Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Art by Christophe Blain
96 pages, color
Published by NBM
Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series is certainly one of the more ambitious ones out there; Dungeon Zenith takes place during the height of the construction’s time, Dungeon Twilight takes place in its apocalyptic future, Dungeon Early Years as a prequel series, and Dungeon Parade and Dungeon Monstres as adjunct one-off stories that are all over the place. That said? I like that with the vast majority of the graphic novels, you can just pick one up and jump right into the story. It’d been a while since I’d read Dungeon, but this new-to-English installment was a pleasant trip back to Sfar and Trondheim’s creation. Pleasant might not be quite the best word, though; Dungeon The Early Years is shaping up to be an awfully grim series.
The Early Years stories primarily follow Hyacinthe, who by the time of Zenith will be known as the Dungeon Keeper. Before then, though, he was best known as the "Night Shirt," a Zorro-meets-Batman avenger of the night that hunts the streets of Antipolis. I remember enjoying the first The Early Years volume, and how it showed a different, lighter side to Hyacinthe. Here, though, you start to see things change for Hyacinthe, and it’s an interesting shift in tone. Here we’re seeing characters lose their faith in everything they hold dear, loved ones dying before their time, and wholesale destruction left and right. If you’ve only ever read the light-hearted Dungeon Parade books, this might come as a bit of a surprise.
It’s odd, though, because Sfar and Trondheim still keep some of the lighter elements that were already introduced, like Hyacinthe’s numerous magical tobaccos. They’re actually an odd fit at this point, a reminder that there is a joking, silly version of this setting out there. Hyacinthe accidentally using a tobacco that lets him see through people’s clothes instead of something to face his attackers, for instance, feels like a joke misplaced from one of the other Dungeon series. Fortunately, those are moments which go away more with time. Other ideas, like a flying machine, are ones that probably would have been a joke in another series but are taken seriously in The Early Years. Sfar and Trondheim take their mission to show the origin of the Dungeon and its Keeper’s life seriously, with each new event shaping Hyacinthe in a way that drains the youth out of him. He’s truly become an adult by the end of this The Early Years volume; it’s no small coincidence that it’s subtitled Innocence Lost.
If you’re going to have a grim and dark Dungeon series, I must say that having Christophe Blain illustrate it is an excellent decision. His style is extremely versatile; some pages will be crisp and clean, others using a dark, moody art style that has shadow clinging onto every character and object. As The Early Years grows darker, so does Blain’s art, culminating in a cataclysmic event at the end of the book that is jaw-dropping in how creepy Blain’s depiction turns out. Even Blain’s colors fit in perfectly to this progression within the art; there’s a moment in the second half where a bunch of characters are killed in fast succession, and the deep red hue that Blain puts around the wavy, Edvard Munch’s Scream styled panels is eerie. Blain can pack a punch in a short space, and I was sad to hear that this is the last of his The Early Years contributions for now.
Dungeon is more than an ambitious series, it’s addicting. Sfar and Trondheim have fun snapping all the pieces together, but I’ve found myself regularly surprised at how much I come to character about the characters from all of the different time periods. Dungeon The Early Years Vol. 2: Innocence Lost might a tiny bit too grim for some readers, but there’s always some Dungeon Parade waiting as an antidote. For those who don’t mind seeing a character lose his innocence (proverbial and otherwise), definitely check out The Early Years books.