Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #165: Dungeon: Twilight, Vol. 1: Dragon Cemetery by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim

Dungeon Fortnight #14

Dragon Cemetery, paradoxically, is both one of the beginnings of Dungeon and nearly its end -- Dungeon began in several time-frames almost simultaneously, as creators Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim conceived of a huge epic fantasy series that would rise and peak and fall and decided to tell all of those stories simultaneously. So the Twilight series, which begins here, is initially drawn by Sfar, as the Zenith books were initially drawn by Trondheim. (The US Dragon Cemetery volume, in the style of all of the US Dungeon books, collects two of the original French albums -- Le Cimetiere de Dragons and Le Volcan des Vaucanson.)

Some time has passed since the end of Zenith -- it's difficult to say how much. If the "levels" correspond to years, the last Zenith book is at 6 and the first Twilight is at 101 -- but that still leaves the question of how many "levels" to a year. (Unless everyone is incredibly long-lived on Terra Amata, it's definitely not one to one -- Marvin the Dragon is a pre-teen in My Son the Killer at -90 and is old but still around for level 111.)

In any case: it's later. There's no sign of the Dungeon, or the Keeper. An old dragon called the Dust King, spurred by the arrival of a small bat (who is a main character of Twilight, but never gets a name), breaks the rules of a nasty half-glimpsed tyrant called the Grand Khan [1], and heads off to the mythical Dragon Cemetery to die. Along the way, they meet a headstrong young rabbit, Marvin the Red, who joins their group. Various minions of the Grand Khan are tailing them at a distance, for various nefarious purposes.

Meanwhile, the back cover tells us that Terra Amata has stopped spinning, leaving one side in eternal frozen night and the other in eternal burning desert, and only a small livable twilight area in between. This is never actually said in the story itself, and there's no sign that the twilight lands are particularly small.

(On the other hand, geography has never been Dungeon's strong suit -- there are no maps or any clear sense of where places are in relation to each other. For all that this claims to be a parody of epic fantasy, it's not a parody of the tropes of written epic fantasy, deriving more from tabletop gaming and from vague cultural knowledge.) 

Before long, we learn that the Dust King is Marvin, who lost his skin and eyes and has become something like a mystic or hermit in his old age. And the Grand Khan is Herbert, who gathered all seven of the objects of Destiny and then invited a Dark Entity into his body to stop the world spinning and keep it from breaking into pieces. It's not entirely clear why Marvin is "the Dust King," unless that's some kind of mocking nickname, since he doesn't have any followers or lands to rule. Herbert has the usual Dark Lord castle and minions and faceless armies of horrible things, since this is an epic fantasy.

The two do meet, and confront each other, near the end. It doesn't go all that well for the Dust King, but, on the other hand, he is the first to survive and get away from the Grand Khan, which is a positive. Marvin the Red gets a snazzy new suit of red armor, and makes out with the Grand Khan's daughter Zakutu for a while. But the story doesn't end so much as stop -- this part of the Twilight sub-series is not made up of separate albums that tell individual stories, but one long story parceled out into individually published chapters. It'll settle down a bit later -- but we'll see that in the next three days.

You could start reading Dungeon here: this book does have a big #1 on it. It would be a bad choice, and I doubt anyone would recommend it. But I bet people have, given that big #1. (It's not like it'll hurt you or anything.)

[1] In this book, he's first called just the Khan, then the Supreme Khan once, and then generally the Grand Khan. In other Twilight books, his standard title seems to be the Great Khan, with some waffling. I'm trying to use Grand Khan throughout these Dungeon Fortnight posts, just to be internally consistent, because I started using that title when drafting these. I make no promises that I will be entirely consistent.

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