Column: Global Ghoul: Dungeon Quest: Book One

By Dale Carothers

Daly, Joe. Dungeon Quest: Book One. Fantagraphics Books (June 15, 2010). 136pp. USD $12.99. ISBN-13: 978-1606993477.

Everything that I’ve read about South African cartoonist Joe Daly led to my having high expectations for Dungeon Quest. Reviews of his books Scrublands and The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book made it impossible to resist ordering it.

Dungeon Quest is Daly’s take on World of Warcraft. Four geekish misfits, who still live with their parents, go on a fantasy adventure, not in a MMORPG but in the real world. A world that starts out normal, but gets ever weirder with each turn of the page. Millennium Boy, Steve, Lash Penis, and Nerdgirl (Mage, Thief, Warrior, and Archer, respectively) are the brilliant kids from high school that nobody liked, who now see themselves as powerful poet heroes, spouting pseudo-philosophical diatribes and killing anyone who gets in their way.

Daly’s art is beautiful and detailed. Somewhere between Charles Burns and Chester Brown. Characters are sharply defined and iconic, and his settings are perfect. The characters live in a fully realized world. Daly maintains tight penciling and inking, even into the distant background, never falling back on the ghostly traceries that most cartoonists rely on. There are so many perfect panels that, after turning the page, I often paused to admire the layout and design. Something that I don’t often do, unless I’m reading something by Moebius or Geoff Darrow.

The problem with Dungeon Quest is the story. It doesn’t amount to much more than walk, fight, get treasure, repeat. It reminded me of my early Dungeons and Dragons games. We were too young to know that we needed to have a story, so we stalked dungeons, killed monsters, took their treasure, leveled up, drank Mountain Dew and ate Little Debbies. While this was entertaining when I was fifteen, I expect a little more now and I expected more from Dungeon Quest. There are a few encounters that don’t involve fighting, but they don’t stray far from the MMOPRG formula. One is with a stoner on a hill, who functions as the equipment store, and another is with a different stoner on a different hill, who functions as the oracle/road sign, pointing the adventurers in the direction of the quest, after getting them high.

There’s not much to say about the characters except that they have about as much personality as a player character from an MMORPG. Meaning, they have stats and equipment, and you can change their clothing. Other than their basic look, the characters are the same. Nerdgirl has only one line of dialogue and spends most of her time standing around in the background. She is a superfluous, Affirmative Action character.

I wanted to like this comic. And to this day, when I page through it, I’m charmed by Daly’s art and sense of design.

The oddest thing about Dungeon Quest is its unabashed dedication to male full-frontal nudity. Monsters, guides and characters alike get their chance to dangle. Remember how often we saw Billy Crudup’s blue wang in The Watchmen? It’s like that, only not blue. This didn’t bother me, but it happened enough that I thought it warranted a mention.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Dale Carothers: Reading comics and eating cake for the betterment of mankind.

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