Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: Part One of ‘Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others’, out May 1 from Dark Horse Comics.
THIS REVIEW TO ‘BEASTS OF BURDEN: THE PRESENCE OF OTHERS: PART ONE’ IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Arpad Okay. A homecoming. A culmination of all previous stories. Walk with Evan and Jill and Nate, as they gather up all the threads laid out so far in this first issue of the new Beasts of Burden series, The Presence of Others. Newcomers to Burden Hill, a family of ghost hunters, bring new perspective, new ears to hear what hasn’t been said yet, what’s been brewing.
The myriad troubles on Burden Hill seem to be coming from a single source.
It’s nice to see Jill Thompson back to doing Beasts. Something in her art has changed (it’s been a few years, but still), there’s more process on the page. Her uncanny ability to make watercolors emulate the texture of cut and polished precious stones is still present, but now you can trace the lines of moisture as she builds an image, the tide along the edge of a pool.
Her work isn’t textured so much as nuanced. Some of my favorite bits she’s presented in this issue haven’t been figural, but painterly touches that showcase her veteran artist status. A mix of green and gold blossom in soft focus around the blue steel of a gun muzzle, the play of light on the crevices of a face, an old man with flashlight clenched in teeth. To play with light, with field, beyond character or place to infuse moment with emotion, Thompson is making fine art comix.
I use that “x” because the Beasts themselves are a cartoon counterpoint to their human guests. Each of them occupies less space as pet and more embodiment of archetype. The fear, the loyalty, the otherworldly look of a cat’s stare, the grumpiness of an old pug, these emotions come across more than before. Beasts in the past has been a balance between being heroes and being pets, but in Presence, there’s no time for animal stuff. The art reflects that.
Evan Dorkin’s writing is a shift in style as well, focused on the ghost hunters, the traditional defenders of the series placed outside the heart of the narrative. Sister, brother, father, they occupy the story and physically dominate the panels, with Ace, Pugs, Orphan et. al on the edges. Beasts of Burden, moreso Evan Dorkin, grows to break the mold. He has a million ideas, a million stories to tell, focused on the same characters, but told in different ways. Dorkin will never be predictable outside of the stories he crafts always bristle with excellence.
That said, you can always count on Dorkin, Thompson, and Beasts to deliver eldritch horrors bold and broad and cunningly, subtly sinister. An animal that should be the size of a teacup with a lizard eye growing out of its forehead bloated to the size of a hippopotamus. Ghost possession passes from bloody teeth in a familiar mouth to smoke that sinks into the earth moaning for satisfaction and gore.
Dorkin’s encyclopedic knowledge of horror makes Beasts a book where the nauseating occurs without warning, but the blows that fall the hardest are the ones artfully restrained. Ultimately the chills feel familiar but simultaneously stand as a fresh experience. A dark letter of love from a lifelong immersion in the genre.
Beasts of Burden is so damn good because the whole team are lifers. Dorkin’s writing gives us the visceral butting up against cynical yuks and moments of unguarded, authentic sweetness. Thompson’s art lands the human and the macabre in harmony, a symphony of tiny details made to shine. The little facial expressions on both man and man’s best friend are just perfect.
Nate Piekos’ letters capture a variety of moods and weights, from the intimacy of diary pages to the distance between a whisper and a scream, with clarity and style. Piekos has the rare talent to throw enough variety in his lettering to evoke a full world of sound without ever feeling like it strays from a styleguide into chaos. I love reading the books Piekos is a part of because the read is smooth, the intention always succeeds, but the more you go back and the closer you look, the more of his ingenious choices reveal themselves to you.
So Presence of Others is a very different book from the rest of the Beasts catalog, but a welcome change that connotes artistic growth. More people and less puppies. A very deliberate review of past exploits, an autopsy of the series in an attempt to solve the mystery of Burden’s slow murder. All of it harbingers Beasts as something bigger than it was before.
Don’t expect it to be easy. Don’t expect everyone to survive. This time, it is the most, it is all of before and more. It gets worse.
Dark Horse Comics / $3.99
Written by Evan Dorkin.
Illustrated by Jill Thompson.
Lettered by Nate Piekos.
8.5 out of 10
‘Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others: Part One’ hits stores May 1.
Enjoy this 5-page preview of ‘Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others: Part One’, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!