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Dungeon: Monstres - Vol. 4: Night of the Ladykiller

Review

Dungeon: Monstres - Vol. 4: Night of the Ladykiller

Written by Joann Sfar and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim

When comics are translated from other languages, one can’t help but feel the creeping suspicion that something is being lost along the way: a verbal pun here or a cultural reference there, or some kind of unique synthesis between word and image that cannot easily exist in two languages at once. When it comes to reading Dungeon, that feeling never sneaks into your mind.

While the book occasionally sells itself as a parody of the whole Dungeons and Dragons genre, it’s much truer to fantastic wizards and warriors themes than it gives itself credit for. Sure, the main characters are humanoid vultures and pigs, but their depth and complexity run far deeper than simple parody, and their stories are infinitely better written than any given Forgotten Realms paperback. Any one of these characters could easily fill an entire series of graphic novels, and every moment would be fun to read. Dungeon is a very smart mix of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the best of Saturday morning cartoons.

There are two stories in Night of the Ladykiller, conveniently divided down the center of the book, and between two different, equally excellent artists. The first story takes on a serious tone, as a school of necromancers studies to complete their finals, while one of their own begins to act completely out of character, sending his life spiraling out of control. The second tale focuses on an especially stupid monster who is sent out to get some beer. The contrast between the stories is stark, but not distracting in any way. Somehow, they augment each other perfectly and illuminate the breadth of the world.

Much of Dungeon’s art is sketchy and kinetic at first glance, appearing quickly drawn and occasionally undefined. A closer look reveals a kind of virtuoso casualness that is a signature of part of the French comics scene. The kind of ink detailing used here isn’t immediately familiar to a Western eye, but once the pieces come together on the page, it’s clear that these lines are truly instrumental in narrative and character flow, in a very subconscious and nonliteral manner, and a final layer of definition is added by excellent colorists. Ultimately, it’s a fascinating study in art as character. The second half of this book is painterly and beautifully textured without being overwrought, maintaining an appropriately comical visual flow.

Because these comics were originally published in France, their attitude toward nudity (and the discussion of related elements) is fairly casual. There’s also the occasional bloody (though comical) dismemberment, which skews this toward a more mature audience, though the story itself is a great tale for all ages. While the Dungeon series glances mature themes and one may wish to inspect them before adding them to a collection, they’re so good that they should easily find a deserving audience.

Reviewed by Collin David on June 1, 2011

Dungeon: Monstres - Vol. 4: Night of the Ladykiller
Written by Joann Sfar and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2011
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: NBM Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1561636088
  • ISBN-13: 9781561636082