Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #164: Dungeon: Monstres, Vol. 6: The Great Animator by Sfar, Trondheim, Stanislas & Keramidas

Dungeon Fortnight #13

The last of the Monstres books -- for now, at least; this is the subseries that could most easily continue if Sfar and Trondheim had the time and inclination, since it's all drawn by other artists and could arise from any inspiration -- is The Great Animator, another thematic combination, bringing together two French albums about the intelligent automatons created in the Duchy of Craftiwich.

The Great Animator (nee Le Grand Animateur) goes far back in time, to "level -400," which I assume means about 300 years before the beginning of The Early Years. The ducks are living in the walled city of Duckville, defended from the local rapacious orcs by clock-shaped automatons built by the genius Viscount of Craftiwich, Julien. He has also secretly created other automatons, who appear identical to the people of the city -- they are stronger and faster than normal people, and live essentially forever, but are unable to lie or kill. Julien is responsible for building the automatons, but his brother, Benoit, is a magician who obtains the flames of life that animate them from a demon. (And the third main duck character is Cormor, one of the first "humanoform" automatons and the two brothers' most trusted servant. His name will be familiar from other books.)

But there's a greater danger approaching -- a conqueror at the head of an army, who defeats the nearby Duchy of Dawgvern as part of a larger plot to gather all of the objects of Destiny and do the usual Evil Overlord stuff. He soon renames himself Absolute Evil -- another character who has appeared, here and there, in other Dungeon volumes -- and attacks Duckville with his massive army. Benoit battles him, and muddles to a victory. And he demands to be made Duke and to have the rebuilt city named after his brother as the prices of his defeating the Orc armies.

The book is almost as much about the odd love trapezoid (pentagon?) among Julien, Benoit, Cormor, and Julien's wife Amandine. After her husband's death, she falls in love with Cormor, as prophesied, but Benoit is obsessed with her, even more so after she enlists him to give her the baby Cormor can't. In typical Dungeon fashion, women are things to fight over rather than real characters with agency, and it does not work out in happy-ever-after fashion.

Great Animator is drawn by Stanislas in a flat style that looks to me almost like an homage to medieval tapestries, deliberately distancing this story to make it clear it's in the distant past. I didn't love the art, but I respected that bold choice.

Several hundred years later, The Inventor's Grimoire (Le Grimoire de L'Inventeur) takes place at level 5 (the same as Un mariage √† part, the first half of Zenith: Back in Style). An archaeological dig in the Duchy, let by Professor Cormor (whom we have seen as a teacher and friend of Hyacinthe, and will obviously recall from Great Animator) has discovered the workshop of that first Duke of Craftiwich, including the grimoire with the secrets of building more automatons.

That grimoire is almost immediately stolen, not long after that put up for auction, and becomes the focus of numerous groups and people ready to buy or steal or kill for it, from the Keeper to several would-be conquerors to the magicians to the secretly surviving ancient automatons. And of course Delacour is at the center of the plots, and of course a new army of automatons is created, and of course extreme measures must be taken to save the world.

There's a very melancholy ending, surprising after all of the madcap action -- this mostly feels like a Zenith book, with Delacour and cascading plots and dangers that threaten but don't damage the important characters...until that ending.

It's all drawn by Keramidas in a slightly cartoony, equally madcap style -- and this is one of the books where the smaller size for US editions is really a detriment. He has a lot of panels on a page, filled with a lot of action, and showing them at the original French size would have given them more energy. Well, if wishes were horses, as they say.

And that dark ending sets us up to continue into the last Dungeon series, Twilight, which is quite dark indeed -- we'll continue there tomorrow.

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