Given the backstory and narrative surrounding “Beasts of Burden,” it is safe to keep as much distance as possible from the house pets. The canine investigators are partial to the supernatural and have a nasty habit of finding the occult wherever they go. I hope the human paranormal investigators the solicitation teases for the latest chapter will fair better than I think they will! After a prolonged absence and only the occasional mini-series from the team, it is incredibly refreshing to get Burden Hill back. Plus, two of the original “Beasts of Burden creators,” Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin are back so readers can rest assured they are in good hands. Can “Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others, Part One” craft a tone and story comparable to past entries in the series?
Written by Evan Dorkin
Illustrated by Jill Thompson
Lettered by Nate Piekos
A team of paranormal investigators poking around Burden Hill disturb the graveyard where the ”Master” lies, setting off a chain of events that will have serious consequences for the animal defenders of the haunted town.
“Beasts of Burden” doesn’t seem intent on simply repeating itself. It is incredibly refreshing for writer Evan Dorkin to feature the human characters as the point-of-view protagonists. Seeing the property through a fresh pair of eyes brings back the novelty of the story. Sabina is a more grounded character and getting the concept of the series reintroduced through her is an intriguing direction. This entry also serves as a great way to introduce the “Beasts of Burden” to new readers. The issue is structured in a fascinating manner that is going to require lots of attention from newer readers in order to understand some of the subversive ideas and genre elements in “Beasts of Burden.”
A few issues featuring these characters in the past have brought out the supernatural aspects of the title right away. Sometimes stories like these can feel too rushed in terms of pacing. “Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others, Part One” allows the comic to fully introduce the premise and characters before bringing supernatural elements out. Before any horror elements are brought into the fold, Dorkin has crafted a narrative conceit for each of the new human cast members. The book starts to falter slightly when readers factor in some of the core “Beasts of Burden” cast members. The animals are charming but Dorkin doesn’t get the time to flesh out each member of the cast aside from the premise of having a team of canine investigators. The family of investigators receive the spotlight during the narrative.
Even if readers aren’t drawn into the slow burn payoff of the narrative right from the opening, the interiors by Jill Thompson are a much better entry into the issue. Thompson’s visual approach to the series has always made “Beasts of Burden” look incredibly different from other titles on the shelves. The tale carries a foreboding color palette foreshadowing something gloomy even when there is no impending threat on the page. When the issue ramps up the pace and starts introducing horror elements, Thompson steps up to the place with strong, visceral energy. The pages carry a fluid sense of movement despite some of the precise linework. No matter who is on the page, Thompson also does a tremendous job paying attention to the expressions on each character.
Thompson adds intriguing panel bleeds and layouts. Thompson has a more precise and realistic art style. Usually, creators carrying a visual direction in this style have art that appears more static. The fluid line work and interiors from the creator don’t sacrifice an immense level of detail. Thompson’s darker hues correspond to the time of day. When the morning comes on the final page, the visual direction of the storyline shifts and shows the beauty within Thompson’s pencils masked earlier by the darker hues of night. Also, this one of the books to inspire a few genuine chills. The arcane creatures and violent artwork lend an intriguing juxtaposition to the narrative.
“Beasts of Burden” has been to some dark places, but the end of the issue carries one of the most disheartening final pages in the series-to-date. The conclusion of the story culminates into a great final sequence. After reading the build-up and payoff to the chapter, I finally find myself invested in the property in a way I never have been before. I hope the story will be able to keep up the same momentum in the final chapter. “Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others, Part One” also carries some of the series most thrilling artwork yet. The layouts, panel bleeds, and expressions are interpreted beautifully from Thompson. Returning to Burden Hill so soon after the last chapter of the Eisner-winning series came to an end is nothing short of a blessing.Continued below
Final Verdict: 8.4 – “Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others, Part One” reintroduces the concept of the series with grace and throws in a few creatures that go bump in the night.