Friday, June 15, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #166: Dungeon: Twilight, Vol. 2: Armageddon by Sfar, Trondheim, & Kerascoet

Dungeon Fortnight #15

Dungeon doesn't really aim to have a moral. But that doesn't mean we can't pull morals out of it, if we want to. And this volume, in particular, leads me to postulate "there's always time for hanky-panky, even at the end of the world."

The two albums collected here -- Armageddon, drawn by co-creator Joann Sfar, and Le Dojo du Lagon, drawn by the wife-and-husband team Kerascoet -- start off in high epic-fantasy mode, in the aftermath of the battles at the end of Dragon Cemetery, with the Dust King and his friends having retreated to the village of the cats and preparing for the next big battle. And that battle does come -- a huge army against the blind and armless Dust King standing alone. (After all, the album is named Armageddon.)

So why does the cover show Marvin the Red standing on a sandy beach with a gaggle of small dragon children? Well, no Dungeon storyline can remain entirely serious for too long. Therefore, much of this volume -- particularly that second album -- takes place on a tropical paradise, as Herbert chases an attractive young dragon woman, Ormelle, who is both mother of at least some bunch of those kids and the wife of Marvin the Dragon's son Baal. Dungeon always comes back to the complicated love lives of its protagonists -- sure, saving the world is important, but hey! check out that hot girl over there! I think she likes you!

First, though, we do need to get through Armageddon. This is the knottiest piece of the Dungeon timeline -- the two albums The Dark Lord (Le Noir Seigneur) and The Great Map (La Carte majeure), which we saw in the 2nd US Monstres volume, take place at exactly the same time, with all three overlapping. Armageddon begins the earliest of the three, and focuses on the Dust King (who used to be Marvin the Dragon), while The Great Map and The Dark Lord follow Marvin the Red and the Grand Khan, respectively, and start after the initial battle in this book.

It's not actually all that confusing while reading it -- Armageddon basically stands alone, and tells you as much of the story as you need to know here. (The last two albums of Twilight are much more convoluted, but we'll get there in a few days.) And the actual gigantic battle is over quickly -- Armageddon is a heavily narrated book (atypical for Dungeon), particularly in the early pages, as if co-writers Sfar and Lewis Trondheim were either overdosing on the epic-fantasy style or eager to get through that stuff and get back to the silliness.

Either way, the Dust King wins his battle but ends up far away and alone. He soon takes up with the shaman Gilberto, chases after his lost arms, and ends up on trial by the tiny but fierce Olf people. It's all pretty random and quirky, which is typical for Dungeon: whenever the story looks to fall into a generic groove, it jumps off in some other direction and runs away at high speed.

Eventually, the Dust King and Gilberto reunite with Marvin the Red, and they start Le Dojo du Lagon by running off again to try to save Zakutu, though they're not entirely sure where she is or what they'll be saving her from. (Once again, lust trumps all in Dungeon; Marvin has the hots for her.) Travel in the new Terra Amata is a matter of telling time carefully and knowing the movement of the various "islets" -- you wait until the right one is passing by, and jump onto it.

It is, of course, not that simple. They don't find Zakutu, but they do get to that island paradise inhabited by dragons. And Marvin discovers that maybe he could be madly in lust with Ormelle, instead, since she's right there. Actually, Ormelle is married, and mostly sleeps with Marvin to get her husband to give up on the stupid dragon custom of never seeing his children -- like, literally, it's forbidden for a male dragon to lay eyes on his own children at any time. But that's OK, Marvin heads back out and does save Zakutu, bringing her to the island paradise and getting both of the girls he's trying to sleep with right next to each other.

Le Dojo du Lagon does not devolve into a door-slamming sex farce, and not purely because there are no doors on the desert island. As usual, both of the women realize that a little of Marvin -- as equally a little of any man in Dungeon -- is more than enough, and go on to other things.

Oh, and the "Dojo" of the title refers to the fact that Marvin spends much of his time on the island training in mystic dragon martial arts. (Yes, really. And literally.) He even has the requisite big fight at the end, supposedly friendly but not really, with Baal. (The dragon he was cuckolding, if you've forgotten.) That fight ends about as conclusively as anything else in this volume.

So, to recap: the Grand Khan's forces are destroyed, offhandedly, on page four. And then a lot of other stuff happens, while we wait for the main plot to start up again, eventually. That's Armageddon.

Sfar has the scratchiest, most organic-looking art of anyone in the Dungeon series, full of details and little lines and background goofiness. It's tonally very far from what's expected of epic fantasy, which is of course the point. Kerascoet, who I've mostly seen work with a smoother finish, rough up their work to somewhat match in the back half of this book.

When people talk about Dungeon being mostly satirical, this is what they're talking about: this entire book is talking out of the side of its mouth the whole time, in every way possible. Dungeon is occasionally more serious than this, but it's never less.

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