Beasts of Burden vol.1 : Supernatural threats and the pets who deal with them
It is an unfortunate trait of the human mind when encountering a story featuring talking animals to assume either it will be whimsical or for children or both. Not that that is a bad thing: Brian Jacques' Redwall series for instance is definitely targeted at children but most of his stories are sophisticated enough that an adult reading them can get a lot out of them. And if a child happened upon and read 'Beasts of Burden," the comic book I'll be talking about today, I do not think they would be irrevocably damaged by anything they would find within.
However, "Beasts of Burden" is a horror comic plain and simple, merely one which features five dogs and a cat at its center. Some of the stories contained within this first volume, "Animal Rites," are legitimately terrifying or disturbing. But this is part of what makes "Beasts" a great comic, easily on par with "Hellboy' and "BPRD."
According to the afterword, the comic came about when writer Evan Dorkin was commissioned to write a story for a Dark Horse anthology on ghosts. Coming up with the unique twist of a story about a haunted dog house, he teamed up with artist Jill Thompson to create a short 8 page story. It was so popular that they did a sequel for the next anthology, and the story grew from there until now when it's become a full-fledged monthly series.
The story follows five dogs and a stray cat who live in the small town of Burden Hill (hence the title) who try their best to deal with the supernatural entities that threaten their town: ghosts, witches, werewolves, and demons, to name only a few. Although the stories start out relatively episodic, an overall plot beings to develop as the group go from a bunch of scared pets to an equally scared but now determined bunch of protectors, and hints begin to be dropped that there may be a malign intelligence behind the mysterious events.
Although some of the characters (particularly Jack and Whitey) are a little interchangeable, overall they are an interesting and fascinating bunch. From the terrified Doberman Rex who tries and often fails to hide his fear, to the sarcastic Pug Pugsy who doesn't even bother to try, from the determined and heroic huskey Ace to the lonely and shy stray tabby Orphan, these characters are each fascinating, making you want to spend all your time with them. Even more minor characters, such as the witch cat Dymphna and our heros' mentor Miranda, have more than enough development to make them worth the effort to read the book alone.
As I said before, a lot of the stories in this book are creepy or scary. But this isn't a cheap horror that comes from gore or jump scares: it's conjured up by a weird feeling of deep sadness, as if the world of the story is full of dark and dangerous things which, six times out of every ten, will win the day, The moral of these stories, if they can be said to have one, is to fight like hell when the 40% comes round.
All in all, a great collection of stories full of very interesting characters. Definitely pick it if you can: this series is awesome and wonderful, and I look forward to more of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. Can't wait for violume 2!