If I hadn’t read the “Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites” collection earlier this year and utterly fallen in love with the book, I might’ve had my doubts on “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy.” Sure, there have been some good crossovers with “Hellboy” in the past; I’m quite fond of “Hellboy/Ghost,” and “Batman/Hellboy/Starman” was far better than such a strange mash-up of characters ever should have turned out. But since I had already read “Beasts of Burden” I wasn’t worried, because it’s probably one of the best comics I’ve read this year. And in the case of “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy,” we’ve got a true rarity in comic book crossovers; two books working together and each bringing their A-game to the plate for a truly satisfying comic.
Evan Dorkin’s script (with assistance from Mike Mignola) brings everything that you should want to life, here. We’ve got a courageous group of dogs (plus two cats) who fight supernatural horrors that are a wonderful mixture of heroic, cowardly, opportunistic, and funny. There are monsters that progressively grow in strength and danger as the book progresses. And there’s Hellboy’s trademark personality, a mixture of surprise and acceptance that makes him so likable. When Hellboy first gets the rundown on the group, there’s a great moment where he stops, takes a drag on his cigar, and then just says, “Okay. Got it.” It was that exact moment in “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy” where I found myself nodding and smiling, because I knew that this book was going to deliver everything I’d wanted and more.
Strictly from a plotting sense, Dorkin brings the goods to the comic. It’s carefully thought out, each new plot beat building on the previous events and letting the amount of danger build and grow. Things may start off simple enough, but by the end the big monsters are out and about. Dorkin also doesn’t let the book rely on any either half of the team-up to do all of the heavy lifting; sometimes the animals are the ones who stop the villains, sometimes it’s Hellboy, often it’s a combination of the two. And with each victory, it feels fair and logical; there’s no deus ex machina going on here, instead each win makes perfect sense.
Dorkin and Mignola also have cracking dialogue in “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy.” Each of the dogs and cats have their own specific speech patterns and delivery, and Hellboy sounds true to form. “Beasts of Burden” is often noted for being much creepier and dark than people expected, but it’s worth noting here that it is also often quite funny. Dorkin and Mignola play off each other well here, and I’d love to see more collaborations between the pair. (And if that’s not enough, there’s even an explanation provided for how the two books are able to team-up despite not co-existing, and in a way that feels natural and adds one final little twist of the knife to the heart for the reader.)
Jill Thompson’s painted art looks great here, not that it’s any huge surprise. I love that she can switch from bright greens and reds, to dark and muddy grays and browns as the script dictates. Seeing her paint Hellboy was a pleasant end result; he’s still got that big blocky body that Mignola designed many years ago, but he has just a bit of Thompson’s smoothness and grace that we’re used to. The dogs and cats are adorable as always, flouncing and darting across the page, but still looking determined and fierce when the moment calls for it. Watching Pugs ride around on Hellboy ends up looking so adorable that I want entire books centered around that concept, and that’s even when Hellboy is smashing skulls and punching golems. Don’t underestimate the creepy nature of “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy,” though. When the witch has kidnapped one of the crew, it’s a genuinely chilling moment thanks to Thompson’s art, with her hair slowly transforming into the bones of the earth and the darkness radiating out, for example. Thompson can bring the horror when she needs to, and the end result? Gorgeous.
For all intents and purposes, this comic is “Beasts of Burden” #5, and it’s a welcome return. I didn’t think it was possible to fall in love with “Beasts of Burden” even more, but I was wrong. With Halloween around the corner, we’ve all gotten an amazing treat in the form of “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy.” I doubt you’ll find a more satisfying comic this week.