Most American comics readers love shared universes, which is why DC’s big reboot is so controversial. The whole interwebs has been absorbed with endless debate about the wisdom and direction of the new shared universe that DC is presenting, a debate which shows as much about the people debating the changes as it does about DC.
Meanwhile in Europe, a very different shared universe has been evolving over the last few years. Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim have been creating a unique and impressive shared universe, the Dungeon, since 1998. You can read a bit more about this universe on its Wikipedia page, but suffice it to say they’ve created an amazing imaginative shared fantasy universe full of wizards, strange anthropomorphic animals and some of the most wonderful and unpredictable plots you’ve ever read. The world is kind of like Lord of the Rings meets mid-Tom Baker Doctor Who meets nothing you’ve ever read before. If that gives you the impression that these are some awesomely weird and fun stories, you’re absolutely right.
This volume is part of the “Monstres” collection of stories, which tell side stories focused on some of the odd creatures that live in the shared Dungeon universe. It contains two stories. In the first, the gangly creature Horus the Sorcerer is accused of having impregnated many women with his children.
That simple synopsis probably leads you to think you can predict how this story’s plot will ebb and flow, but really nothing can give you an idea of the incredibly unpredictable way this story ambles and twists and turns. It alternates, in very surprising ways, between slapstick, high drama, gross-out moments, a touch of romance and a bit of horror.
Most of all, the story is tremendously original and intriguing. It’s about the characters as much as it’s about the events that happen to them, and every moment in the story seems informed by Sfar and Trodheim’s investment in building characters. The odd things that happen to these characters shape them and change them. At the end of this story, Horus comes to a decision on his life that might have been unimaginable to him earlier in the story.
That character growth is fascinating and wonderful, and the art in this story, by Jean-Emmanuel Vermot-Desroches, is the perfect match for the story. His style echoes the artwork of Trondheim, with its wonderful mix of seemingly casual character design and complex backgrounds and settings. It’s actually a pretty perfect style for this story. Seemingly simple but with surprising depth, Vermot-Desroches’s art seems simple but belies a surprising level of complexity that allows the story to work on a surprising number of levels.
Vermot-Desroches doesn’t draw the second story in this issue. The single-named Yoann paints the art in “Ruckus in the Brewers” and presents a very different story in a very different way. This story, which features the dimwitted Grogro, is a wild little shaggy dog story that thoroughly entertains.
While this story doesn’t have the surprising depth of the first story, it definitely as its own surprising twists and turns. This story also ambles and meanders from moment to moment, odd scene to odd scene, though the story always stays silly. Of course, the dumb Grogro is a much less complex character than the wizardly Horus.
In fact, the pair are a nice contrast to each other in this book. Horus is a genius who finds himself freed from his brain by the physical fate that’s flung upon him while Grogro is an idiot who’s forced to use at least a little bit of his limited brain power to make changes in his world.
Altogether this combination makes the book a real treat to read. Each story is a real treat on its own, but together they make a fascinating and charming contrast to each other. This book is an awesomely wonderful introduction to the shared Dungeon universe if you’ve never encountered it before. Once you visit the Dungeon you’ll want to revisit it again and again.