The Comic Book Club: Superman: Earth One and Beasts of Burden/Hellboy

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DOUGLAS: Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice is an absolutely gorgeous little comic book–Jill Thompson keeps getting more interesting as an artist all the time. But comics like this are also both why I don’t follow either Hellboy or Beasts of Burden month-to-month, and why I feel like I’m missing out by not following them. This is a horror story with nothing particularly unsettling about it: the cues that there’s supposed to be something big and scary are all genre signifiers. (The farmer saying “I don’t know if I’d go in those woods if I were you. Folks say strange things happen in there”–oh, come on.) It’s got a neat, distinctive look-and-feel–animals who are only slightly anthropomorphized!–and I’m a sucker for that. Thompson’s watercolor technique is incredible. Dorkin and Mignola write fun dialogue. Everyone involved has miles of style. And yet I didn’t get any particular emotional involvement in the story (and couldn’t tell if a bunch of characters and incidents were callbacks to the earlier Beasts of Burden mini or if they were just dropped into this), and wondered why I should care about the outcome. Was I missing something?

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: “Strange Tales II” and “Knight and Squire”)

EVAN: Two summers back, I went on a massive Hellboy binge, and inhaled the omnibus and the next four or so collected editions in about a month. I totally fell in love with the demonic detective, and still think he’s the exemplar of how to do a modern-day adventure character. The continuity attached to him is significant but not onerous, and Mignola and his creators don’t feel the need to push things forward with every story. Sometimes, the projects are just new adventures and that’s okay.

So this crossover feels exactly right in that regard, which is to say it’s okay if Hellboy just wanders in to the Beasts of Burden world. He kinda just does that anyway in his own stories. The everyman attitude Hellboy approaches his work with makes everything he’s in a joy to read and also makes this book feel like a perfect melding. Every lead character here–the doggies, the kitties and Ol’ Goat Hoofs–has personality, and you can tell that Dorkin and Mignola made sure to give them all a moment.

And Thompson’s art totally kills it.

But, Douglas, I’ve never read Hellboy as a work that’s meant to scare the reader. The characters in the world get scared of the crap that’s going down, but I think we as the reader can just sit back and wait for Hellboy to talk trash. That said, the BOB continuity beats at the end of the book totally left me confused.

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GRAEME: Maybe I’m just a sap, but I can’t help but have emotional connection with Beasts of Burden, Douglas. There’s something about the portrayal of the animals that completely wins me over every single time. It’s not just Jill Thompson’s art, although it’s really wonderful, but the core for me is really the way that Evan Dorkin’s dialogue manages to seem both animalistic and human at the same time. Seriously, when bad things happen to these animals, I’m a mess just in worry that they won’t make it out alive. PUPPIES! KITTY! BE SAFE!

I get the criticism that nothing really unsettling happens in this special, but I’m not sure that’s what BoB (or even Hellboy, really) is actually about. It’s always seemed more supernatural/spooky adventure more than actual horror to me, and this oneshot follows that model pretty well. I don’t think this was as good, or as deep, as the BoB series proper, but it’s a lot of fun, if admittedly slight. After Superman: Earth One, it felt like a great relief to read something that didn’t take itself overly seriously, nor feel more important than it actually deserved. I’d happily read a lot more of this. When can we get Beasts of Burden/Concrete, Dark Horse?

DOUGLAS: Oh, that would be fun! Or Beasts of Burden/Usagi Yojimbo. If Usagi Yojimbo can team up with the Turtles, anything’s possible, right? And wouldn’t it be great to see Thompson paint a samurai rabbit?

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