Royal Blood, written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, illustrated by Dongzi Liu, and translated by Edward Gauvin, adapts the first 2 volumes of the French comic Sang Royal and tells the story of King Alvar, ruler of an unnamed kingdom and in the middle of a war for Christianity against barbarians.
During the battle of black brige, Alvar is wounded by an archer. Sensing the tide of battle turning towards the barbarians because of his injury, he formulates a plan to have his cousin, Alfred – who somewhat resembles Alvar, but because his subjects are not allowed to look at him without his helmet, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference – don his armor and impersonate him as king at the head of the army. His cousin, of course, betrays him because why be a make-believe king when you can be a real one? Instead of outright killing him (they are still cousins, you know) he opts to just pour dirt on his wounds so that they’re unable to close causing him to bleed out (doesn’t he know that dirt fixes everything?).
The plan works as the troops – thinking their king is impervious to pain – rally and proceed to route the barbarian back across the black bridge.
Meanwhile, poor Alvar, who’s left dying in the woods, is found by a disfigured crone. Thinking Alvar a gift from the gods for her loneliness, she takes him as her own and mends him to health. While recovering, Alvar hallucinates that the crone is his wife and not looking a gift horse in the mouth, the crone plays along telling him “Yes, yes I truly am your wife. Now, plant your seed in my soil!” Yes, that was actually said.
Ten years later, Alvar, Crone and 10-year-old girl, Sambra, makes three. Alvar has amnesia and is walking around cro-magnum cave men style, snatching his daughter’s sheep and eating it raw while saying “me eat” and fighting a wolf with his bare hands. The Crone distracts him by giving him honey – channeling his inner Pooh- so the daughter can bury the sheep, but while digging she uncovers Alvar’s old helmet and the arrow that wounded him which instantly brings back his memory. When the crone tries to play it off asking if he doesn’t remember his loving wife he retorts “You disgusting creature, you dare mock your king?” When she tries to invoke his love for his daughter, he responds with “Silence, brazen witch! A king only begets sons! That repulsive bitch can’t be mine!” Geez. Kinda harsh, Alvar.
At this point we’re just 15 pages into the graphic novel. The rest of the 2 volumes center on Alvar’s journey to win back his kingdom, but there are so many twists and turns along the way that before long, ‘ole Alvar realizes that he may have bitten a little more than he can chew.
The main thing I liked about this graphic novel was the art. Dongzi Liu pages are just beautiful and worth the price of admission on their own. Each panel is framed like its own piece of watercolor art. Liu also uses blurred filters and muted colors that give each panel a surrealistic look and brings the right atmosphere to the settings. It occurred to me many times throughout my read that they should’ve used Dongzi Liu to draw the Games of Thrones graphic novels as his style is more suitable for that setting, and would’ve resonated better with fans of the books. As for the story itself, while I do like it, overall there are a lot of problems – especially the dialogue.
Like Shakespeare, the writer uses a lot of metaphors, similes, and allegories, but they sound over-the-top, and soap-operish corny – to the point where I actually laughed out loud at some of the things that were being said… and I don’t think the book was supposed to be funny. Things like “I ploughed her furrow, she is mine” or “These are the daughters of my womb” once seeing a tree blossom after castrating himself and burying his balls under the tree. Shit like that just had me laughing. Perhaps something was lost in the translation, but as it is, it read as hokey. Another issue with the book is everyone in this world is an asshole and it makes it hard to root for anyone. Alvar starts out as the most sympathetic, but he’s quickly turns into a dick. Everyone at the palace is repulsive. Eventually we reacquaint with his daughter, Sambra, after another 10 year leap and you start to think perhaps she will be the heroine, but then her actions become questionable and she eventually betrays Alvar as well (although her actions are tragically lead). It doesn’t bode well when the most sympathetic character turns out to be a blind shepherd who’s only in a couple of scenes. There are other things that just didn’t resonate with me, like Alvar having to show the Queen a scar on his dick before she recognizes him or her reaction of “oh what are we to do” immediately after her son is mutilated. Reactions like that consistently took me out of the story and made me scratch my head.
I would recommend Royal Blood. It began as a gritty, medieval war story, but about a third of the way through it turned to a soap opera that left me conflicted. Upon my second read, I appreciated the story more as I was prepared to enjoy the zany twists and turns, and it made me laugh… even if it wasn’t intended. Ultimately, this in an entertaining book that, corny dialogue aside, will keep you turning the pages to find out what crazy shit will happen next, and there is a lot that will have you WTF-ing in a good way. There is a third volume that will hopefully get translated as well, and if it does, I will be picking it up as I want to know what kind of new crazy shit we will find Alvar in as well looking forward to enjoying more of Mr. Liu’s work.