Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #163: Dungeon: Monstres, Vol. 5: My Son the Killer by Sfar, Trondheim, Blutch & Bezian

Dungeon Monstres #12

These two stories are only connected thematically: both are about fighting and honor, and finding your place in a world filled with danger and violence. As I said yesterday, that can happen with the Monstres sub-series; they're combined into 2-in-1 volumes for American publication, but the Monstres books are very miscellaneous and don't necessarily come neatly in pairs.

So here we have My Son the Killer (Mon Fils le Teur), with art by Blutch that, to my eye, has a lot of shading and hatching that doesn't entirely mesh with the coloring layered on top of it. (I don't know enough about art to cast aspersions either way, but it looks fussy and too much to my eye.) If we were reading the Dungeon books by internal chronology, this would be the one that introduces Marvin the Dragon, one of the major characters of the Zenith era, and shows how he met Hyacinthe long before the latter ever ran a Dungeon.

(But we're not reading in that order, so we'll take it as a flashback instead.)

It's also a very loose sequel to Night of the Ladykiller from the last Monstres volume; if I were king of the editorial world, I hope that I would have thought to put those two together. But I'm not, and whoever did assemble the Monstres books didn't want to do it that way. My Son is also set ten years after an event that may be the one in Ladykiller, but possibly not -- the person in question has apparently been quite active for a while. (And I don't think the timeline has ten years to spare in the middle of The Night Shirt's career.)

In any case, My Son begins as Marvin comes to Antipolis with his mother. He's a very young monster, and knows very little about the world, and his mother is also quite dominating and controlling. They seem to be in town to do some shopping, but they have some confusion with local customs -- she doesn't realize that it's not done to eat dead bodies in the street, and he doesn't realize that biting the head off a city guard is similarly a bad idea. But their impending execution is foiled when Hyacinthe recruits them both as guards: they seem much more dangerous than the men he currently has guarding him, and vastly more honest than the natives.

Marvin follows The Night Shirt on his nightly activities, seeing events that he doesn't understand and we readers understand only a little more. It turns out that the magician from Ladykiller has a larger plot in mind, which is ready to launch. Others are not so happy about that plot, which leads to a certain amount of violence at the climax of this book.

This book also, incidentally, explains why there's a village of magicians, far away from everyone else, in the Zenith and later time periods. And, in the end, Marvin and his mother leave Antipolis, which is too "civilized" -- violent, dangerous, full of plots and lies -- for them.

I'm not crazy about Blutch's art here, which feels a little too deliberately crude for Dungeon. His fight scenes are claustrophobic and too static for my eye, all tight closeups and action that flows a beat too slowly from panel to panel. (But I'd like to see it without color, sometime -- I suspect his work might show better in the starkness of black and white.)

And then the back half of the My Son book contains possibly the very darkest Dungeon story, and another one I'll put in the "maybe quintessential" bucket with The Depths: Soldiers of Honor (Des Soldats d'Honneur). This one has ominous, dark art in an unflinching six-panel grid by Bezian, and text entirely shown as captions, as if we're being told the story long afterward.

It's set during the Twilight era, told by one soldier of the Grand Khan's armies. Gork. He's a demon from hell, and watches one subterranean passage into the Grand Khan's fortress along with his brother Krog. One day, a "very old and blind" stranger comes through, and needs the two brothers plus twenty more soldiers to subdue him. (This is, of course, the Dust King, and so I think it means Soldiers of Honor takes place before Dragon Cemetery, the first Twilight book.)

Since Krog called for help, he's failed in his duty: he is sentenced to have his wings ripped off, and to be left in the desert to die. And his brother is the one chosen to accompany him and see the sentence carried out.

The two brothers travel together, arguing and talking about their parents and terrorizing the locals they pass -- they are demons, after all. They get caught up in plots in the magicians' village of Pigsville, and Krog tries to escape his fate.

But neither of them escape their fates.

Soldiers of Honor is even darker than The Depths -- this is the real "war is hell" book of Dungeon, with only the smallest bits of very dark humor and evocatively spidery art from Bezian. It all goes badly for these two demons, but it goes badly for everyone they meet as well, and more expansively went badly for anyone caught up in the Grand Khan's wars. But that's the way of the Twilight era, where everything is horrible and getting worse -- it's epic fantasy in the time of a Dark Lord, when the whole world will be destroyed unless....

But I'll get to that unless in a few more days. For now, My Son the Killer pulls together two dark stories from opposite ends of the Dungeon timeline, giving us two very different views of Marvin at the two ends of his life.

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