Dungeon Zenith Volume 2

Written by Joan Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Illustrated by Lewis Tronheim

Our somewhat dimwitted hero Herbert the duck is back, this time causing even more trouble for the rest of the residents of the Dungeon.

When profits are down for Herbert's employer at the dungeon, the duck helps out by pretending there's a captured princess available as a prize--except he went and used his real ex-girlfriend's name. Now her family wants her back and they'll kill Herbert if she's not returned!

How can it possibly get worse? Well, add some magical swindlers, a jealous brother, and one very angry dragon, and the next thing you know, the Dungeon might never be the same!

There are all kinds of funny moments in this part of the series, which parodies the adventuring party system and those who base their stories on the idea. (Hey, I'm not ashamed to admit I read a lot of Dragonlance novels back in the day.) As with the first book, they start early and often. Trondheim gets a few good licks in about the nature of art via the Dungeon Master's drawings as the book opens. It's a great set piece that leads to the insanity of the rest of the book.

Other great moments of comedy are trolls discussing peeing and the problems with eating babies, two clockwork machines that constantly ask to be wound, and of course Marvin's steady course despite the craziness surrounding him. His unflappable nature gives a nice dry wit to the proceedings and always comes at just the right moment.

The plot itself sort of had two halves. We have yet another need to save the dungeon, which is mostly resolved about halfway through. The rest of the work deals with the comedy of trying to deal with a magical swindler and the bureaucracy that covers such problems. Linked between the two is that Herbert is never really working in tandem with the rest of his partners at he dungeon. Whether it's doing something stupid or putting his own needs first, Herbert is not what you'd call a team player.

As a side note, I'm baffled as to why Herbert is tolerated at the Dungeon. One of these volumes, I'm sure we'll get the answer, but I get the impression there's a lot of ground to be traveled in the various incarnations of the series first.

One of the things I really like about this series is that despite the comic nature of the material, there's still a layer of depth that reminds me of Sfar's solo work. Marvin is torn by his duty and his friendship due to the actions of the Barbarian Princess that lends her title to the volume. Herbert still struggles with being a "hero." The dungeon master is only concerned with how to work things to his advantage, or is that only a front? These little things build up the series and make it one that I want to read more than once, to pick up on them.

Despite riffing on himself a bit at the beginning, I really like Tronheim's illustrations in this one. His designs for the barbarians, trolls, and magical enforcers are all quite fun to watch romping all over the pages. I tend to think the princess is a nod to The Rabbi's Cat, given how she's designed and her somewhat amoral nature. There's certainly nothing perfect or refined about the art, but the rough style fits this very well.

But all of this talk is nothing because the key here is that this Dungeon has a dragon problem in multiple senses of the word, and seeing the cast try to wile their way into having a gold hoarder in their castle is the best part of this issue, hands-down. The dragon may not be in the story very often, but when he is, he steals the show (among other things!).

I really dig the Dungeon series, and I plan to try and read all I can get my hands on. If you like your comedy touched with drama and enjoy seeing two masters at work, then hop into this Dungeon. You'll be glad you did.