The growing psychological horror and supernatural suspense helps create a tense drama and the limited setting – in the middle of nowhere – adds to the growing mood of doom that haunts the pages of this book.
While it’s firmly set in the same kind of psychological supernatural thrillers like The Omen, I was gripped with the story of each character and it felt, at times, as though I was reading the script for a rather tense play, or film. Not intentionally, I imagine, but Philippe Thirault (from a story by Christophe Bec) does create–at least in Delorme–a gripping, albeit flawed, character who you do engage with. What I thought was going to be a rip-off of a well established 80’s classic caught me unawares and before I knew it I was gripped by the story, the betrayals and the growing sense of an evil that seems impossible to stay buried forever.
The main artist on the book, Stefano Rafaela, gives us a cast that are developed and different, which can be difficult with so many Nazis running around the place at any given moment. There are suggestions of darker betrayals than Marlene’s. One of the prominent Nazis, Hermann the German has very possibly been physically abused–at least–by his would-be father figure and fellow Nazi, General Götz, and the book is full of grizzly artefacts that scream out not to be touched. But, who’s ever taken heed of ancient curses in such stories, right?
This was a book I was unsure of, but it quickly won me round. Enough for me to go look at the first book this summer. It’s a gripping, tense tale of colonial arrogance, greed and ancient, primeval horror. And, for once, it’s not all the Nazis’ fault. Well, not always.
Sanctum: Genesis is out now from Humanoids either on paper or digitally.