Dungeon Zenith vol. 3: Back in Style – Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim

3 out of 5

Where Dungeon shifts from a loose narrative of an RPG-styled dungeon and the related hijinx of its workers and owner… to a more sprawling narrative, stretching out beyond “The Keeper’s” dungeon and layering in more character work for our would-be barbarian, Herbert, his flame-belching buddy Marvin, and the growing cast of side characters.

This is by no means a bad thing, but with the change of the more detailed Boulet on art, switching away from Trondheim’s loose cartoonism, it’s definitely a shift; what was raucous nonsense is now more of an adventure, and there was a sense of harmlessness to the various foibles – oh, that rascally Herbert – that here becomes more serious; there are actual stakes: the dungeon may be legitimately lost.

And we get there in typical roundabout Dungeon fashion, with Herbert’s nemesis, the chicken scientist type Delacour trying to take over the titular locale through legal claims, while The Keeper tries various methods to fake like he’s still making a profit, and Herbert’s trying to run off with Isis. This leads, in the second book, to the whole crew returning to Herbert’s hometown, setting off a serious of arrests and brawls and escapes and mutations.

The focus moreso on storytelling – on keeping a central plot moving forward – limits the constant rollicking nature of the humor that was heretofore seen, but the general tone is still driven by goofiness: we’re never more than a few panels away from some new oddity or twist that’s just subsumed into the logic of Dungeon. However, mixing in a slightly more linear narrative does make the randomness of those oddities feel more random – the writers pushing for goofiness instead of it just naturally occurring within these walls – and means we end on a less conclusive note than before.

But I’d think these are necessary growing pains, bringing Dungeon to the expansive masterwork of many volumes it is nowadays.