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.
 
Once Daly commits to a bit, he goes all the way, as when the fighter/thief character Steve is determined to get a particular bag of weed from a vending machine in a temple. He manages to distend and distort his entire body to do so, unlocking a weird new stretching power along the way. From there, there's a long sequence of the characters getting stoned and arriving at various revelations/absurd observations. Daly doesn't stop there. After Steve goes unconscious from the potency of the pot, he later wakes up and recounts his weed-induced vision of feeling his body and discovering he had a second penis that he had to carry around. Like everything else in this series, this bit of nonsense is treated seriously, but the characters never fail to take the piss out of each other when they do something weird. For example, when hulking brute Lash Penis defeats a vicious dog creature by yanking on his penis and punching his balls (in a truly strange sequence), Millennium Boy calls him out on it, with Lash sheepishly saying "Uh....no." The interplay between those is usually my favorite part of the book. In another scene both scatological and practical, Lash puts a "bullet" filled with small supplies into an unconscious Steve's anus. When he notices that the anus practically sucks it up on its own, Millennium Boy proceeds to theorize that barometric pressure had something to do with it. A baffled Lash, upon hearing MB talk about different amounts of air in one's hands, yells "NO! How can you hold the air in your hands?".  MB simply says "Let's just say his ass sucked it in", and Lash triumphantly yells "YEAH! It sucked it in!"  Lash may be incredibly stupid, but that doesn't mean that the things Millennium Boy pontificates about make any sense.

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.

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