Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Dungeon: Zenith, Vol. 4: Outside the Ramparts by Sfar, Trondheim & Boulet

The last time I wrote about Dungeon, it was the end. And it looked like it might be really the end: there had been a few years since new books appeared in French, and US publication had mostly caught up with the originals.

But that's not the case now; creators and co-writers Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim have clearly been busy the past few years. There are two brand new series, Antipodes +  and Antipodes -, telling stories in the distant future and past. And, looking at the list of books on Wikipedia, there seem to be a good half-dozen more potential US omnibuses: another Early Years, another Zenith after this one, a Parade, two Monstres, and one each of the new Antipodes. And a stray Twilight book, too, with nothing to omnibusize it with yet.

So that is still mostly the ending of the main story - with that extra Twilight book sitting at a new "level" one higher than the last book, presumably adding more to that ending - but there's a lot more going on now all over the timeline.

So, where are we in this book - Dungeon: Zenith, Vol. 4: Outside the Ramparts, to be precise, the US omnibus of the French Donjon albums Hors des remparts and En sa mémoire? It picks up right after the end of Back in Style, with Herbert and Marvin still scheming to get their boss, the Keeper, back in control of the titular Dungeon, although the schemes in these two books take them nowhere near the actual Dungeon...implying getting it back may take several more books, if it happens at all.

The good news is that Herbert and Marvin are now both lucky in love: Herbert with Princess Isis and Marvin with Pirzween, a draconic-looking woman in the village of sorcerers whose name I can't remember at the moment. (There are a lot of little details in the Dungeon books, and they loop back at the oddest times - I don't know if Sfar and Trondheim have a big bible of the series to keep themselves straight, or if they're less organized than that, but they have to have some way of keeping all of this straight.) Well, that's good news for them, mostly, but means that they're a bit distracted from the saving-the-dungeon plot.

And, not for nothing, the path of love never runs smooth in the world of Terra Amata. Falling in love is one of the worst, most life-tangling things you can possibly do.

But the first book collected here - Outside the Ramparts itself - does move the saving-the-Dungeon plot forward. Herbert and Marvin are tasked with getting a magical herb under false pretenses, which blows up into an attempt to either destroy the Repo Enforcers' impregnable Center, or maybe just infiltrate it to steal all records pertaining to the Keeper. As usual, they succeed, more or less, in their underlying goal while not actually doing most of the things in their actual plan. So the Keeper is seemingly in a better position to kick Delacour out of the Dungeon.

But, first! Marvin has gotten engaged to Pirzween, so his best friend has to go tell his mother, the Dragonista teacher Madame Alberta, that, in a very formal Dragonista way. Herbert is the best friend, and so the second book, In Her Memory begins. Unfortunately, Alberta was just murdered before Herbert arrived, and, for the usual complicated Dragonista-rules reasons, he can't tell Marvin that as he arrives soon afterward. And there's a large number of very large, quite angry, and massively violent Dragonistas who want to take revenge for Alberta's murder, and aren't too picky about who they take revenge on.

Oh, and one of those Dragonistas is almost certainly the murderer, too.

Herbert is not a particularly subtle or skilled detective, but it's on him to solve the murder and keep the Dragonistas - particularly Marvin - from killing the wrong people, or too many people, or Herbert in particular. That happens, mostly, by the end.

I hope the rest of the newish French books get translated. In particular, I want to know if  the next Zenith books actually free the Dungeon or head off on more tangents. The titles of the next two books translate, loosely, to Steppes and Fog and Incantatory Formula, which isn't a lot of guidance. (My other theory was that one or more of those books could be about either Marvin or Herbert's weddings, which those titles do not seem to indicate.)

Anyway, this is more Dungeon adventure, as convoluted and odd as the earlier books. These stories are drawn by Boulet, like the previous batch of Zenith stories, and he's one of the more straightforward artists for the series - lots of detail, clear layouts, and good at making all of the weird-looking creatures into people with facial and body expressions. You won't want to start here, but there's a lot of Dungeon and a lot of doors into it - check out my earlier posts if any of the above sounds appealing.

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