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Dungeon Twilight Volume Three: The New Centurions
posted May 3, 2010

imageCreators: Lewis Trondheim, Joann Sfar, Kerascoet, Obion
Publishing Information: NBM, softcover, 112 pages, May 2010, $12.99
Ordering Nubmers: 1561635782 (ISBN10) 9781561635788 (ISBN13)

I always enjoy these French mainstream fantasy comics, even when I'm not sure what it is I'm enjoying. Certainly creators/plotters Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar are modern exemplars when it comes to how one straddles mainstream success and artistic achievement, and as page-to-page, madcap cartooning it's hard to go wrong with watching their mostly well-selected art teams put the well-designed original characters through their paces. I always suspect there's a whole level of fundamental satire to these comics that we just don't get in the U.S., that the basic act of marching this blend of Barksian funny animals and outright soft fantasy as they mope, complain, butcher one another, harbor power and pursue sexual conquests tweaks the French-language mainstream in ways that go right over my head. In fact, I had the Franco-Belgian mainstream directly on my mind reading this book -- how NBM's decision to smash such books down into digest-sized volumes will work for the Smurfs material they plan to publish. I came away not knowing 100 percent, but a bit more hopeful that it will work. I think if the production work on the interiors is of a very high quality, they should be fine.

Anyway, the two albums in this new digest present the range of what the Dungeon series does pretty well. The first story gets deep into the various soap opera developments and political machinations of the Twilight version of the Dungeon cast, the post-planetary war, and presents itself as kind of a madcap '60s adventure-comedy. Cast members are constantly paired off in a way that makes for amusing confrontations, or set onto a course where they exhibit their most satisfying character trait to solve some temporary impasse. That story also underscores the weakness of the Twilight material in that its connection to the other material never feels quite earned. I think we're supposed to get some mileage out of the fact that the characters and milieu are so very different from the material set in earlier times, but it's not like that material is so stable in the prime years that one can't imagine them getting from there to here in 10 pages of amusing action. This part of Dungeon kind of reminds me of A Canticle For Bilbo Baggins, if that makes any sense at all. The second story here is bound to be overpraised: it's a one-off "big metaphor" episode starring the Marvin where the workaday world is parodied on a planet where you have to constantly run or be sent to your doom. It's amusing but heavy-handed, and for the first time I felt like the work was reaching for something rather than generating new material from the richness of its central concept and cast.