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Comic Book / Beasts of Burden

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A supernatural horror/adventure comic series from Dark Horse Comics. It follows the residents of Burden Hill, a picturesque small town that seems to attract plenty of paranormal activity. Luckily there is a society whose sole duty is to defend against these various evil forces, with the only catch being that this society is made up of dogs (and one cat).

Originally starting as a series of short comics that were released online and in a few anthologies, it has received its own limited run, and even got a hardcover omnibus. Written by Evan Dorkin with colors by Jill Thompson, the pacing, art, and script are all top-notch, with it already becoming a popular (if low-profile) new property.

It was recently announced that Shane Acker would be doing a CGI-animated film based on the property.


This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Abusive Owners, in this case. Rex's owner is a drunk who beats him. Potentially accounts for him being such a Cowardly Lion.
  • Adult Fear: Everyone's blood freezes at the stating of a single sentence: "My children are missing."
  • All Therapists Are Muggles: In the first issue, Jack's owners visit a pet psychic to find out what's wrong with him. She says he wants more affection, but he really just wants to be able to get a good night's sleep.
  • All Witches Have Cats: At least, the ones seen all had a cat as a familiar.
  • Amputation Stops Spread: Dymphna is bitten on the tail by a dog zombie, but she survives because a rat shaman discovers her plight and gnaws off her tail. However, it's not out of kindness but Pragmatic Villainy (since she's a witch), and they force her to help them achieve world conquest.
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  • And I Must Scream: The demon Harrow kept Dymphna's clan mates trapped in her home for months; furious that he was stuck in her incantation circle, he was unable to physically harm them, but instead corrupted the house, spoiling the food and water and infecting those living in it. Even when the cats tried to kill themselves, he prevented them from dying, and when they clawed their eyes out, he still made sure they'd see him even when he allowed them to sleep.
  • And This Is for...
  • Animalistic Abomination: The aggregate demon.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted without a whole lot of attention drawn. Apparently none of the dogs are neutered. Also, while impersonating a female cat the Orphan is told to keep his tail down to avoid blowing his cover.
  • Animal Stereotypes: A bit, but it's mostly for comedy and the characters have other attributes.
  • Anyone Can Die: Or at least a fair few Mauve Shirts can.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Pugs.
  • Artifact Title: The Wise Dogs Society became this the moment they let a cat in. Admittedly it is the first time they appear to have done so, and it's mentioned that their numbers are lower than usual.
  • Asshole Victim: The teen that steals and kills puppies and other small animals. You feel more sorry for his parents than him when Hazel's puppies possess the other dogs and rip his throat out.
  • Author Appeal: This isn't the first supernatural comic Evan Dorkin has written, he used to be a writer/penciler on the comic book adaption of The Real Ghostbusters.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The end of "A Dog And His Boy" ends with this. After the climax Ace is approached by a black female dog, and then it cuts to the nameplate from Ace's doghouse lying on the ground, making you think that the other dog was the Black Dog and that Ace had died. Then the viewpoint goes inside the house and we see Ace, badly injured, but alive.
  • Beast with a Human Face: The elder wise dogs encounter a pack of raccoons with human faces, devouring a dead creature.
  • Big Bad: A still unknown entity that has set up residence in Burden Hill, drawing other evils to the town.
  • Big Ball of Violence
  • Big Damn Heroes: See Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!.
    • the humans who show up and easily dispatch the werewolf.
  • A Cat in a Gang of Dogs: The Wise Dogs Society has a cat member.
  • Cats Are Mean: Seems to be setting up in the first issue, when the Orphan is dismissive about the rumors about the Wise Dogs, and again with the witches' cats and some of the Orphan's friends. But the Orphan while snarky is actually insightful and typically quite willing to help.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: Metaphorically used, thus far the cats tend to have a higher chance of getting away from the Monster of the Week than the dogs. Personified by "The Getaway Kid", a tomcat who is infamous for this.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The puppies in "Lost" all suffered this by the sadistic teen that killed them, being shoved into cages and boxes, chained to rocks, and everything else before being tossed into a pond to drown. They are... not happy about this.
  • Cowardly Lion: Rex.
  • Crossover: With Hellboy.
  • Dark Magical Girl: Dymphna
  • Dating Catwoman: Orphan and Dymphna.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Orphan. The other characters have their moments too.
    "I feel safer already."
  • Demonic Possession: The ghost puppies possess Rex and Ace and their mother to take brutal vengeance on their murderer.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Well, a pug named Pugsley.
