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Beasts of Burden: Occupied Territory #1 Review

4 min read

A tale from the past.

Creative Staff:
Story: Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer
Art: Benjamin Dewey
Letterer: Nate Piekos of Blambot

What They Say:
An elder member of the occult-battling pack of Wise Dogs recalls a harrowing mission–in U.S-occupied Japan after World War II, a mysterious curse creates an army of crawling, disembodied heads which threaten to overwhelm the region. Emrys and a team of canine companions attempt to solve the mystery, bringing them into conflict with shape-changing tanuki, evil oni, and a horde of vengeful demons.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Though I’ve read only a couple of series from this property, I’ve really enjoyed Beasts of Burden from Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Benjamin Dewey. There’s just something about the property that in a way separates it from comics for me where it’s more that it’s a series of fables told to children that are really well-detailed because the adults behind it wanted it to delight those who were reading it to their kids as well. This is all a huge positive because it’s the kind of work that stays with you for your whole life. It’s also not a book that you can skim through as it’s very detailed in both writing and artwork so that you linger on the details and follow every word that’s critical to explaining what’s going on.

This series opens with a little reminder of what had gone on in the previous main run, noting that the salamander is now living at the farm with everyone, at least temporarily, and that has some worrying about even more other creatures taking up there and the dogs being overwhelmed. But this is just a little bit of fluff to highlight the personalities well before it digs into other things going on, such as Arthur needing to go off to deal with something and Emrys offering to tell everyone a story from one of the pictures on the wall in order to occupy some time. It’s not a short tale, according to him, but everyone is all ears, even Lundy of all dogs seems to be really interested in this. And Emrys, being one of the older ones there, certainly has plenty of tales to tell that the younger ones will be interested in.

The premise is set up well as it’s 1947 and Emrys and his companion Jonathan Hope ended up in Ogawara Air Base in Japan before they could make their way back home. It’s here that the military has brought them in as just media observers but to really deal with strange supernatural things that are happening and crazy dreams that are impacting soldiers. The story works to showcase the dynamic between dog and man while keeping it a secret from everyone else while also getting the first ideas of what’s going on. It’s a slow build but a lot of the initial focus is on Emrys getting a feel for the area and making a friend in a dog he names Mullins, which he in turn helps to understand humans more. He’s basically the guide dog to the area and that sets us into questioning the ghosts nearby and exploring more, at least until we get the strong end page stinger that puts danger to the dogs.

In Summary:
There’s a lot of foundation-setting going on here and it works well because it makes the book accessible to new readers while at the same time expanding the larger lore of what’s come before. The opening pages also make it clear that this is an active world and stories blend together, which is important to have made clear. The creative team here works just as strongly and solidly as the last couple of series that I read and I’m excited to see what the adventure in Japan will reveal, and to get more time with Mullins as he’s a welcome addition here. Emrys is the real star, however, and I’m loving getting to know him a lot better.

Grade: B

Age Rating: 15+
Released By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: April 7th, 2021
MSRP: $3.99

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