Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, June 05, 2010
      ( 6/05/2010 06:38:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“WE’VE LEARNED AN IMPORTANT LESSON FROM THAT THEREFORE: THINKING IS BAD.” The Dungeon saga continues apace with the third volume in this French graphic novel series chronicling the dying days of Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s fantastic funny animal kingdom. Dungeon Twilight -- Volume Three: The New Centurions (NBM) contains two tales set on Terra Amata after the planet has exploded and divided into a series of floating islands. Despite the seriousness of their situation, the surviving characters carry on as if nothing has changed because, really, what else can they do?

The volume features two stories, “New Centurions” and “Revolutions,” but for relative newcomers to this series (like me), it’s the second tale that makes this comic a must-read. “Centurions,” the opener, follows a group of players as they scheme for power in this crumbling fantasy world, and there are times when all the Machiavellian plots get a bit murky for newbies. The only two figures who rise above the occasionally confusing machinations are Marvin the Red, an impulsive scarlet rabbit, and Marvin the dragon (a.k.a. the Dust King). The former has been tasked with teaching an army of dragons how to use a special flying armor even though he himself can barely understand how it works. Comic destruction ensures, of course.

But it’s after our duo flees this hotbed of intrigue -- accompanied by a small bat -- and get stuck on another piece of planet that volume three truly kicks in. As depicted in “Revolutions,” the floating isle proves a hazardous place for our heroes to be stranded: rapidly rotating over an ocean of molten something, the island forces our heroes to keep a-moving so they won’t fall to their doom. Fleeing carnivorous plants and a pack of of ravenous carrion eaters, they meet a race of bears who have built a society around a villa on wheels. The ursine proletarians haul this villa sixteen hours at a stretch for eight hours of respite within the villa -- all for the benefit of Takmool, their diminutive overseer and his sexually avaricious wife and daughter.

As a metaphor for the workaday capitalist world, Sfar and Trondheim’s story works beautifully, but, even more amusingly, the writers follow the mechanics of their cliffhanger set-up with pitiless comic logic. (We get to see more than one bear fall victim to the landmass’ rotations.) In its core plot, “Revolutions” recalls one of Sergio Aragones’ Groo comics, only with a somewhat more ribald take on things. As in Groo, the entry of outsiders into a precariously functioning system proves the catalyst for comic chaos.

The art by Kerascoet (Miss Don’t Touch Me) and Obion captures both the comedy and melodrama of each respective chapter, though I have to admit that the latter’s stylized renderings of the rabbit’s ears (they appear to be disconnected from his head in some panels) can be disconcerting. Still, as an adult comic with satiric bite, visual inventiveness and engagingly fallible anthropomorphic heroes, New Centurions delivers the goods, particularly in its second half.

(First published on Blogcritics)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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