Beasts of Burden: Presence of Others #1
Writer: Evan Dorkin
Artist: Jill Thompson
Letterer: Nate Piekos of Blambot
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: April 17, 2019
From strange things in the graveyard to more trouble with the rats, it’s never a dull moment.
Strange things have been happening in Burden Hill. When a family of paranormal investigators come to town, will the animal protectors find them to be friends…or foes?
Previously in Beasts of Burden: When mysterious things started happening in Burden Hill, the dogs in residence (and a cat) sent out the call for a Wise Dog to help them. Strange things kept happening, and the animals banded together to try to help everyone out as best they could. Things went from merely strange to downright sinister, with possession by animal ghosts, a vengeful colony of rats, and a graveyard full of skull golems. Could the mysterious voice in the sewers be behind it all?
SOMETHING SINISTER LIES BENEATH THE SURFACE
Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others #1 begins, of all places, in the local sheriff’s office. The explanation as to what’s going on comes in the form of a letter being written by a girl to her mother. Their dad got a call from the sheriff to come Burden Hill and look into some strange occurrences. We see some of these as newspaper clippings relating to events in Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites. It turns out that the letter’s narrator is a girl named Sabina (nicknamed Bean). She and her brother Russell are with their father, Paul, and they are paranormal investigators, but beyond a vague sense of the place being tainted, they cannot find any solid leads about what happened here. They’re in the cemetery looking into the strange death of the caretaker, and Paul decides they need to dig up a grave.
Suddenly they find themselves surrounded by the dogs and cats of Burden Hill, and Ace (the husky) tells them they don’t need to dig. Not only can the animals understand them, they can understand the animals – well at least Paul and Bean can. (Russell can understand only if he is holding on to one of the others’ hands.) Digging could be dangerous here, and Jack tells them of the rat colony, while Pugs is his sarcastic self. (As annoying as Pugs can be, he is a staunch friend, and his attitude brings some humor to a pretty dark tale.) Dymphna (the black cat) tells the about the skull golems, and Pugs cuts to the chase and tells them about the disembodied voice the rats call “The Master.”
None of this is something they can go to the Sheriff with! So they turn to the crypt where David Reardon (the kid who tortured animals) now lies. The cats howl out a warning, and the group splits up, with Bean, Russ, and most of the dogs going to check on them, and Jack and Rex staying with Paul. They find out that Paul knows something about Wise Dogs and their Companions. They get the doors to the crypt open, and weird, animated vines come shooting out.
In the graveyard, a flood of rats comes pouring out, but in addition to them is a handful of rats who ask to be let go because whatever it is the King and Master are doing below ground, it is terribly wrong and they want no part of it. And then, with a rumble, an enormous rat comes shooting out of the ground. Dogs, cats, and young people fight for their lives against the monstrous enemy. Then Jack comes running up with Paul’s handgun in his mouth. Bean shoots the giant rat…but that isn’t the only problem in the graveyard.
CAPTURING THE WEIRD AND THE MYSTICAL
The watercolor artwork of Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others #1 gives it a really distinctive flavor. There’s something I really like about the soft edges and the muted colors. There are some truly lovely backgrounds, and lighting is what you’d see with the overcast sky as the day drifts into evening.
I like the use of the camera angle, shifting perspective from people to animals. The people are taller, so naturally they’re looking at the cats and dogs from above. On the flip side, the animals have to look up to the people, unless they’re sitting on the ground for a more equal conversation. The Beasts of Burden may be able to talk, but their actions are limited to what actual dogs and cats can do (magic excepted).
And everyone is so wonderfully expressive, each in their own way. The humans as investigators are intense, but fairly at ease. The contrast with their desperation in the fight is dramatic. But I really like the expressions of the dogs and cats. The art captures a lot of what we see in pets, but then it adds in some additional tweaks to get some more complicated emotions depicted in them. It adds a convincing touch to the concept of highly intelligent animals who can communicate with the right people.
BOTTOM LINE: OMINOUS EVENTS IN BURDEN HILL
Already Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others #1 has a creepy flavor to it. I love that it draws upon the events from Animal Rites to make this feel like part of a greater whole. Adding some humans gives the Beasts a little more range with what they can do. This is a solid, dramatic beginning and I look forward to more.