  • Domino Revelation: Ghosts, zombies, vampires, you get the point.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Orphan, essentially.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: The dog zombies.
  • Foreshadowing / Harsher in Hindsight:
    Whitey: W-witches?
    Pugs: Yeah. An' demon cats. An' later we'll have werewolves.
    • In "A Dog and His Boy," a newspaper lands on Pugsley's face. The main article is about a pair of teens killed in the woods by a wild animal.
  • Exact Words: When the demon Harrow agreed not to harm even a single hair to those who remain, he was sincere... but that still meant that the other demons in Hell below wouldn't be able to.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: The ghost sheep the society encounters; to everyone except Jack, they look like normal sheep, but to Jack they appear like how they looked at their moment of death, and since they all burned to death...
    "He can see." "I'm afraid so. The poor thing..."
  • Functional Magic
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Used in concert with Nothing Is Scarier.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Possibly Dymphna, in an Anti-Hero kind of way.
  • Heroes "R" Us: The Wise Dogs Society, though it's a volunteer thing, and seems to have been around for a while.
  • Heroic Dog: Most of the cast, but in particular Ace.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Dymphna the familiar lures the zombie dogs in front of an oncoming truck to put them down.
    Pugs: She's nuts! Don't she see that truck?
    Orphan: Don't worry, Pugs. She sees it.
  • Hero of Another Story: The human mercenaries that pulled a Deus ex Machina and killed the werewolf, implying something like the Wise Dogs Society exists for humans too.
  • Howling to the Night: The best way for the cast to communicate over a distance.
  • Infant Immortality: Completely averted. It doesn't matter what species or age you are, you have equal chance of meeting a grisly end in this series.
  • In Medias Res
  • Interspecies Adoption: Of a sort. The Boy Ace adopts is at least a teenager, but they take him in like any other stray.
  • Invisibility: Once, the society faced off against a huge reptilian monster capable of turning itself invisible that's terrorizing the Hill. It's apparently not just able to become invisible, but can also hide its scent.
  • Locked into Strangeness: A really weird example; Digger's entire face turns from black to white after he sees his owner get torn apart by dirt Golems.
  • Magical Native American: The "boy who talks" gives no explanation for why he can use Animal Speak beyond that his people do it.
  • Magnetic Plot Device: The town itself, for reasons yet to be revealed. Fanon has posited a Hell Gate situation, considering the nature of a lot of the events, but it's still not very clear.
  • The Masquerade: With the animals for the humans.
  • Mature Animal Story: The characters are all talking animals and the series is generally light-hearted, but it's certainly not for kids, as there is copious gore, swearing, human and animal death, adult story-lines, and the occasional doggy genitalia.
  • Mauve Shirt
  • The Men in Black: the humans who kill the werewolf.
  • The Mentor: Any Wise Dog.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Or in Orphan's case, his first three did.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Rex does a Big Damn Heroes to save the Orphan from a cat goddess, but at the time he was supposed to be keeping an eye on a captured witch-familiar cat. The cat escapes while he's off saving the day and causes them a lot of trouble later on... although she does try to fix what she did, and seems to have pulled a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Non-Human Undead: The zombie dogs in that one issue.
  • Nothing Is Scarier
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Very. Silver bullets still work though.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The ghost puppies on their killer.
  • Raising the Steaks: The zombie dogs.
  • Rascally Raccoon: One is encountered that seems basically psychotic, but the next page shows it's very young, and its mother is streetwise and much more levelheaded. He later reappears, and reluctantly assists the cats in opening a charmed door and later, tries to go up against a powerful demon.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Rat King included.
    Orphan: Holy god. Please tell me you're a skinny muskrat.
  • Scenery Porn: Jill Thompson's watercolors are pure eye candy.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Rex does this a few times, fitting in with his Cowardly Lion status. Pugs suggests this very often, but doesn't actually follow through.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Pugs.
  • Sixth Ranger: All of the cats who get mixed up with the Wise Dogs are regarded as this. And then there's Dymphna.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Bunnicula, but for an older audience (and for those who aren't bothered by cute talking animals enduring horrific physical peril and scarring emotional trauma).
  • Teens Are Monsters: Hazel's puppies were the latest in a long string of victims by a serial animal killer. It's one of the rare instances where the threat wasn't supernatural.
  • Urban Fantasy
  • The War Has Just Begun: At the end of issue four.
  • Xenofiction: With admitted doses of anthropomorphism, it's still a good example of the genre.
  • You Dirty Rat!: A cult of rats living in the sewers are reoccurring antagonists.
  • You Have Failed Me: The cat goddess does this to her followers when Orphan sabotages their ritual.


Example of: