Mark of the Beasts

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

I reviewed all of the “Beasts of Burden” miniseries from last year already, but this is something somewhat different. Sure, it’s a collection of that wonderful miniseries by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, but it also includes all of the other stories that were published in other Dark Horse comics.

So what are we talking about here? Our setting is the sleepy New England town of Burden Hill, and our main characters are all domesticated pets — Rex, Ace, Whitey, Jack, Miranda, Pugsley, and the Orphan, the lone cat in the main group. They’re all animals, and they all have animal concerns and thoughts, but they also talk, and other animals can understand them — so can we, luckily, or it wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Burden Hill is home to an unusual number of ghosts, demons, witches, and other horrors, and the pets of Burden Hill are the only ones who can stop them, with the assistance of some of the other pets and the occasional Wise Dog.

The threats range from the distinctly human — a resurrected sorcerer and a coven of witches worshiping Sekhmet — to the more pet-oriented — a demonic frog that eats stray pets and a cult of rats plotting to take over everything. And some of these rank among the very scariest stories printed in any comic book in the past few years.

There’s “Stray,” the very first of the stories in the collection, about a haunted doghouse, which is part funny, part sad, and part terrifying. There’s “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,” which ladles on the gruesome shocks with a Night of the Living Dead Housepets.

And best of all, there’s “Lost,” which just might be one of the great masterpieces of horror. It’s got the heartbreak of a mother searching for her lost pups, it’s got a horrific spectral possession, it’s got a terrifying murder, a chilling twist, and a final haunting image you won’t ever forget.

And the whole thing’s wrapped up in a beautiful hardcover.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Brilliant writing from Dorkin, beautiful watercolors from Thompson, and the best, funniest, most terrifying, most human stories you’ll see for a long time.

Go pick it up. Don’t make me tell you again.

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