The Dungeon graphic novel series (translated into English from the original French) superbly parodies the sword and sorcery genre with its use of anthropomorphized animals as its main characters. The Zenith books explore the land of Terra Amata and the times when the Dungeon, the Castle and the Duchy were at their height (or “Zenith”). In this volume, Herbert, a smartass duck who is one of the Dungeon Keeper’s flunkies, and the fierce saurian warrior Marvin (who also works for the Keeper - a chicken - and is faithful and loyal to him) are on different sides of an issue that deeply involves them all: preventing the Dungeon from going bankrupt and being taken over by their evil but silly nemesis (also a chicken, but with Jerry Lewis-style buck teeth), Delacor.
Neither of them wants to see the Dungeon taken over by Delacor, but they don’t agree about the method the Keeper chooses to save it. The Keeper wants to align himself with the rich and powerful Kolchak cat people, and he decides the best way to gain the financing he desires is to marry beautiful Isis. The trouble is that Isis doesn’t love him and is more attracted to Herbert - and the feeling is mutual. Marvin doesn’t want Herbert to become romantically involved with Isis because it could ruin all of the Keeper’s plans, and it might spell the end of the Dungeon - and his job.
Delacor is, with the legal expertise of his lawyer, Counselor Callisto, trying to obtain Herbert’s “Cloak of Destiny” that renders him virtually indestructible - at least, any part of him covered by the cloak. He eventually does obtain it and, because he doesn’t want any witnesses left alive, beheads Callisto. Callisto, however, stubbornly refuses to die, continuing to walk around with his head under his arm.
These humorous moments in the Dungeon are also grim. Both of the two stories in Back in Style end uncertainly, setting up events that will have dire effects on the characters’ fates. At the conclusion of the first story, the Keeper is kicked out of his own dungeon, the Kolchaks turn against him, and the romance between Herbert and Isis is in full bloom. But Herbert is now without his Cloak of Destiny, which made him a force to be reckoned with.
The second story is of Herbert meeting with his estranged parents to introduce them to Isis, and vice-versa. By this point, Marvin has become a fellow traveling companion along with some of the Dungeon’s other monsters, and he aids Herbert (when he’s not getting drunk in a tavern somewhere). When he lets loose his battle cry of “Tong Deum!” it’s like an explosion goes off, annihilating his enemies.
Before entering the town of Craftwick, Herbert takes a potion to disguise himself as a wrinkled, beakless, much older duck calling himself “the Mask of Death.” The only drawback to his disguise is that if he laughs, he will become himself again. He needs the disguise to work because his father has declared he’ll kill Herbert on sight if he shows up in Craftwick. They eventually do meet in the forest outside of the town, though, where Herbert’s father - who actually cares for him a great deal - says he can have Craftwick for his own, but he’ll have to take it “by force.” He tells Herbert he’ll send him some of his own men; Herbert needs to gather up an army and then take Craftwick in a “coup d’etat.”
Dungeon isn’t really fare for younger kids due to occasional violence, but both teen and adult fans of comics and sword and sorcery genre will enjoy the series. In this volume, Trondheim passes on his art duties to Boulet, who does an admirable job, though his illustrations are slicker and clearer than Trondheim’s and take some getting used to, if you are more used to Trondheim’s style. Still, the complex story lines, plot twists, and character development that has been a hallmark of the series continues. The Trondheim/Sfar duo continues to write winning, stylish, action-packed sword-and-sorcery parodies.