Dungeon Zenith Vol. 1: Duck Heart

Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Art by Lewis Trondheim
96 pages, color
Published by NBM

Two of the biggest comic creators in France are Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar… so when they decided to co-create the Donjon series of graphic novels in France, there was a lot of reason for celebration. NBM started translating the series into English (as Dungeon) in late 2002 and publishing it as a black and white series of comic books. Now that it’s showing up as full-color graphic albums, though, it’s time for everyone to get reminded about just how good Dungeon really is.

Herbert the Duck isn’t a barbarian warrior. In fact, he’s anything but. When the massive complex known as the Dungeon is threatened, though, the Dungeon Keeper demands a champion be brought forth, and through an accident on Herbert’s part he has to jump into the role. He’s way over his head, being weak and not terribly good at combat. At least he has a magic sword… too bad it’s one that won’t even let Herbert draw it from its scabbard until he’s performed three major deeds. And if he uses another weapon before then, or tries to get rid of the sword, Herbert will get struck by lightning. Things really aren’t looking up for our wanna-be hero. Can Marvin the dragon help Herbert not only survive, but save the Dungeon?

Dungeon Zenith Vol. 1: Duck Heart collects the first two Donjon Zénith albums into a single book, and it’s great to get a double-dose of Trondheim and Sfar goodness at once. Not only because you’re getting twice as much humor and craziness all at once, but because you get to see the Sfar and Trondheim build up the character of Herbert. It would certainly be tempting to leave the status quo of Dungeon Zenith the same from one story to the next, but instead we see a real progression even in just these first two stories. As Herbert begins to gain mastery of his surroundings and new duties, we also learn more about his past through a series of short flashbacks that integrate perfectly into the narrative, both serving as a contrast to Herbert’s current as well as letting us understand just how Herbert ended up in the Dungeon in the first place. Dungeon Zenith is the rarest of comic book fantasy adventures: it really will appeal to just about anyone. With Sfar and Trondheim’s trademark humor peppering the book, they’re able to take the familiar fantasy elements and gently poke fun at them while still remaining true to the ideas behind them.

Trondheim’s art in Dungeon Zenith is fantastic as always. It’s a light, cartoonish style with goofy looking humanoid animals walking around with silly expressions on their faces. And yet, don’t mistake that for Trondheim’s art taking the “easy way out”. From domes constructed out of hundreds of little skulls to massive multi-tentacled creatures, Trondheim’s visuals are continually well thought out and executed. His designs are really something special to look at, with each new creature more visually interesting and fantastical than the previous one. It’s great to see Trondheim and co-creator Sfar’s imaginations being able to get such freedom here.

Dungeon Zenith Vol. 1: Duck Heart is easily one of my favorite books of the year; I’d read the first two black and white reprint issues a couple of years ago, but seeing all of this together and looking so nicely just makes me happy that I decided to wait for the inevitable collection. Dungeon Zenith Vol. 1: Duck Heart works so well as a collection you’d think the first two volumes of Donjon were always intended to be printed together. If you held off earlier waiting for a color edition, you no longer have an excuse. Dungeon Zenith is fantastic from beginning to end. Buy it. Buy it. Buy it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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