Beasts Of Burden #1(of 4) - 'Chapter One: The Gathering Storm' - Dorkin and Thompson
Story - I've never been a fan of talking Animal comics, sure I've read We3 and enjoyed it, but that's Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely! Talking animals are for kids! I'm an adult, give me Superman and Spider-Man! The height of maturity! I've also never read any Evan Dorkin (except one issue of Bill & Ted) or Jill Thompson comics before, so I had no idea what to expect from this. Talking animals solving mysteries? What is this, Scooby Doo? Well it is, but if Scooby Doo wasn't shit.
The premise of Beasts Of Burden is that a group of Dogs (and one Cat) investigate the Supernatural. It's pretty simple, and Dorkin and Thompson do it well, the Mysteries are interesting and just plain weird, a rain of frogs that eat and merge with eachother. I particularly love how the cutesiness of the animals is juxtaposed with the rather grisly and scary violence. It's really interesting to see a talking animal story treated seriously. The Giant Frog they face is genuinely creepy, and the way they take it out is violent.
There are some problems with it, this isn't the first Beasts Of Burden story, Dorkin and Thompson have done a few stories for Dark Horse anthologies, and having not read them, I was kind of dropped in at the deep end. The characters are not particularly well-defined (but that seems to be planned, Dorkin has said that they are just dogs, so their personalities aren't that distinct) and I was kind of confused as to which characters were which, I think perhaps the only one to stand out is Pugs, the uh, Pug, simply because of his distinctive look and Ben Grimm nature. There is also a wider mythology at work here, one of the lead dogs is a Werewolf or something, and there is a Society of 'Wise Dogs' that is in charge of the Dogs. I was a bit confused to be honest, and it knocks the book down a slight notch as there is no real explanation, but thankfully Dark Horse provide an online link so you can check out the earlier stories, which helped a bit. But on the whole, a new reader like me can follow on well, and the backstory is not essential to the main Giant Frog plot.
Overall, this was a great first issue, the idea is a great one, it mixes the cute with the sick, and is very funny in parts, I loved it whenever Dorkin would emphasise the dogginess of these characters. And the art, man... the art. But I'll get to that later. If you're looking for something a little different, and a surprise, Beasts Of Burden is a great pick, just make sure you read the Online stories first.
Art - As I've said, I'm not familiar with Jill Thompson's work, but after this I will definitely try and check her stuff out. She paints this issue, and it is beautiful, the colours just pop, it looks magical. I particularly liked how she drew the cats and dogs not in a cartoony way, but realistically, yet they remained very expressive. And she handled the creepy gore stuff very well too. That deer's head, shudder. Lovely stuff, and it elevates the story to another level.
Best Line - I know it's obvious, since it was on the back cover, but 'Oh, Crap. Looks like stupid's back in season...' is a damn good line.
8/10, knocked up 2 whole points because of the art, could have been a nine if the backstory wasn't just eluded too.