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Dungeon Monstres Vol. 2, The Dark Lord
posted November 20, 2008


Creators: Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Andreas, Stephane Blanquet
Publishing Information: NBM, softcover, 96 pages, October 2008, $12.95
Ordering Numbers: 1561635405 (ISBN10), 9781561635405 (ISBN13)

The latest in NBM's re-packaging of Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim's various Donjon fantasy series combines two 2004 books from the stand-alone Monstres line. If I'm keeping all of my Donjon series straight, Monstres is the one for stand-alone story with a range of guest artists to be placed at any point in the wider Donjon timeline. These are placed in the Zenith era, the one in the far future as relative to the main series. Luckily, the books also comment upon one another, with overlapping plotlines told from different perspectives, and having them together make for an enjoyable reading experience in and of itself.

We follow two characters as they come to immediate terms with Terra Amata becoming a mini-universe of floating island: the foolish and aggressively violent Herbert the Red, and the fiendish, somewhat reluctantly but effectively violent Grand Khan. Unlike the Dungeon stories in their original series, these stories take place in a mish-mash of post-apocalyptical literature and fantasy stories that fail to provide the easy avenues for satire available to the authors in the more staid, traditional settings. There's an appealing but somewhat disorienting anything goes quality. It's hard not to appreciate the lack of sentimentality here: many fantasy stories are conservative in that they posit an idealized form of the present as the long-term status quo by story's end. The constant threat of personal and widespread destruction makes for a lot of uniquely funny moments among survivors whose peccadilloes and desires have taken on extinction-level drama. At the same time, comedy that arises from manic situations can be wearying after a while, and I think that's the case here. I find these stories super-entertaining, but I can see why people might not extend to them their heart. Heck, I'm having a hard time judging their quality beyond that immediate reaction.

I should also mention the thing I enjoyed most about this particular volume as compared to others: Stephane Blanquet drawing monsters. Blanquet has an almost intimidating clarity to his line here. If most comics are chalklines on a wall, Blanquet's looks smooth in the way that only applying finisher might be able to manage. His creatures look hostile to the touch, like they might sting in the way certain frogs do when you pick them up. They don't bleed, they emit blod that curdles like so much red slough. I find myself reading the story and then going back to start at it a bit, the way I usually do with Blanquet. While a few of the art choices Sfar and Trondheim have made haven't been all that inspired, this one was, and makes a solid reading experience -- these are almost always dense comics, that encourage your grappling with them -- that much more involved.