Deadshirt is Reading: Beasts of Burden and Punisher!

Deadshirt Is Reading… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt’s staff, contributing writers, and friends-of-the-site offer their thoughts on Big Two cape titles, creator-owned books, webcomics and more. 

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Max Robinson is reading…

Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In #1 (One-shot)

Written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer

Art by Jill Thompson

Lettered by Jason Arthur

Dark Horse

“Real ball of yarn, that girl. You sure know how to pick ‘em.”

I’m on the record as a big fan of Dark Horse’s Beasts of Burden and this week’s latest installment is a great introduction to this fantastically creepy book. Beasts of Burden is technically a talking animal comic—the cast is a group of dogs, cats and other animals who reside in the fictional spooky suburb of Burden Hill, which is plagued by demon-worshipping rats, witches and zombies—but it’s really so much more than that. Dorkin and Thompson’s previous installments are inspired and unsettling horror stories anchored with some really surprising emotional heft.

What the Cat Dragged In can be appreciated as both a continuation of the long game storytelling the title has been building for years, but even taken on it’s own, it’s a great done-in-one horror comic. Focusing on the cat characters of Beasts, this issue finds The Orphan and friends helping former witch familiar/reluctant fighter of demonic forces Dymphna break into the now abandoned home of her dead mistress. Essentially a very clever haunted house tale, “What the Cat Dragged In” gives us some interesting background on the often morally ambiguous Dymphna and shows the very disturbing ramifications of a mistake she made. Dorkin’s scripts have always struck profound emotional beats with a non-human cast, and the last three pages of this story are genuinely heartbreaking.

I can’t say enough good things about Jill Thompson’s watercolors on the title, and there’s so much to enjoy here visually. In particular, how she gives the house in this issue such a strong sense of place. In the context of the larger story, Dymphna’s owner was an evil villain to be defeated by our cast of canine heroes. In this issue, we get a quick look inside Dymphna’s home, which has a host of nice little details like a long forgotten framed photo of Dymphna’s owner and her partner or how the now-mold covered couch has cat-shaped pillows on it. It’s a quick, subtle way to humanize a fairly minor antagonist from an older story and just really excellent economic storytelling from Thompson. I really dug the design of the basement monster in this issue, which is sort of the platonic ideal of a scary demon while also feeling pretty unique.

It’s a shame that Beasts of Burden currently lives more or less as a yearly one shot from Dorkin, Thompson and co., because What the Cat Dragged In is the kind of comic I’d like to read every month.

Joe Stando is reading…

Punisher #1

Written by Becky Cloonan

Art by Steve Dillon and Frank Martin (colors)

Lettered by Cory Petit

Marvel

“Long time no see, Frank.”

I don’t think I would consider myself a “Punisher guy.” The character is interesting in the abstract, but I feel like there’s a ceiling with the kinds of stories you can tell with him that becomes apparent faster than other characters. Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to various takes on him, from Ennis’s run to Berenthal’s portrayal on Daredevil. And as a fan of Becky Cloonan, I knew I wanted to check this book out.

To begin with, the art here is pitch perfect. Dillon is an old hand at Punisher, and his eye for both subtle composition details and gruesome violence continues to be a great fit. No one draws grimaces like Steve Dillon, and he handles the heavy load of dialogue in the first half of the issue with aplomb, never slowing down the pace more than the team intends to. It’s also nice having a seasoned vet on the art because, for better or worse, it draws a tighter focus on the story beats.

And the story Cloonan has written is superb so far. On first read, it feels like she’s taking the tactic of the Punisher as an outside, unstoppable force, and focusing on the supporting cast, from criminals to a D.E.A. squad investigating them, as the emotional core. Indeed, Frank Castle doesn’t say a word this entire issue. But a scene where he’s confronted by a former commanding officer who’s spent his time since as a mercenary belies a little more complexity. Castle seemingly lets the man go, in exchange for a dossier of info on the gang he’d been working with. Castle’s brazen attack on the gang also comes just before a planned D.E.A. raid he was fully aware of. The story places the Punisher firmly in a larger context of crime and investigation, and explores how he affects that context. It’s a solid job of showing, not telling, where other writers might drown the page in internal monologue. Punisher is a driven force of violence against criminals, but he’s not mindless. Cloonan just trusts the reader to analyze him and come to conclusions of their own.

I hadn’t planned on subscribing to a new Punisher book, and my tolerance for the kind of ultraviolence the character requires is a little low. Still, I was thoroughly impressed by this first outing, and I’ll probably find myself coming back for more.

Thanks for reading about what we’re reading! We’ll be back next week with a slew of suggestions from across the comics spectrum. In the meantime, what are you reading? Tell us in the comments section, on Twitter or on our Facebook Page!

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