In Review: Beasts of Burden: The Presence of Others #1

You haven't experienced horror until you follow the Beasts. Recommended.

The cover: When combined with Issue #2, this cover by Jill Thompson forms a giant image of the cast within a giant skull. This half of the image contains Rex, a crow — as well as a murder of the flying creatures, Pugs, Whitey, Jack, Orphan, and another cat. I love the characters and the dripping elements of the image to create the creepy skull. Nice. Overall grade: A 

The story: Teenage Sabina’s letter to her mom narrates the first two pages of this two-parter. She, her father, and brother Russ have moved to Burden Hill and “things have been a little crazy lately.” Her father met with the sheriff, spawning their trips into the woods to seek out and destroy the supernatural. They haven’t come across anything. However, “There’s no doubt Burden Hill’s tainted.” Laying on the grave of Karl Vanderburgh, Sabine doesn’t hear anything with the “curse” she and her father have, so dad decides they’ll have to dig up the corpse to make sure he’s really dead. Before one of the children came make the long walk to the car to get shovels, they’re surrounded by seven of the beasts. “You don’t need to dig that grave up,” Ace says. “And you won’t need those weapons, either. We don’t bite.” “Not unless we have to,” scrappy Pugs adds. Writer Evan Dorkin has the humans sit down with the animals and learn that the beasts are looking for the “The Master” that they’ve been hearing about. The family wants to investigate the crypt of David Reardon. They agree to help each other, but have to split up on Page 11 after hearing a warning from the Swifties. The reader knows something is going to happen, but there’s no expecting the terrors that each group encounters. The supernatural threats cause casualties to both groups, with the final three pages having the most twisted moments. This is horror you can’t miss! Overall grade: A

The art and colors: Jill Thompson starts the book without directly showing any characters. The first panel of the book shows the highway leading into Burden Hill. It’s a pretty as can be. Next is the interior of the Sheriff’s Office: two figures are seen in silhouette through a window. The expected paraphernalia is on counters and the wall. The final panel, which is as large as the first two, shows the father’s work in taking disturbing news headlines and putting them on a wall, showing where the family is planning on investigating. A turn of the page shows the three around a rock, brother Russ making a spectral taser, dad beginning to return to his smoking habit, and the night falling. All look good, with no real suspicious overtones, until Sabina is shown at the top of Page 3 laying on a man’s grave. The location begins the unease in the reader, but it’s the reveal of the beasts on 4 surrounding the family of three that the unnatural comes to life. I love the notes that Sabina makes on 5, with her final notation hilarious. I like that Whitey and Pugs’s personalities come forth with their visuals, with the first being energetic and the latter a real sourpuss — the final panel on 5 makes me smile. Dymphna is a fright of a cat, with wild side hairs. The looks the animals give each other in the fourth panel on 8 is terrific — even a novice reader would realize that something’s up. The trio of panels that close Page 9 hints that trouble is coming. The horrific actions on 12 and 13 are shocking. The colors of the creature are appropriate and I like how those colors really make the second panel on 13 explode. The sound that ends the page is classically creepy. The greens that explode on 15 make the reveal disgusting and being followed by so much red makes the final panel graphic. The action on 16 – 18 is a terror, with many epic actions shown graphically, enhanced by many shades of red. The progression of movement on 18 is a terrific tension builder. Violets are employed for a new character’s dialogue and dialogue balloons, instantly casting it in an unnatural light. The look of the familiar character on 20 – 21 is a solid shock, with the true image of the character on the final page eerie. The last panel will leave the reader, like the characters, exhausted, and wondering what could happen next. Thompson’s visuals are beautiful and shocking; the perfect combination for this book. Overall grade: A

The letters: This issue’s text is by Nate Piekos of Blambot, who creates letter text, dialogue, sounds, yells, and a unique character’s speech. I love looking at characters’ writing in comic books and Piekos does a solid job in creating Sabina’s writing. The dialogue is easy to read and when characters have stress in certain words they get italicized. The yells are in a thicker and larger font, making them resound in the reader’s mind. The sounds are flat out awesome: how could you not like a good SHRRRUK, BRUM, SHBRUM, or (a possible nod to a classic band) GWARRR!? Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: An excellent entry point to the supernatural adventures and thrills of the four legged protectors of Burden Hill. The characters are fun, the horror strong, and the visuals wonderfully detailed and damning. You haven’t experienced horror until you follow the Beasts. Recommended. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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