Review by Ian Keogh
Readers of Dungeon: The Early Years will rejoice at the series finally being completed in English, fourteen years since Innocence Lost, but at twice the size of previous combined volumes Without a Sound won’t sit easily beside it on the shelf.
Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s initial enthusiasm for a comedy fantasy series resulted in an incredibly prolific spell between 1999 and 2006 before they slowed down, and eventually ground to a halt. Without a Sound pairs a story drawn by Christophe Gaultier in 2008, and never previously seen in English, with the Stéphane Oiry-drawn conclusion to the Early Years series from 2022, leaving the cast not that far from the opening of Dungeon Zenith: Duck Heart. Hyacinthe is installed as Dungeon Keeper, a much younger Marvin is by his side, as are other allies, and they’ve begun to spread the reputation.
The Early Years has always been the darker end of Dungeon stories, and that continues with broken love, madness and tragedy. While everything here is satisfactory, the first story is the stronger for not being as predictable, and standing more clearly away from later continuity. By Oiry’s conclusion there’s an end in sight, and it’s just a matter of collecting characters and introducing themes for the Zenith series. Militants wanting better working conditions raises its head. The first story also has greater emotional pull as Hycinthe’s father Arakoo decides to visit the comrades from his younger adventuring days. All are obviously older, but all have changed in other ways, and the sadness of what advancing age brings to the greatest of people is sympathetically supplied, as are the remaining embers of courage within, which is a thoughtful touch.
As with all Dungeon titles, both artists are cartoonists, Gaultier inclined to moments of distance and atmosphere, while Oiry is more straightforward, but both cope with comedy lunacy and constant requirement to design new wacky characters. As noted, though, The Early Years is a darker series, and were these stories to be drawn with greater realism the bleakness would be overpowering. In the cases of both Arakoo and Hyacinthe there’s an acceptance of what will happen, and in the latter’s case of what he must become. It leaves the series as a chronicle of his wild youth before family responsibility becomes duty, and there’s a slight sadness in this also.
Sfar and Trondheim provide introductions for most creatures prominently seen in Dungeon Zenith not already introduced in Early Years, and for readers needing them, there’s plausibility supplied in the presence of Grogro, for instance. You’d never realise there was a fourteen year gap between the creation of the two stories presented here, which sustain the freewheeling, approach to dungeons and dragons fantasy, and after all these years the unexpected closure is a very welcome treat.