The second volume of Sfar and Trondheim’s Dungeon: Twilight series continues to explore the darker side of the Dungeon world. As the title suggests, the end of the world is nigh. Herbert, the duck hero turned evil world destroyer, has stopped the planet from spinning, which effectively causes the surface of the world to break away and explode off into orbit. Perhaps a little bizarrely, the chunks remain entirely habitable and stay within the atmosphere, floating around what remains of the planet’s fiery core. Using magic rather than physics, the world’s inhabitants manage to build complex maps that predict when one chunk of the planet is likely to float past another, making travel around the world less of a problem of distance and more a question of timing your leap.
There’s an end-of-days feel to the characterisation too. The Dust King – previously known as Marvin from the Zenith books – is blind, armless, and philosophical about his life, looking to leave his warrior past behind and right a few wrongs. The other Marvin, the red rabbit, is a chaotic kind of hero for a mad world – the days of adventuring and chivalry are long gone, this world is now one of strange mutations and random gangs, even more estranged, divided and isolated on their levitating islands than they were before.
By far the bleakest of the Dungeon books, the characters seem to have little purpose. The young fall into two camps: those only interested in fighting and fornicating; and those who need to follow whacky religions to find a purpose in life. It’s left to the older generation to try and save the world, but The Dust King’s heart is no longer in it and he’d rather finish his days with his long-ignored family. So what’s to become of the world?
The second half of the book sees the introduction of a new artistic team – Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, working under the team name of Kerascoët. The pair take over illustration duties from Sfar, though they make such a good job that the switch is almost imperceptible.
Despite the bleakness, Sfar and Trondheim maintain a vein of humour, using the other-worldliness of their characters to keep the funny side shining through. You can’t help feeling, however, that there’s a theme running through this story: that the weight of modernity inevitably crushes the innocence of history and that, in the end, even the mightiest of warriors is doomed to making the most of a bad lot. That Sfar and Trondheim milk any humour out of the situation shows powerful craft on their part. That they can do it while maintaining an overwhelming sense of apocalyptic disaster, and still keep us interested in the day-to-day lives of their characters, is testament to their unrivaled skill.
Other titles in the Dungeon series: