Thursday, May 31, 2012
The Fine Print: Dungeon Quest Book Three
At nearly 250 pages, the third volume of Joe Daly's Dungeon Quest is about twice the length of either of the first two volumes. This loving tribute and send-up of quest-based games that explore particular environments devotes a lot of its time to stoner humor as well as elaborately-staged fight sequences. Daly is equally adept at portraying long, drawn-out arguments and debates between his characters and allowing his characters to silently inhabit and traverse a space for pages at a time. The humor is frequently scatological, even as there are long metaphysical discussions of the stoner variety. In this volume, Daly provides a ton of mythological backstory as well, even providing several text pages of something called "The Romish Book Of The Dead", a source guide about a key ethnic group that existed after the fall of Atlantis. While there's a lot of information that's dumped in this book, Daly doesn't skimp on the jokes or the fights.
By this point, these characters seem entirely divorced from the modern city-dwelling folk we met in the first volume and have been totally subsumed in this weird forest world of womraxes and brigands. The bandits they meet are armed with weird weapons like a gas grenade gun rather than actual guns, and their "big boss" is a steam golem. Adding to the weirdness is the introduction of Lou, a "little forest-man", who helps the party only when Lash agrees to give him a hand-job that spans three highly-detailed pages. Upon ejaculating, his seed creates a sapling that will one day bear fruit that will create more little men of the forest. This is typical Daly: every joke and weird moment has a mythological resonance. Lou is a hilarious addition to the proceedings, as he frequently humps Lash's leg and the back of his head even as he dispenses sage advice about how to proceed in the forest and rescue the distaff member of their party, Nerdgirl, from the bandits that ambush them and take their stuff. The final action sequence, where a nude party battles the bandits, is both ridiculous and exciting. Daly clearly takes the action scenes seriously, as he meticulously shows every detail of the fight, how enemies are vanquished, killing blows, etc. It's the sense of detail of a gamer, really, where we want to see those details. However, the action and detail in the book never obscure the fact that this is primarily a humor book, and he never lets too many pages go by without either a gag or a funny argument or a weird vision of some kind.
The simplicity of his character design is the key to the book's visual success. Once again, Lash is the best character because of the tiny facial features on a huge body--frequently it's just 2 dots for eyes, a squiggle for a nose and a line for a mouth. At the same time, Daly has a rock-solid understanding of anatomy and musculature in particular. There's a wonderful crispness to his line that mixes the clear-line style of Herge' with a slightly thicker line weight and greater willingness to use blacks to create atmosphere. It's a style that's simultaneously dense but clear, allowing the reader to take in a lot of detail quickly and admire the craftsmanship at work without distracting too much from the flow of the story. By this point, the reader will know if this is their cup of tea; anyone who enjoys alt-comics takes on fantasy and/or stoner humor will find this a sheer delight. I'd say the sheer level of craftsmanship and the way Daly shifts storytelling modes so quickly would at least interest other readers, especially those who enjoy deadpan absurdism, since that's the core of Daly's sense of humor. For the continuing fan of this series, Daly continues to raise the stakes in each volume and adds richness and depth for those who are looking for more detail. Above all else, he does for the reader what he does with his party: he keeps things moving even when his characters are navel-gazing.