Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #167: Dungeon: Twilight, Vol. 3: The New Centurions by Sfar, Trondheim, Kerascoet & Obion

Dungeon Fortnight #16

Twilight rolls onward, towards what looks like the inevitable destruction of the entire world of Terra Amata. The New Centurions collects two more French albums, and continues the split in tone we saw in the last volume: The New Centurions (Les Nouveaux Centurions) has big set-piece battles and political struggles, while Revolutions (it's the same word in French) tightens the focus back to the core cast (Marvin the Red, the Dust King and the nameless little bat) as they head out on their own for a smaller adventure.

Terra Amata was a normal-shaped world, but, for a poorly explained reason, it stopped spinning between the Zenith and Twilight series. The Grand Khan, who was Herbert the Duck before he joined with a Dark Entity, says that he stopped the world from spinning, which was the only way to keep it from breaking into pieces. That may be true: as soon as he lost the Dark Entity, the world did start spinning again, and broke itself into a myriad of flying rocks,  mostly each big enough for a habitat (or an adventure), each flying off in its own orbit over the now-molten core of the planet.

(Remember that this is a fantasy world. Yes, this is indeed preposterous geology. But it's fantasy geology, where preposterousness reigns supreme.)

The breaking happened in the last book, Armageddon, which also saw an Evil-Overlord power vacuum form when the Grand Khan killed himself briefly to get the Dark Entity to leave him. So now the Grand Khan is back to being just Herbert of Craftiwich, and many of his top-level henchmen -- including his nasty son Paksual -- are scrambling to fill those Evil Overlord shoes. Hence the big battle you see on the cover, in which Paksual and his allies attack the Dark Fortress -- which I've seen suggested some places is what used to be the Dungeon, though I didn't notice any hint of that in-story -- and various people named Marvin and/or Herbert defend it with flying armored suits and/or dragons.

There's also a rape plotline, which is handled too off-handedly and for humor until it disappears entirely without resolution. Perhaps it means that co-writers Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim are trying to think about the women of this world -- Zakutu also gets some good scenes, and gets to be strong -- but they're still not succeeding on the level we might hope. The rape exists to show the usual moments: how evil an evil person is, how noble and rule-bound a good person is, and how hotheadedness can ruin everything. All of those moments, of course, happen to men, which is the core problem.

All of that takes place in the first album collected here, The New Centurions, drawn by the Kerascoet team. (They are a married couple, and they also drew the previous Twilight album.)

Eventually, Marvin the Dragon and Marvin the Red, along with the character I guess we've given up calling anything but Little Bat, bug out of Dodge, since they don't want to bother with all of this responsibility and seriousness stuff. That sends them into Revolutions, drawn by Obion, a much smaller story and one with more pointed satirical aim.

They land on an islet, and lose their transportation almost immediately. This particular land is rotating, slowly enough that you can walk ahead of it but quickly enough that you'll fall off and die if you go to sleep somewhere. There's also carnivorous grass, if that's not bad enough. An aristocrat type, the Takmool, has a big villa mounted on wheels, which he has the locals pull unceasingly -- they get two shifts pulling, and then one shift resting in the villa, which he presents as a good deal.

(There are other accommodations, including a group that uses nets to keep themselves from falling into the void. This works most of the time, which is not as encouraging as it could be. No one has yet hit upon building something permanent right at the end of the axis of rotation, but maybe geography makes that infeasible. The plot also treats the world as if it were a very large and even roller shape rather than the depicted irregular spheroid, but that's my old SFnal mind trying to make sense of something meant as pure fantasy.)

Of course our heroes note the inequities of the villa set-up, and of course they cause trouble. Some of the trouble they cause is because one of them canoodles with the Takmool's daughter, and the other with his wife, which works out as well here as it does in any other Dungeon story. And of course they do not manage to usher in a new age of peace and equality, because this is Dungeon. But it is funny along the way, with a lot of inventive almost-falling-off-the-islet action. And it is, again, one of the most clearly satirical pieces of Dungeon.

All in all, though, the two stories here don't really move the Twilight plot forward. The world has been broken, but life is going on in the ruins. (I don't want to sound like that's a bad thing -- one of the core messages of Dungeon is that life does go on, in strange and unexpected ways, and so you just need to hang on to it as best you can.) That will all change in the next volume -- tomorrow we hit The End of Dungeon and the end of this series.

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