Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch TP is published by Dark Horse Comics. It comes from the creative team of writer Evan Dorkin, artists Jill Thompson and Benjamin Dewey, and letterers Jason Arthur and Nate Piekos. It also features guest writing from Mike Mignola on “The Sacrifice” and Sarah Dyer on “What the Cat Dragged In.” Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch TP is a collection of eight short stories across multiple issues. Of those eight, three stood out as particularly strong entries.
In the first story, titled “The Sacrifice,” opens with a bang as a pale, misshapen vampire burst from inside of a barn. From behind it steps Hellboy in a surprise crossover. As the vampire burns to cinders in the bright light of day, Hellboy is distracted by a dog. Following it to whatever source of danger it wants to lead him to. There he finds the titular Beasts. After a brief, shocked, introduction Hellboy agrees to work together with the Beasts in solving a mystery.
With the inclusion of Hellboy comes the guest work of his creator Mike Mignola. Thanks to this we are treated to a brilliant interplay between him and the Beasts. It is immediately evident that the two authors’ styles are brilliantly compatible and the story is stronger for it. While not the scariest story, definitely a fun and worthwhile read.
“The View from the Hill”, written by Evan Dorkin steers back to horror away from the heavier action of The Sacrifice. When several of the Beasts go to investigate a mysterious flock of sheep roaming the hills, Jack falls ill. However, all is not as it seems with the sheep and their guard dog. Soon the mystery surrounding them is exposed, but Jack’s sudden collapse remains unsolved.
Despite the entire plot taking place on a sunny day in a scenic hillside, there is a lurking eeriness to the proceedings. When the twist about the true nature of the sheep comes, it adds a layer of grimness to the overall tone. By the time the major reveal on the last page hits the story has become so unsettling that I couldn’t help but gasp at what transpired on the page. This story is an absolute standout as a result. The dichotomy of pure mundanity with supernatural horror is executed perfectly.
“What the Cat Dragged In,” written by Dorkin and guest writer Sarah Dyer serves as a sort of midpoint thematically between the first and second stories talked about here. It accomplishes this by establishing more of a first and second act within the story, rather than a string of events as the others had been.
Orphan the cat has been keeping tabs on former foe Dymphna until she catches him. In an attempt to let bygones be bygones, Orphan offers to help Dymphna with a problem she is facing. She needs to find a way back into the house of her former masters but has been unable to. Together, and with the added help of Hoke the raccoon, they open the door. But once inside, a forgotten being has it’s revenge. The humor in this story, particularly the earlier portions, is an excellent counterpoint to the macabre latter half. The ending is equal parts grim and tear-jerking.
In regards to the collection as a whole, Evan Dorkin, as well as the guest writers, are imminently charming. It is evident that Dorkin has been working on this world for a long time and has labored to make it as fully realized as possible. But the familiarity of the script and the whimsy with which it is presented makes Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch TP work. But even with the whimsy in mind, one cannot forget that this is still a horror comic. It is, in fact, thanks to the fantastical almost fable-like quality of the stories that the horror is so effective. As a result, these stories are entertaining, as well as worth a few horrified gasps when they really catch you off guard.
The artwork from Jill Thompson and Benjamin Dewey encapsulates everything that has been mentioned about the script in visual form. The panels are bright and beautiful, with light pastels and an almost watercolor aesthetic. This serves as a perfect means to ensnare the reader and slowly disarm them. By doing so, once the more gruesome panels appear they hit with a multiplied force.
Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch TP comes from a creative team who has won Eisner awards for this series. This fact should come as no surprise to anyone reading these stories. Every bit of the professionalism and passion that you would expect from such pedigree is on display. As a result, this has become one of my favorite TPs I’ve read this year. If you like horror comics or have even a passing interest in this concept, I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Beasts of Burden: Neighborhood Watch TP will be available in comic stores everywhere on September 18th, 2019
Rating: 5/5 Arcane Rituals