Dungeon Twilight vol. 4: The End of Dungeon – Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim

4 out of 5

The End of Dungeon – although there’s apparently an as-of-yet-untranslated-to-English Twilight volume after this – is more rightly the end of Marvin the Red’s and The Dust King’s tales, each given approximate focus in one of the books collected here, and even though there could be plenty more to tell, if Sfar and Trondheim so chose.

That’s the thing that remained a slightly negative cast over the Twilight books: Zenith, although it got looser as it went along, was always somewhat tied to the dungeon itself, whether directly running it, or concerning the Keeper’s attempts to get it back from others; The Early Years has the leeway of being a prequel, but there’s a direct connection with the characters, and even from the start, you can sense the links in the setting. But Twilight started very far away from anything that felt familiar, and didn’t quite strike the same playful tone as the first Dungeon books, making it a bit harder to get into. And even once connections were established, the focus was never quite clear – did the dungeon actually matter?

Bear in mind, these books are / were still a lot of fun. They’re continually inventive and weird, and often very funny, and the characters get better and better the more we know about them. That lack of – to me – focus hangs around, though, and is what prevents this “ending” from really hitting it fully out of the park, like it’s never clear how much of what we read is narrative, and how much is random. When things do start to line up, and when some old details come back around, it’s immensely satisfying, and while I’m sort of ragging on Twilight’s overall cluttered storytelling, that same “problem” is kind of a hoot in End of Dungeon, since it’s just like everything’s happening all at once. Yeah, kind of annoying to send me scrabbling back over pages for in-between panel details that might not exist – again, is it storytelling, or is it random? – but once you just let it wash over you, it is Climactic stuff, with our first dual-page splash, and also direct crossover points between the two included stories, seeing the same event from different perspectives.

In the first half, Marvin – whose kind of forcefully aggressive naivety has now fully sold me on this character – and Zakutu have an extended escape, using the various objects of destiny, while The Dust King wages war on The Dark Entity. But of course, that doesn’t go very well, and they end up getting wrapped directly into the battle, with an ongoing Freaky Friday body-swap gag creating some really great, over-the-top humor. The action here is top notch, but I also liked Marvin and Zakutu’s interactions; Sfar and Trondheim convince us of their odd-couple dynamic, whereas before, Zakutu only seemed to reluctantly allow Marvin into her life.

In the second half, we touch base with The Dust King’s war, learning more about The Entity, and gleefully putting the dragon back into partnership with Herbert, rather full circle. The amount of lore work and and callbacks here is rather mind-numbing, though it’s kind of fitting – you feel the calamity of the world (beyond the dungeon, like all of Terra Amata) just crumbling, and Dust King’s / Herbert’s last ditch attempts at setting things right. Mazan’s artwork is a big component of giving this stuff some gravitas, with a slightly painted look and more detailed, expressive characters, maintaining the series’ general cartoonishness.

Volume 4 is, overall, an incredibly wild ride. I think it’s moderately hindered by its links to Dungeon, since the books leading up to this struggle to establish how they fit into the narrative, but at the same time, without that link, the joy of Herbert’s reappearance and the way all of the family members have something to do in these “concluding” tomes wouldn’t be as impactful. All that aside, though, we just have an endless stream of wild ideas and expressive art, pinging back and forth with the Sfar and Trondheim magic between character beats and large-scale action and raucous comedy.