Dark Corners: Dungeon Monstres, Volume 3

Posted by on November 29th, 2010 at 6:59 AM

Rob reviews Dungeon Monstres Volume 3, by Lewis Trondheim, Joann Sfar, Carlos Nine, Patrice Killoffer and Walter.

The initial draw of Lewis Trondheim & Joann Sfar’s Dungeon series is its status as a light-hearted goof on familiar sword-and-sorcery (and Dungeons & Dragons) tropes.  However, the artists were careful from the very beginning to tell these occasionally ridiculous stories with a straight face, laying down intricately detailed plots while mixing the goofiness and cute anthropomorphic animals with moments of grisly violence and unsavory exploits.  As a result, when Trondheim & Sfar choose to go in darker directions, it’s less of a jolt to the reader than a subtle shift, especially when the story concerns the grim and brutal world of Dungeon: Twilight or the rough-and-tumble setting of Dungeon: The Early Years. This is certainly the case with the latest side-trip in the Dungeon saga, Dungeon Monstres Volume 3.

As always, NBM collects two separate Dungeon stories into one translated volume.  As a side note, the lettering was a little sloppy in this edition, with a few words (mostly articles) dropped altogether.  This volume concerns two female characters, one prominent and one new.  The first story, Heartbreaker, concerns the life story of Alexandra, the assassin who wound up as the great love of Hyacinthe, the hero of Dungeon: The Early Years .  One of the running themes of the series is the way that greed and the opportunity to take moral shortcuts inevitably causes the ruin of once-idealistic and carefree characters.  Heartbreaker examines the fallout of such choices in a brush-heavy, shadowy line by Carlos Nine.

This story is largely a first-person narrative that turns into an extended prison story.  Alexandra runs afoul of some other assassins and gets thrown into a dungeon and spends much of the story exerting her will just to stay alive.  Befitting the cheapness of human life in this world, the one time Alexandra runs out of luck is when she tries to run into the arms of (now-married) Hyacinthe after she finally escapes and survives her ordeal.  He rejects her coldly and walks out, leading her to kill his wife after his wife taunts her.  The sting of her insult combined with the full knowledge that she can no longer have any real role in Hyacinthe’s life was the only thing that truly hurt her in the whole story, the one thing her training as an assassin couldn’t prepare her for.  (This story also serves to provide backstory for one of the Dungeon: Twilight volumes).  Nine’s art is heavy with hatching and shadow, befitting a story about a city’s underworld.  His line bends, warps and undulates on the page, creating a distortion that reminds me a bit of Gene Colan’s work.

The second story, The Depths, was drawn by Patrice Killoffer.  It’s about how the life of an anthropomorphic cephalopod girl named Drowny is irrevocably shattered after a brutal attack by a conquering army, and the things she has to do to survive.  It’s an interesting companion piece to the first story, as one senses that Drowny will eventually lead a life much like Alexandra’s, only we’re seeing how things all began.  The grim humor of the amoral soldiers provides a weird tension juxtaposed against Drowny’s desperate series of improvisations, as she not only survives disguised as a soldier but earns a number of promotions.  The most awful point of the story for Drowny is not the casual world of rape, murder and plunder that acts as job perks for a soldier, but the fact that her city’s leaders decide she’s a spy when she returns to warn them.  Like Alexandra, her belief in justice and the system was shattered; however, she also quickly learned that cynical lesson and hardened herself to the point where she led an attack on her old city.  Killoffer’s vivid and intricate line is spectacular here, a clear but visceral style that conveys humor and brutality in the same package.  I can’t imagine a better match for the cynical & clever humor of Trondheim & Sfar.

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