Friday, August 3, 2012

Beasts of Burden One Shot

Written by Evan Dorkin
Illustrated by Jill Thompson
Dark Horse Comics

The dogs (and cat) are back in action in three short stories, working hard to keep the supernatural away from their clueless owners.  The protectors of Burden Hill face off against a chicken-stealing goblin, learn about a dog protector of old, and learn that counting sheep can be  hazardous to their health in a collection of Dark Horse Presents stories.

I really liked the original Beasts of Burden stories that I read in a series of horror anthologies that Dark Horse put out a few years ago, and their mini-series that followed it up was also excellent.  They don't work quite as well here in compressed tales, with the narrative feeling clipped a bit, as though Dorkin is straining under the page requirement.  Here and there it feels like the story had more to say but needed to end, but that could partly be to my wishing for longer Beasts stories.

That does not mean these aren't really good adventures.  I love the comedic take in the first story, where Orphan and Rex try to take down the goblin.  Their attempt emulates an Abbott and Costello sketch, with verbal banter, slapstick, and danger mixed in just the right amounts.  The ending also fits this theme, and I half-expected Pugsley to appear to let us know "That's All, Folks!"

Middle stories seem to be the weakest in any collection, and this one is no exception.  Dorkin and Thompson spin a tale of loyalty and mythology, creating a legend of animal statues, but because the Beasts are only spectators in this story, it did not work as well for me.  The quirk that makes this horror series work is that the dogs (and the cat) are the focal point.  Take that away and you have more traditional fare.  The story isn't bad, and its tale of sacrifice nicely echoes what the Beasts have been told they might need to do, but it's not treading much new ground or putting a spin on the "turn to stone" adventure riff.

The ghost story which closes out this collection more than makes up for it, however.  The team finds a herd of sheep where they don't belong and soon learn why, with Jack paying a price for his extra sight.  While the rest of the animals see normal sheep, Jack knows the truth of their visage, and the knowledge shocks him.  Of all the stories here, this one expands the world the most.  The sheep question the dogs on why going to Heaven is such a big deal, when it may mean separation from all you loved.  It's a great way of thinking of things from the ghost's perspective and gives them something to think about.

Jill Thompson once again provides amazing visuals for these stories.  She really gives Orphen a lot of visual expression why leaving him clearly as a cat.  A set of puppies who listen to the Basilisk story work like a Greek chorus, saying almost nothing but telling us everything by their looks. Even the sheep in the third story are expressive, in their positioning and looks, and when we see them as the truly are, it's a horrific sight.  Her goblin is pot-bellied and suitably cartoonish, looking like something out of Warner Brothers.  Thompson's art is colorful and varied, with panel selections that perfectly compliment Dorkin's script.

This taste of Beasts of Burden makes me hope there's a new series in the future.  If you are a fan of the series and missed these in their original appearance in Dark Horse Presents, definitely pick this one up.  You'll be glad you did.

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