Friday, November 19, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 289 (11/19) -- Dungeon: Monstres, Vol. 3: Heartbreaker by Sfar Trondheim Nine Killoffer

The world of Dungeon is a dangerous one -- not in the usual "dangerous" way of adventure fiction, with hair's-breadth escapes and miraculous survivals, but in the way of real danger, with murders, accidental deaths, and assorted mayhem liable to happen at any time, and hit any character. But it's even worse for young, attractive women -- this is one fantasy world that admits that all of those tough, hard-bitten soldier/pirate/adventurer types are as likely to rape an available pretty girl as to look at her, and that she'd be lucky to survive the experience, as well.

Heartbreaker collects two of the French albums from the "Monstres" sub-series, devoted to "great adventures of secondary characters." The two stories here are both about young women thrown into that dangerous world, to survive any way they can -- which means, inevitably, that these stories are about the horrible things that happen to them, and so the originally light-hearted tone of Dungeon continues to get gloomier and more depressive here. Those two young women -- both of whom we first meet as innocents, and then see dragged into circles of death and danger -- are Alexandra, assassin lover of Hyacinthe, the mysterious vigilante of "The Early Years" series, and Drowny, later known as Ballsy, a normal teen girl of an aquatic race who has to pose as a soldier of the Great Khan when her family (and that of her best friend) are slaughtered.

When we've seen Alexandra in "The Early Years," she's been dashing and in control of the situation, but here she's mostly controlled herself: shackled in a prison, tied to a chair, almost poisoned, exhausted and on the run from the authorities, barely surviving at best. The art in her story -- by the Argentinian Carlos Nine -- is smoky and hazy, full of soft penciled lines and sketched backgrounds, very unlike the usually sharp-edged Dungeon world. And given how odd-looking many of these characters are -- the cover is a good example, with Alexandra, something like a busty snake whose body separates into legs, and a one-eyed porcine editor she's talking to -- Nine's fuzziness and figures that fade into the shadows aren't a good artistic match for the story, leading to confusion and annoyance. Alexandra's story is full of events -- she narrates her history over the first third of the story, before she's captured and thrown in prison -- but this telling focuses on the unpleasant things that happen to her, turning it all sad and desperate and tawdry.

The second story, "The Depths," is brighter and crisper in its art, drawn by Patrice Killoffer in a style much closer to the standard for the Dungeon books. But its heroine, Drowny, has an even worse time -- losing her family and making a horrific choice by page seven, and then in danger of her life (or of being revealed, or of being raped) for most of the rest of the book. She's connected with the "Twilight" subseries somehow, though I don't remember her from the main books. Her story is entirely one of frantic fear, hiding in plain sight because she has absolutely no options, and her situation keeps looking worse and worse and worse.

There have been plenty of dark moments in the Dungeon books before this -- even the "Zenith" subseries, the original and sunniest, has danger and nastiness in it, and Twilight and Early Years are both darker -- but there hasn't been a collection so steeped in moroseness and villainy. Alexandra and Drowny never have a chance to even try to take charge of their destinies, like the male heroes of the main books (Herbert, Marvin, Hyacinthe) do -- they run, and hide, and try to escape, and attempt to lead their tormentors to death, but nothing more active than that. I don't think it's sexism, but it is unfortunate -- the world of Dungeon is a dangerous, deadly place, but surely the girls should be allowed to have adventures with as many high points as the boys do?

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Jones, one of the Jones boys said...

You put your finger on the very two things that bugged me about this instalment: viz. Nine's artwork, and the two stories' rapiness. I didn't realise the little pig-guy was a cyclops until he was explicitly called such (by Alexandra, IIRC); I just thought it was Nine's odd style. At least Kilhoffer's art is much better suited to the story and the broader universe; actually, I thought it was among the best we've seen in the series.

But what's up with the rape? I can't recall other characters being raped in the series, so it was weird to have TWO rape stories in the same volume.

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