Saturday, June 09, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #160: Dungeon: Monstres, Vol. 2: The Dark Lord by Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Andreas, & Stephane Blanquet

Dungeon Fortnight #9

Here is one place where the US publication strategy immediately creates a better, richer experience than the original French albums -- something that happens very rarely in any kind of publishing. The two albums collected in The Dark Lord -- originally Le Carte Majeure and Le Noir Seigneur in France -- take place in an overlapping time-frame, with some of the same characters appearing in both. In fact, there are several scenes that exist in both books, so we can see them first from Marvin the Red's brash point of view, and then from the colder view of Herbert, the somewhat former Great Khan.

(Of course, there could be an even better experience, since both of these stories also overlap with Armageddon, the third Twilight album, which follows the Dust King most closely. But why should we let the best be the enemy of the good?)

So The Dark Lord is one of the Monstres volumes that really isn't the sidebar it claims to be: it's intrinsically part of the main story, telling important moments in the central Twilight story. And, again, I think the very best way to read Dungeon would be to have all of the books in level order and run through them that way -- but that would be complex and awkward, and might even need to be done page-by-page with several books open at once, to get the full effect.

If you're coming to The Dark Lord, as I am here, in the middle of a Dungeon read-through that's just hitting the Monstres volumes before reaching Twilight, it can be a bit confusing: both of the albums here plunge into immediate action with only a little background.

First up is The Great Map. Marvin is accompanying the women of the village of cats -- it doesn't have a name, and their people don't seem to be the Kochaks we saw in the Zenith era, either -- on a group of giant bats as they all fly south, away from the impending battle. They hope to find safety with the sage Pooltorak on the Babar Plains, but the bats go crazy and the group has to land swiftly. Then the world actually breaks apart, and Marvin is separated from the rest.

Freed of his boring escort duty, Marvin gets a vision of the dragon sage Orlondoh, who tells him he needs to go get the only map of this new world from a community of scientist/magicians at Divinascopus. Through his own arrogance and pugnaciousness, Marvin accidentally ends up in exactly the right place, and almost gets the gem that is this new map. But the Grand Khan (Herbert, looking normal here) shows up with a group of his soldiers and his daughter Zakutu, knocks out Marvin, and takes the gem.

And here it gets complicated....

The second half of this book is the album The Dark Lord, which begins slightly earlier -- though still in the middle of the action of Armageddon -- with the Grand Khan, still possessed by the Dark Entity, fleeing with the remnants of his forces after being defeated by the Dust King's reanimated dragons. Still on the first page of this story, he disinherits his son Papsukal -- who is black-skinned exactly like his father, like he's also possessed by the Dark Entity, though this is never explained -- tries to give power to Zakutu, and eventually settles the Duchy of Craftiwich on his adopted troll son Elyacin.

Then he drowns himself in the bathtub, since the Dark Entity will only leave on its host's death. Zakutu saves him, and he's back to being Herbert. The lieutenants of the Grand Khan immediately start scheming against their now-much-diminished leader: one rebels and is killed immediately, and then another talks to Herbert quietly to become the power behind the throne. Soon afterward, the Black Fortress itself breaks up, and Herbert flees with Zakutu.

And here it gets more complicated....

From that point, the two books intertwine, with some events being shown twice, from Marvin's and Herbert's points of view. There's a lot of chasing and fighting and grabbing magical items and being captured by various enemies and evading the Dark Entity and just activity. This book is overstuffed with action -- Twilight in general is crammed with epic-fantasy moments, but these two albums hit a peak not seen again until the frantic and barely comprehensible End of Dungeon.

At the very end, Zakutu is missing, possibly possessed by the Dark Entity. Herbert is back with his old friend the Dust King. And Marvin the Red is very self-satisfied with having succeeded in his mission and is incidentally harboring a growing lust for Zakutu. It's not an "ending," really -- it's still smack in the middle of the overall Twilight plot -- but things do stop, briefly, for different people at the end of each album here.

The Great Map is drawn by Andreas, in a crisp, Trondheim-esque style -- there are some goofy lizard-monks near the end that look back to the sillier, lighter era of Dungeon in particular. And Stephane Blanquet draws The Dark Lord in a dark, detailed style, full of cramped panels, that pretty closely echoes the similarly cramped and dark look Joann Sfar gave Armageddon.

This is one of the very worst places to begin reading Dungeon: the Monstres books are supposedly all sidebars, but, as we're seeing here, that isn't really the case. If you like the overstuffed epic fantasy style, start with the first volume of Twilight and get to this right after reading Armageddon. But, for most of us, Zenith or Early Years is a better door into the Dungeon.

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