Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim are crazy. There’s no other way to describe their huge “Dungeon” saga (or “Donjon” in its original French language). There’s the original series, “Dungeon Zenith,” which is where it all began and chronicles the life and times of Marvin the Dragon and Herbert the Duck, the duo working for the all-mighty Dungeon Keeper and his massive keep that adventurers love to try and attack in order to win treasure. From there they added on “Dungeon Early Years,” telling the stories of the Dungeon Keeper in his youth, and how he became the ruler of the Dungeon. “Dungeon Twilight” is set far in the future, where Herbert the Duck now rules the world as the Great Khan and the planet is on the verge of exploding into a thousand little pieces. (Oh, and in France, “Early Years” books are numbered from -99 to 0, “Zenith” spans volumes 1 through 100, and “Twilight” gets volumes 101 through 200. Needless to say, everyone will be shocked if all 300 volumes are actually ever created.)
If that’s not enough, though, Sfar and Trondheim decided to create some secondary series where they could tell anything that jumped into their heads. “Dungeon Parade” tells one-off light-hearted stories set during the early volumes of “Zenith,” and “Dungeon Monstres” tells side-stories anywhere and everywhere during the entire “Dungeon” saga. (It’s sometimes but not always focused on specific monsters.)
Is your head spinning yet? It’s a little nutty and far-reaching, but for the most part I’ve actually been pretty impressed with how well they’ve managed to juggle all of these different series. NBM, in bringing the graphic novels into English, is publishing them two-at-a-time (to give you more bang for your buck), and the latest release is “Dungeon Monstres Vol. 2: The Dark Lord.” It’s here that publishing two-in-one editions works well, because the two albums collected here (“The Great Map” and “The Dark Lord”) actually intersect over and over again, telling part of the same story from a different perspective. And more importantly, readers of “Dungeon Twilight” will finally find out why the planet exploded into thousands of floating islands that orbit a core of molten lava.
But for a new reader? It can be a little daunting, and that’s a shame because up until this point I’d have pointed to “Dungeon Monstres” as a great place for a new reader to jump in and see what they like. Don’t get me wrong, I think that a new reader absolutely can pick up this book and both understand and enjoy it. But I liked the idea of all of the “Dungeon Monstres” books just focusing on the big monsters of the “Dungeon” saga, and letting Sfar and Trondheim go berserk without worrying about the greater storyline. Here it feels almost like they’re trying to fill in a plot point that was accidentally untold up until now; I feel like I’m reading what should have been a “Dungeon Twilight” book instead.
Still, it is a fun book. Herbert the Red (not to be confused with Herbert the Duck) is a goofy main character and it’s funny to watch him blast around the floating islands looking for the map that will chart all of the new floating islands and their rotations. He’s wonderfully oblivious and these two stories made me want to read more “Dungeon Twilight” books with him as one of the stars. I also have to give Sfar and Trondheim credit for being able to tell the same story from two different viewpoints in a way that doesn’t get old (it helps that there are very few direct intersections between the two), and where each actually enriches the other.
Had “Dungeon Monstres” stood on its own, I suspect it would have received a higher overall rating and feeling of satisfaction from me, but don’t get me wrong, it is still good. If you’re someone who’s been sticking with just the main three series, trust me, you need to pick up this volume of “Dungeon Monstres” because it’s a pretty big turning point for the entire “Dungeon” series. If you’re a new reader, though, definitely check out “Dungeon Zenith” or “Dungeon Parade” to get a better idea if this is for you. This book may have been entertaining, but it’s not the best entrance point for your first attempt.