Last series of the mangaka Kumiko Suezane, Versailles of the dead ended this month in its French edition. The work, the first four volumes of which have been previously reviewed, starts from a strong premise: to invite zombies to the table of French history. Served by high-quality drawings, an atmosphere halfway between the horror film and the swashbuckling film, the manga had left us at the end of the fourth on a mixed impression. It has undeniable strengths but the plot struggled to clarify its issues. This final episode partially removes our reservations even if the impression remains that there was material to develop on 1 or 2 additional volumes the universe.
Versailles of the Dead : we must save Queen Marie-Antoinette
The revolution is brewing in the kingdom of France. In addition to financial and social difficulties, there is an unknown evil: a zombie plague. Groups of the living dead roam the countryside, attack isolated castles and, most daring, attack the convoy of the future Queen Marie Antoinette. The young princess passes away but her twin brother, the only survivor, takes her place. The young man is in fact possessed by a demon who seems to be related to the strange evil.
In the guise of Marie Antoinette, he pretends to help her husband, King Louis XVI to carry out his secret project: to assemble the fragments of Joan of Arc's soul scattered in the diamonds of the queen's necklace. In reality, the demon wants to eliminate the Archangel Michael who slumbers in the body of Joan of Arc. The face to face between these two ancestral enemies begins.
An addictive atmosphere, a mix of genres always successful
This last volume does not betray the excellent artistic behavior of the series. The mangaka has chosen to infuse its history with an atmosphere carried by the shift. On the one hand, the reader can admire magnificent plates, luminous, rich in detail. We are faced with a story which, by placing itself from the point of view of the queen, adopts her vision of the world made of naivety, lightness, luxury. The boards are based on a design that transcends the imagination of the monarchy made up of festivals, superficiality, the gap between the people and the elite. On the other hand, the story offers us gore passages centered around the figure of the zombies, of the possessed. The bodies are emaciated, the heads fly high, the fluids, the entrails spill out. Terror rubs shoulders with innocence. Thus, Versailles of the dead is part of the tradition of black romanticism.
This technical success then makes it possible for the reader to agree to the incredible scriptwriting gamble: to combine a horrific story and a historical story. Indeed, the political context of the time was respected: whether it was the affair of the queen's necklace, a major fraud affair during the reign of Louis XV; or the Bastille riot. The historical veracity (the cash flow problems) even justifies the scattering of the stones. Stones whose mangaka invents on the other hand a fantastic role which brings together all the arcs of its plot. This can then slide towards the confrontation between two superior entities of which humanity suffers the consequences.
Versailles of the Dead or the zombies as a pretext
It is not the least of surprises to discover at the end of this volume the meaning of the overall project. This is in the tradition of Romero's films where the zombie served as an argument to offer a reflection on society. Kumiko Suezane also intelligently used the figure of the living dead. This gradually fades in this final shutter in favor of the real threat, the real confrontation.
This raises some of the many unresolved questions. Zombies are not an end but a means. The different groups follow divergent paths and we now fully understand the origin of the evil. It is therefore very pleasant to resume the series from the beginning and to detect the clues disseminated by the author who knew where she wanted to take the reader. The zombie attacks were not due to chance, the rescue of the twin brother follows a definite plan. All this mystery is put at the service of a surprising reflection on our relationship to belief.
Moral questions, an assumed ambiguity
The resolution of the saga is indeed non-Manichean and very ambiguous. Between Michael and the demon, the reader finds himself in a dead end. Neither of them actually works for the good of men. Lex Luthor's phrase in Dawn of Justice perfectly illustrates the reader's moral dilemma: "If God is almighty, he cannot be all good. And if it is all beneficial, it is because it cannot be all powerful ”.
This last volume does not hesitate to scratch religion either through the character of the archangel or that of the angels or their agents. We greatly appreciate their dismay at the lack of mercy from God. The series chooses not to provide a clear answer: is the demon a Prometheus or a Loki; Is Michael a Messiah or a vengeful God? The mangaka chooses not to really choose or even to sow doubt again in the last box.
Too short a series
There remains one point that may prevent this series from achieving excellence: its length. It's rare enough to underline it but Versailles of the Dead is too short. The author has indeed built a very coherent universe, very rich extending over a good part of the history of France. Now the reader will undoubtedly regret not having more answers on the confrontation between the two entities; on Jeanne's route; on the choice of the virgin by Michel; on the rescue of Jeanne's body; on the imprisonment of his soul.
Likewise, secondary characters are quickly dispatched in this last volume: the angels, the creators of zombie evil, the allies of the angels. And it is all the more unfortunate that you find among them the so-called Napoleon, a man called Maximilian or Cagliostro. The author has clearly removed from her story any superfluous over-explanation of their past, their itinerary. It is regrettable because she obviously had the material to flesh out her story of one or two volumes without slowing down the dynamism of the whole.
This latest volume of Versailles of the Dead skillfully closes a daring series perfectly mastered by its creator. The rhythm reserves previously issued are partly erased. Kumiko Suezane confirms her immense talent and who knows maybe she is preparing a sequel or spin offs in order to lift the veil on the last mysteries of her universe.
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