Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldrich Men by Evan Dorkin, Benjamin Dewey, and Nate Piekos

I'm not sure if this is the second book in the series or not.

On the positive side, after the original Beasts of Burden - there can be no argument that's the first book - the next substantial series was called Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldrich Men, and that is definitely collected here.

On the negative side, there were four other comics-format Beasts of Burden issues (some collecting anthology stories, to make it all more complicated) published before this series, and those are collected, along with a couple of later stories, as Neighborhood Watch. And most of those stories are drawn by original series artist Jill Thompson, if that makes any difference in the what-comes-first argument.

So, in my considered opinion, Wise Dogs is Schrodinger-ly the second book of the series, along with Neighborhood Watch: if you want to argue it's clearly not, go ahead but do it somewhere else. It's two, or two-and-a-half, or possibly three. (Five is right out.)

Now, I read the first book more than a decade ago - I gather the stories slowed down after that initial rush, as Thompson got busy with other things, but they did keep appearing; there was no huge gap in the actual real world - so my memories are vague and possibly confused. (I had a sense that the non-Thompson stories would have a different cast; that does not seem to be the case.)

Anyway, here's the scoop, as I remembered and re-discovered it: animals are intelligent and can talk to each other, as in many other stories, and to a few special humans. Magic is real, with vaguely Lovecraftian implications: there are monsters that can be created or called or unsealed, and the good side of magic is one part protecting yourself and others from monsters, about three parts getting rid of monsters, and absolutely no parts doing anything else.

These stories follow a group of dogs in a rural part of Pennsylvania, centered on Burden Hill, which has an unusually high level of supernatural disturbances. These dogs fight the evil and get rid of it. All of the stories are written by Evan Dorkin; Thompson was the original artist, but Benjamin Dewey (whose first work on the series is in this book) looks to be the main artist these days. (Nate Piekos is the letterer; I don't usually list those, but my current rubric is "include everyone listed on the cover in the largest size type, unless I disagree and want to include more people" so he counts that way.)

This is actually one longer story - the first multi-issue Beasts of Burden story, I think - in which a team under Lundy (the dark Scottie who is the biggest head on the cover) travel across the local landscape to deal with a couple of problems that, inevitably, turn out to be related and bigger than they expect. As will surprise exactly no one, they do not fail and let a magical apocalypse destroy...um, what would be closest? maybe Harrisburg?

It's all pretty straightforward contemporary supernatural adventure, with all of the expected story beats done professionally and well - except for the fact that the entire cast runs around on four legs and eats out of bowls on the ground. I am not a big animal person, to put it mildly, but these are fun stories, and it's particularly interesting to see how Dorkin deals with a cast that have no hands and who would have trouble accessing anything more than four feet above ground-level.

So this is not great literature of any kind, but it's solid adventure comics that does not involve anyone wearing spandex. That's a win in my book.

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