Thursday, 30 December 2010

Review - Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites HC

This 180-page (approx.) hardcover, published by Dark Horse, collects Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s four-issue ‘Beasts of Burden' mini-series from 2009, plus four earlier Beasts of Burden strips the pair produced for various Dark Horse horror anthologies (‘The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings’, etc.). Beasts of Burden is a horror comic with a sense of humour and a twist – that twist being that the heroes of these stories are a bunch of dogs and a cat. These animals live in a neighbourhood called Burden Hill, hence the title of the series, which even Evan Dorkin, in his afterword to this book, admits is quite corny.

The book kicks off with the four strips that led to the ‘beasts’ getting their own mini-series. In these strips, which range from eight to twenty pages in length, our heroes deal with a haunted kennel, a coven of witches (and their cats), zombie dogs, and, in ‘A Dog and his Boy’, one of the dogs, Ace, befriends a boy who turns out to be a werewolf. These stories lead directly into the ‘Beasts of Burden’ mini-series, in which our heroes are declared ‘watchdogs’ (and ‘watch-cat’) of Burden Hill, junior apprentices in a society of (mostly) canine paranormal investigators, by the ‘wise dog’. From there, they tackle a giant, dog-eating frog in ‘The Gathering Storm’; solve the mystery of some missing puppies in ‘Lost’; Orphan, the sole cat member of the ‘Beasts of Burden’, and his cat pal ‘The Getaway Kid’, go into the sewers to search for a witch’s cat that Orphan has a soft spot for in ‘Something Whiskered This Way Comes’; and, in ‘Grave Happenings’, the ‘beasts’ tackle some mud monsters and a man who has risen from the dead in a graveyard. Throughout these stories, there is a bigger mystery building, which is not resolved at the end of the book, so hopefully there will be a lot more comics to come featuring these characters. There was a Hellboy / Beasts of Burden one-shot published recently and I am very tempted to break the first rule of ‘On The Ration’ – ‘Thou shall not pay more than £1.20, including postage, for any comic published by a company with a Diamond exclusive distribution deal’ – and pay full price for a copy, as I really liked this book.

Dorkin has managed to give all of these animals distinct personalities and his scripts are witty, touching, and occasionally disturbing (the last page of the story ‘Lost’ was particularly unsettling), while Jill Thompson’s painted art is pretty much perfect. This the sort of book that could have a very wide appeal, and if I were a richer, more generous man, I would rush out and buy copies for all my non-comic reading friends and relatives, confident that most of them would love it. In an ideal world, this book would be a best-seller and would kick all those Twilight / True Blood books off the top of the book charts. I mean, it’s a great-looking horror comic with dogs and cats in it – who wouldn’t want to read a book like this?

This has a cover price of $19.99 / £14.99. Amazon and the Book Depository both have it for around £12.50 at the moment but the cheapest place online right now seems to be Forbidden Planet International, who have it for £10.34 (plus £1.00 for postage). I got my copy from Amazon when it first came out in June (I pre-ordered it) and it was only £10.92. I then gave it to my wife to give to me for Christmas, which is why I have only just read it, so all it cost me in the end was the small piece of my soul that dies every time I have to persuade someone else to buy me a book that I can’t afford because I’m unemployed. Result!

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