The third in a succession of side volumes focusing on secondary characters in the Dungeon series, Sfar and Trondheim’s Monstres: Heartbreaker (NBM) proves to an exceedingly grim entry in this funny animal fantasy storyline. Both of the book’s tales center on women who are abused and mistreated. The first, the title story, features the shapely assassin Alexandra as she is captured and imprisoned by a former lover; the second, “The Depths,” follows a somewhat privileged young girl whose parents are slaughtered in the midst of a factional undersea war and who is subsequently forced to impersonate a soldier to survive the harsh conflict.
The second entry proves particularly grueling: we never doubt Alexandra’s abilities in the first tale to endure her mistreatment — as a professional in the League of Assassins, she’s clearly tough enough, after all — but our girlish oceanic protagonist is definitely out of her depths. Pretending to be a soldier pointedly named “Ballsy,” the young girl faces sexual assault and bloody death as she struggles to survive in the midst of a genocidal slaughter. This is clearly not a fuzzy bunny story.
The Dungeon graphic novels have always had a good portion of sex and violence to ‘em — starting out as parodies of Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy, it’s inevitable — though compared to the satiric tone of NBM’s previous Dungeon entry (Twilight Volume Three), this is pretty bleak fare. Guest artists Carlos Nine and Patrice Killoffer are up to the demands of their Women in Peril stories: though I prefer the latter’s more hard-edged plastic style to Nine’s sketchier pen work, it tends to add to the harshness of “The Depths.” Lots of great imaginatively detailed undersea creatures and landscape in that second tale, though.
Monstres Volume Three is probably not the book I’d give to a newcomer to this sprawling ten-plus volume French series since part of the intent behind these tales is to fill in events between the primary storyline. The title story, for instance, ends with an act that has major ramifications for one of the series’ leads, though to a less familiar reader the moment may feel rather arbitrary. Dungeon regulars — or readers like myself who’ve been working to catch up — will find it a fascinating, if not always pleasant, expansion of Sfar and Trondheim’s rich graphic novel fantasy world.