Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men #1
Writer: Evan Dorkin
Artist: Benjamin Dewey
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Review by Grace Taylor
This review may contain spoilers.
When I think of cute animals, the horror genre doesn’t usually come to mind. However, Evan Dorkin’s Beasts of Burden series manages to balance the sweetness of animals, with deep storytelling and elements of horror. In the main series, we follow a gang of dogs and cats who defend their Burden Hill neighborhood from paranormal and occult disturbances.They are apprentices of elder Wise Dogs, who appear occasionally to help them in their adventures. Oftentimes, the Beasts’ paranormal encounters are traumatic, brutal, and bloody. Yet somehow Dorkin provides hope in the crew’s heroics and bond as a group.
For this issue and miniseries, the focus is actually on the Wise Dogs. The story opens with forest animals fleeing a fire in the Pocono Mountains. We see Lundy, a black Scottish Terrier, running in the opposite direction and into the fire as he is surrounded by a magical protective shield. There he encounters a fire salamander that has been trapped by an unknown entity. After the immediate crisis is handled, the Wise Dogs try to unravel the mysterious trap and symbols along with their connection to recent paranormal disturbances in Burden Hill and neighboring areas. Their investigation leads them into unexpected danger, and important clues are revealed as this series kicks off.
There’s a slight shift in tone in this book, since we are following the perspective of the elder Wise Dogs. Pugsley, normally a central character, is not here to provide his signature quips for small comic relief in even the most dire situations. Also, as opposed to the youthful, inexperienced Beasts of Burden, the older dogs take pause, think, plan, and discuss more before they take action. However, there are some great action sequences in this book, most notably the opening scene of Lundy running into the forest flames and the epic battle with the Lurkers. Benjamin Dewey’s artwork does an excellent job of capturing these frantic sequences. This issue also keeps the tradition of providing some bloody horror imagery with a frightening nightmare scene.
I enjoyed getting to know the regular Wise Dogs a bit more, as well as being introduced to characters I hadn’t seen before. My favorites are Lundy, who grew on me after his heroic introduction, and of course the wisest sheepdog of them all, Emrys. There’s also some great character development such as Dempsey’s growing jealousy as Miranda’s magic skills continue to evolve.
Although I like seeing the story continue from a different perspective, I was missing the usual paranormal pups (and cats) of the Beasts of Burden. I know more about this main group’s trials and experiences, as well as their different personalities. I’ve grown attached to the usual gang, so this book is a slight adjustment for me. Also, I like Benjamin Dewey’s artwork, but I miss Jill Thompson’s beautiful watercolor painting style of previous releases.
I would recommend this book for folks who are familiar with the series, since it’s picking up from where the other Beasts of Burden stories left off. It helps to know a bit more about the lore and the world of these animals. I’m happy to see the story continue and to see it from a different perspective, with different characters. My hope is they’ll develop the Wise Dogs more and we can learn more about them. I’m looking forward to when the Wise Dogs will team up with our usual pack. The action at the end of the book makes it well worth the read and I’m curious what the final mystery will be in this miniseries.