Review by Ian Keogh
Now this is a welcome surprise. Twelve years after their last work on the Dungeon Zenith series, Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim finally picked up on their hanging plots from Back in Style, although typically sidelining the main event of Herbert’s scheming counterpart Delcour now occupying the Dungeon. Delcour’s success was achieved by using legal arguments, a threat very different from the monsters the Keeper is used to repelling. While Delcour makes an appearance, true to Dungeon’s meandering ways, don’t arrive with expectations of everything being neatly concluded in what are two very different stories with a mission. In the first the fearsome Repo Enforcers must be confronted, and in the second Herbert arrives among the Dragonista with an important message, but becomes embroiled in a murder investigation.
Although there’s now something sweet about the formerly terrifying Marvin being in love, the invention that characterises any Dungeon books Sfar and Tronheim are involved with remains intact after all these years. A constant delight is the unexpected places they take the plot, and there’s always room for a funny diversion. The Repo Enforcers are a cross between lawyers and barbarians, only hiring the elite. Boulet’s sample art shows their meticulous methods, leaving nothing to chance. Unlike the assorted connected Dungeon series, when Trondheim stopped drawing, a regular artist was appointed, and Boulet picks up where he left off, with not a hint that dozen years have passed since his previous visit to the fantasy comedies. He packs in detail, devises suitably dim or fearsome monsters and manages to bring character to the most unlikely subjects.
There is a presumption that readers have read previous volumes, and know that when anyone other than Herbert touches his sword he’s possessed by the fighting spirit of a previous owner. In the opening story it’s explained in a footnote, although not when he uses that advantage a few pages later, but there is clarity when the sword is touched in the second tale. In that, much of the farce derives from Herbert having to keep from Marvin that his mother has been murdered. Over both stories it’s notable how the originally naive and incompetent Herbert has grown into his heroic role, meaning Sfar and Trondheim have to supply replacement idiots at times, and the most brilliantly timed piece of comedy involves one of them. What raises Dungeon above other comedy fantasy series, though, is exemplified by the same character later being responsible for one of the most touching scenes, as Sfar and Trondheim may prioritise laughs, but know they wouldn’t work as well if we’re not fond of the cast.
Despite there being little advance to retaking the Dungeon when Outside the Ramparts finishes, there’s been the full dose of adventure and hilarity, and you wouldn’t know the creators had ever taken a break. The plan is that at least two further stories complete the Dungeon Zenith series.