Dungeon: Monstres Vol 3: Heartbreaker (NBM)

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Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim offer up a particularly grim installment of their fantasy series in this latest collection of side stories.


96 pgs., color; $12.99
(W: Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim; A: Carlos Nine, Patrice Killoffer)
If you like fictional worlds you can really get lost in, you owe it to yourself to check out Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon. There are three main series whose names tell you where in the chronology they fit (The Early Years, Zenith, and Twilight) and three ancillary series as well. Monstres focuses on secondary characters, Parade on funny stories which fit between volumes 1 and 2 of Zenith, and Bonus on “little surprises,” and together they allow the writers to go off on tangents which illuminate different aspects of the main narrative. This is quite the unbounded universe, with opportunities for expansion as unlimited as in a role-playing game involving a lot of people with too much time on their hands. In fact, Dungeon is in part a parody of such games, and it’s much more interesting than anything you and your friends are likely to come up with, no many how many marathon sessions you have played.
In the English translation of Dungeon, you get two stories in each volume and for the most part they read pretty well in isolation so you don’t have to be fanatical about reading them all, or in order, to enjoy the series. Another bonus is that a number of guest artists have contributed to Dungeon and many of them are not well-known in the English-speaking world so you get a little international travelogue of the comics world along with your story.
I really liked “Heartbreaker,” the first story in Monstres Vol. 3. It tells the back story of Alexandra, the exceedingly shapely assassin (she’s sort of a cross between Mae West and Emma Peel) who is also Hyacinthe’s lover. Alexandra narrates her own story and it’s quite a tale, involving among other things kidnapping, imprisonment, sexual abuse, and lots and lots of corpses. Of course because Alexandra is telling her own story you know she will survive, but you can also tell immediately that she’s one tough, intelligent and capable woman and more than a match for her captors, who never seem to learn and thus always underestimate her abilities. In fact, I was reminded of the O. Henry story “The Random of Red Chief,” where kidnappers snatch a kid who is so much trouble that they pay the kid’s father to take him back. The art by Carlos Nine is deceptively simple: he combines a lot of ink line work with an earth-toned color scheme, and isn’t afraid to leave blocks of solid color in his frames yet they never seem empty. There’s also a sort of sinewy distortion to his work, which is very effective in creating a world that is recognizable but clearly different from our own.
I had a harder time with the second story, “The Depths,” which also focuses on a female character in distress. However this time the victim is a young girl, Drowny (she’s actually a cephalopod but so convincingly anthropomorphic, like the other characters in the Dungeon universe, that I think of her as a human). The story starts with her parents being murdered and Drowny being raped and it goes downhill from there, with lots of bloodshed and sexual abuse. This story feels exploitative to me, whereas “Heartbreaker” was empowering although perhaps more violent. However I love the art by Patrice Killoffer’s, which is delightful in a sort of loopy, science-fiction way. His frames are loaded with detail and he takes full advantage of the story’s undersea setting (it’s remarkably well-lit down there, by the way, and very colorful).
The Dungeon series has never been a place where Walt Disney would feel comfortable but this volume is particularly grim and, with regard to the second story, seems gratuitously so. In the context of the entire series perhaps it will seem less of an exception, so I’ll just say that if you’re new to Dungeon, this is perhaps not the best volume to begin with. If you’re already a regular reader, however, and you have a high tolerance for violence and abuse on the page, you may find it quite interesting. You can see a preview of some art from “The Depths” at the NBM homepage: http://www.nbmpub.com/humor/trondheim/dungeon/dung_monstres3/dungpre1.html and a guide to the Dungeon universe at http://www.omnivoracious.com/2009/05/graphic-novel-friday-five-years-of-sfar-and-trondheims-dungeon-series.html. | Sarah Boslaugh

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