What would Usagi Yojimbo have been like if it were one of the original titles launched by Image Comics, alongside Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Youngblood? If that question blows your mind (in a good way), then have I got the answer for you! Take a ride with the funny animals from the 1990’s that didn’t live in the sewers. And discover once and for all “Who let the dogs out?”
Action scenes are inconsistent, but often quite good
Prose, a bit purple
A product of its time
Previously in Dogs-O-War:
In the wake of mankind’s near-destruction of the Earth through “viral warfare and genetic engineering”, the world is a wasteland sparsely populated by half-man, half-beasts and littered with pockets of super-technology from the before-times. A few remaining great scientists try to shape the remnants into their own vision, but not all of them want what’s best for everyone.
DOGS AND CATS FIGHTING TOGETHER! MASS HYSTERIA!
This book is a bit of an odd duck to review here but when our beloved Editor In Chief threw a review copy down on my desk here at the old Major Spoilers Bullpen* I was not about to shy away from a review. Not to be confused with similarly contemporary titled Dogs of War or The Dogs of War, Dogs-O-War:Book 3 is a collection of a three issue limited series (plus a five page intro story) from 1996 and it shows its age. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, but this book is definitely a product of its time. Whether you see that as “old and stale” or “cool and retro” depends more upon you than on the comic because the comic is well done whatever the time period.
Let me give you the elevator pitch: An evil scientist named Dusk is taking over the world, with the goal of exterminating all life. Good scientist “Godhead”, aided by a pair of samurai-esque dogs, is trying to rally a rebellion. As you do. Dogs-O-War has all the ingredients for a great comic: Post-apocalyptic wastelands, anthropomorphic animals, swords, chain guns, explosions… It’s twenty pounds of cool stuff in a ten pound sack.
Which is also the weakness of this book. There is so much going on, and so much implied depth that I feel that what I’m reading is just skimming the surface. That’s not entirely bad–you want to feel that the universe that you’re reading about is fleshed out, but there’s very little time left for character development. There’s not enough downtime to contrast with the action. In a perfect world this story would have had twelve issues to build an arc that would match the epic nature of the tale that they’re trying to tell here.
Another caveat that I should mention is that the prose here is sometimes so purple as to be ultraviolet. That is to say, it’s dripping with melodrama and takes itself exceedingly seriously–to the point of distraction. As I keep saying, however, that’s not entirely bad. Dogs-O-War is intended to be an epic tale, bordering on myth, so the tone is actually in line with that powerful sense of importance. I bring it up because it is the kind of thing that could rub you the wrong way, but personally I powered through and it became part of the charm of the book.
Side note: it crosses the line in the narration boxes, where the narrator describes things that are visible in the panel. I think you would get a better reading experience if you just skip the narration boxes and spend the time paying attention to the art. It’s redundant; almost like the accidentally printed the notes to the artist, or the writer didn’t trust the artist to convey the story.
The art screams ‘90’s, but without the worst excesses of Liefeld (which, to be fair, even he wasn’t guilty of ALL the time). It’s all in black and white, in the cost-saving indy comic tradition, which highlights the excellent pencil work. The lines are nice and precise and even though the book went through a revolving door of inkers they all did a great job.
The standout of the visuals is the character design. Back in the 1990’s everyone wanted to do a spin on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the idea of gritty warrior animals. I really like Masztal’s take on the sub-genre. The titular dogs are good, but when you can do a believable bad-ass koala—that’s when I tip my hat.
The action scenes are inconsistent, but often quite good. The lesser scenes seem to be limited by the time/space available to them, but a when they work they accomplish the impressive task of making the mix of guns and swords not look stupid. [Except at tech level “flintlock” guns and swords together on the battlefield is ridiculous, but can still be cool as hell. Remember the first time you saw Star Wars.]
THE BOTTOM LINE: Breaking away from the pack
I give Dogs-O-War: Book 3 three and a half stars—and yes, part of that is nostalgia for a more civilized age. But the rest of it is that the story is fun, the ideas are coming at you from all angles, and the art is great. I would love to play a role playing game set in this universe. Why is there not a GURPS sourcebook for Dogs-O-War? It may not be for everyone but if my description didn’t scare you, I recommend getting your hands on it if you can, although it’s currently in the approval process at Diamond and Amazon. You can get a copy directly from Sniegoski or Masztal at conventions or from firstname.lastname@example.org
*The Major Spoilers Bullpen is almost as real as the Marvel Bullpen.