The first volume of Dungeon: The Early Years saw Machiavellian mastermind Hyacinthe as a naive idealist, taking it upon himself to fight crime as The Night Shirt and fall in love with a wholly inappropriate assassin called Alexandra. I commented in my review of the book how it was one of the most uplifting comics I’d read, with a genuinely noble and likeable character in Hyacinthe. This second book, however, sees fate pushing Hyacinthe over the abyss, flipping him over to the dark side.
As usual with the Dungeon series, there are two of the original French albums collected in this volume. In the first, Hyacinthe has his heart broken by Alexandra, who laughs in the face of his Night Shirt antics, which even he begins to see as futile and pointless on all but a superficial level. This is essentially what tips a despondent Hyacinthe over the edge.
However, a local university professor recognises the political influence The Night Shirt might have, particularly if he’s seen to apply pressure on politicians through the threat of heavy-handed violence. This is done behind Hyacinthe’s back while he’s otherwise indisposed, which further persuades the heart-broken youngster that he’s been too unselfish with his outlook to get the most from the world.
By the end of the book there’s been murder, jail time and apocalyptic disaster. And Hyacinthe has changed into a very different character.
Once again it’s Sfar and Trondheim’s wonderful characterisation that pushes the book above the norm. While the plot is running towards an inevitable conclusion – as any prequel must – the circuitous route it takes is where the magic is. The writers have a true gift for gentle, incidental comedy, which contrasts sharply with the darkness that surrounds it, making a truly delicious read.
The art echoes this, seemingly getting darker as the book progresses. Christophe Blain excels at giving depth to his mysterious anthropomorphic characters, often adding extra meaning to the characters and script with a subtle bead of sweat here or a widening of the eyes there.
All in all it’s a majestic book. We were sad to see the old Hyacinthe move on to pastures new, to be replaced by this harder, darker version; but he remains a fascinating and rewarding read. And besides, if you’ve read any more of the excellent Dungeon books, you’ll know what the character must eventually become.
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