The Grand Duke


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The Grand Duke


  • Words: Yann
  • Art: Romain Hugeault
  • Publisher: Archaia Comics
  • Price: $24.95
  • Release Date: Nov 21, 2012

An epic tale of romance and death dealt from above, Archaia’s latest offering from the shores of Europe is a feast for the eyes.

Chronicling the aerial adventures of two star-crossed lovers as they battle across the skies of Europe during the Second World War, Archaia Comics' latest European export, The Grand Duke, is a lush wartime romance by French creators Yann and Romain Hugeault. Refreshing for its use of Russian and German protagonists, The Grand Duke provides an illuminating, ground-level glimpse into the inner workings of two warring air forces.

Originally published in French as a series of graphic albums, Archaia’s beautiful collection presents each of the original books as a chapter in the unlikely romance that blooms between the Luftwaffe’s Oberlieutenant Wulf and the fearsome Russian Witch of the Night, Comrade Lilya. The couple starts their courtship as competing aces desperately trying to survive the last, grueling days of World War Two in the chilly skies above a bleak Eastern Europe. Eventually, through a series of seemingly predestined events, in which they continue to bump into each other on the battlefield, Wulf and Lilya fall in love; each one saving the other’s life at various points in the story to preserve their secret passion.

Yann’s script is brilliantly paced and balanced. Action and exposition vie for the reader’s attention with equal allure, anchored by Hugeault's lush, expressive paints. Wulf’s character in particular is well-developed throughout the course of the book, his haunted past and even more tragic present driving him to near-suicidal feats of aerial warfare, all the while running afoul of the Nazi elite. His Russian lover is just as fascinating. Lilya is far from a traditional damsel in distress and displays many of the same fatalistic and heroic qualities as Wulf. In fact, her zeal for victory burns far stronger than his, leading her to gain a fearsome reputation as a Night Witch.

Hugeault’s masterful illustrations literally leap from the page, each panel well thought out and packed full of details that only help to solidify the reality of Yann’s story. His expertise as both pilot and reference artist for textbooks informs not only the technical accuracy of aircraft featured in the book but allows him to realize the vast sweeping vistas with a veracity oddly lacking in most war stories of similar ilk. It’s Hugeault’s ability to set the reference aside when rendering human beings that really launches The Grand Duke into the stratosphere, though. Each character, no matter how major or minor, is distinctive and fully realized; each facial expression exquisitely sculpted for maximum emotional effect without descending into visual buffoonery.

A huge, wonderful escape into the aerial escapades of two star-crossed lovers, The Grand Duke is a hard book to put down. If you’re into history and romance and don’t mind a little tasteful nudity, then The Grand Duke is a great holiday gift for the funny book fanatic in your life.

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