Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dungeon Quest Book One by Joe Daly

Joe Daly tells stories about slackers with an obvious love and a clear eye; he's attuned to the oddball notions and unlikely turns that their lives take, and crafts stories about quirky people that don't turn into catalogs of quirks themselves. (Which is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.) He's also notable among newer cartoonists for not committing memoir; his stories might have some inspiration in his life (or not), but they're real stories, that live and breathe and go off in their own directions.

Daly is South African; he first came to the attention of a North American audience with The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, which collected two related stories about two South African slackers and the weird events they got caught up in. (I reviewed it here about a year and a half ago, well after it was published in the US.) Since then, he's jumped into a big series in "Dungeon Quest," but, in what I'm hoping will continue to be typical Joe Daly fashion, his big series is funny and goofy and takes itself seriously only in the way that a very late-night conversation about the nature of the universe, fueled by various not-entirely-legal substances, can be serious.

In fact, I reviewed the second book of "Dungeon Quest" recently for the magazine Realms of Fantasy (the June 2011 issue, available right now from better purveyors of ink-on-paper entertainment), and liked it so much that I had to go back and find the first book, to see how Millennium Boy and his adventuring party got started. This is one of those stories that knowing exactly how it started doesn't add quite as much context as one might expect -- it really was just Millennium Boy being bored one day and deciding to go out on an adventure rather than do his homework, and gathering up a small group of equally bored, or willing adventurers to go with him.

The obvious comparison for "Dungeon Quest" is to paper-and-pencil RPGs; Daly gives his characters statistics (for intelligence, strength, dexterity, various weapon skills, armor, and so forth), and those statistics go up after combat (though health can go down with an injury, of course). Daly also is willing to be more than a little goofy and self-conscious; his characters know that they can grab "upgrades" from the bodies of their dead enemies, and comment on how their stats are increasing.

The names of those items are odd as well -- "woolen beanie of insulation," "steel-toed bovver boots of the armadillo," "light bow of the woodpecker," and so forth -- to continue the sense of "Dungeon Quest" as the record of a friendly RPG campaign, down in some smoke-filled basement, with a bunch of friends enjoying themselves and goofing off.

I still wish that the one female member of this adventuring quartet -- Nerdgirl, the ranged-weapons expert of the bunch -- had any definable personality, or ever spoke, since the group is otherwise very boyish, with similar personalities. But there's still adventures to come, and I can hope that she'll turn out to be as quirky and fun as her male adventuring companions.

Dungeon Quest is a goofy, silly series, and it's not for readers who need their comics-format violence to be deadly serious and full of clenched teeth. But for those of us who have grown out of that limited conception of comics yet still want energetic adventure stories that know how silly they are, it's just the thing.

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