Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson

Burden Hill is a peaceful suburban community- on the surface. But something is wrong underneath and the animals of Burden Hill can sense it. It starts when Jack, a dog, experiences a coldness in his newly built doghouse, he is sure that it is caused by a ghost in his doghouse. So the other dogs summon a wise dog to help them, and uncover the bones of a dog, fifty years old. The Wise dog helps lay the spirit to rest, and the dog's spirit tells them that she was hit by a neighbor, who panicked and buried the dog, after she had been left behind and had finally tracked down her family.

But it's not just the dogs of the neighborhood who help, but a cat named "The Orphan". And when a group of witches move into the area, it's up to the Wise Dog, the Orphan and the other dogs to drive them off by substituting the Orphan, now dyed black, for one of the Witch's familliars, Dymphna. But while the witches are taken care of by the Goddess they worship, Dymphna escapes, swearing vengeance.

Soon the dogs and Orphan get to see her vengeance when she animates the bodies of all the dead dogs that the dogs of the neighborhood have been burying when they find them on the road. But when she gets frightened by what she's called up, can she help the dogs put the bodies to rest again?

When Ace, a husky, finds a strange human boy sleeping in his doghouse, all the dogs are surprised to see the boy can speak their language and understands them. But why? Is he, as some of the dogs maintain, a witch? Or is the truth something else entirely? And when the dogs discover his secret, will they be able to save him from the forces arrayed against the boy? And can they even save Ace from the loyalty of a dog for the one he loves?

When the dogs witness a rain of frogs, they summon the rest of the group to witness it. But the frogs start eating each other, and when the dogs and Orphan go in search of the frogs, what they discover is a single, tremendously large, bloated frog, can they destroy it before whatever it was sent for occurs? And will the wise dogs, summoned to this same neighborhood so many times, find a series of better protection for the neighborhood of Burden Hill?

Now inducted into the Wise Dogs, the pets of Burden Hill become the Wise Dogs protecting the neighborhood (and one wise cat), can the Animals of Burden Hill keep the Humans and pets safe from the dark forces that seem to have targeted this peaceful, sunny place. But why here, and why now, and can the new Wise Dogs (and Cat) of Burden Hill keep themselves up to the challenges they will face ahead?

I liked this graphic novel a lot. It was unusual to have a book where all, or even most of the characters are non-human animals. But while the characters are animals, they all have lots of character, from Ace, the Husky, who loves and befriends a werewolf and attempts to save his friend, to the Orphan, a cat who is often braver than some of the dogs, and even Dymphna, the cat who starts out an adversary and becomes, well, not really an ally, but an associate.

The stories are wonderful, with just the right mix of mundanity (a group of dogs, each of a different breed, who have formed a pack, and even a cat who somehow runs with them) and the supernatural, which, for some reason, has targeted this small community. But why? So far, we don't know. I can only hope this will be answered in the next volume, whenever that comes out. I like seeing how the different characters interact, and the stories themselves.

This is a great graphic novel, very different from most of the graphic novels I have read, but it's not a bad thing. In fact, this is a very good thing. It's different, enjoyable, and well-told and illustrated. I can't recommend this graphic novel enough. It's not the usual sort of thing, but it's wonderful and amazing, and very highly recommended.

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