I wish Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's "Beasts of Burden" existed when I was a kid. As an adult, I love reading every new tale when it’s released, but there’s something really special about this series. It takes itself just seriously enough but still has a light enough touch that the weight of the stories don’t hold down the concept. It’s exciting, fun and engrossing, and even when we have what amounts to an extended action sequence as we do here, I still feel like diving in to the book was time well spent.
In "Hunters and Gatherers," The Watch attempts to find out the secret of the invisible creature that has been eating local animals, forcing cats and dogs to put aside any animosity they have to work towards the greater goal of saving their kin. Evan Dorkin packs more nuanced character moments into this issue full of canines and felines than most superhero work on the stands today. The ease with which he moves from voice to voice, character to character, is a huge part of what makes this series work. Every one of these characters has their own personality, their own point of view. It never feels shoehorned or cheesy which is an incredible feat for a story about talking animals. The tone is dark as the threat is ominous -- there’s blood spilled in these pages and it’s not pretty. Jill Thompson knows how to paint animals, and the realistic nature of her art makes the danger feel more real and the injuries seem more dire.
The chase sequence is awesome. Rex gave me anxiety as he waited for the creature to appear in the field and again as he realizes "Great Dog in Heaven…I’m not gonna make it --". The Watch works as a unit to uncover the creature and each time a new character joins the chase it adds a new dimension to the action. Ace has the most intense moments and I actually feared for his life after the Windslither shows itself, a tribute to the storytellers’ talents. Look at the emotion in every animal’s face throughout this book, especially Ace during this showdown. He goes from determined, to frightened, to concentrated exertion all across the span of 4 pages. His monologue as it happens is disjointed but not confusing, giving us small bursts of personality in a moment of high tension.
The issue also teases a future conflict as the kingdom of crows makes nice with the rat kingdom at the end. Living in New York, I know how scary it would be if the birds and the rats decided to work together in their own interests, so this ending made me uncomfortable. I’m now eyeballing every bird and rat I see near each other in the streets and breaking up the action if I see them commiserating. (The police say I’m taking this scenario too seriously and I say they aren’t taking it seriously enough.)
"Beasts of Burden: Hunters and Gatherers" is an incredible, well-told story. The only downside to picking up this issue is knowing the infrequency with which they show up. But a little is better than nothing at all, so buy this one shot, hold it tight, and hope that a Windslither or a knotted up ball of rats doesn’t roll through your home to take it.