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 in anthologies and later online, it expanded into a series of limited runs and one-shots. The entire series to date is collected in three omnibuses. Written by Evan Dorkin with colors by Jill Thompson, the pacing, art, and script are all top-notch, and it soon became a popular (if low-profile) new property.
In 2013, it was 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.
- Implied for the boy from "A Dog and His Boy" — he ran away from home, says he'd rather die than go back, and the story of his childhood and family is mostly "unpleasant and cruel."
- Ace's previous home is implied to have been abusive; he sympathizes with the boy, saying he wouldn't want to be sent back to his old home.
- 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.
- Emrys claims that he had to tear out his own eye to stop the spread of a basilisk's petrifying gaze. But that was apparently just a scary story to keep the puppies listening to him from getting into danger; he points out to Pugsley afterward that there's nothing wrong with his eyes — not that anyone could tell.
- 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. He repeatedly reanimated their den mother and made her attack them, forcing them to kill her over and over again. 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...: When the Orphan takes out the aggregate demon's eye.Orphan: This is for Fluffy, you big stinkin' pile of crap.
- Animalistic Abomination: The aggregate demon.
- Animal Religion: Dogs have their own mythology. The Great Dog appears to be a god figure, or at least has dominion over the afterlife, and the Black Dog is The Grim Reaper.
- 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.
- Animal Talk: Animals of different species can understand each other, but not humans.
- Analogy Backfire: In "Grave Happenings", Pugsley talking about how he doesn't trust Dymphna.Pugsley: Now she's supposed to be all okay an' crap. Well, I ain't buying it. Animals don't change their markings.
Whitey: Some lizards can ch—
Pugsley: Oh, shut up, Whitey! You know what I mean.
- Shortly after that, they run into Digger, whose face fur has turned from black to white with shock.Whitey: So weird. And Pugs was just saying animals can't change—
Pugsley: Would you shut up? I was talkin' 'bout that no-good witch cat!
- 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.
- Avengers, Assemble!: While the main characters had a few prior supernatural adventures, "The Gathering Storm" is when they are formally admitted into the Wise Dogs Society as junior apprentices, forming an official team.
- 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.
- Barrier Warrior: Lundy can cast a protective barrier.
- 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: In "The Unfamiliar", when the gang pounces on Dymphna to capture her.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- In "The Unfamiliar", Rex comes to the Orphan's rescue in the nick of time to keep him from getting sucked into a magical vortex.
- The humans who show up and easily dispatch the werewolf.
- In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, Miranda shows up with the salamander as planned, casting a fireball to attack the warlocks' camp.
- Blinded by the Light: In "Something Whiskered This Way Comes", Dymphna casts a spell to blind the rats with light so she and the Orphan can make a break for it.
- Body of Bodies: The aggregate demon is a giant frog made of smaller frogs.
- Book-Ends: "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" begins and ends with focus on a dead dog and a quote. (Warning for gore behind the links)
- A Cat in a Gang of Dogs: The main characters initially consist of five dogs and a cat. All six of them join the Wise Dog Society. Lampshaded in "Sacrifice", when they introduce themselves to Hellboy as junior apprentices of the Wise Dog Society:Hellboy: The cats, too?
Jack: Um. Yeah.
[Hellboy takes a drag on his cigar]
Hellboy: Okay. Got it.
- 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.
- Chain of People: In "The Unfamiliar", the dogs form a chain to stop the Orphan from getting sucked into a magical vortex.
- Cobweb Jungle: In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, the characters have to pass through a section of forest that is filled with the sticky silk of webworms.
- Combat Tentacles: The monster from Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men has many tentacles which it uses as instruments of impalement.
- Combination Attack: In "Grave Happenings". Fire creation + fire boosting = one toasted enemy.
- Cowardly Lion: Rex.
- Creepy Crows: The crows are antagonistic, being allied with the rat cult and "master".
- Crossover: With Hellboy in "Sacrifice".
- 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.
- Dating Catwoman: Orphan and Dymphna.
- Dead All Along: In "The View from the Hill", the gang encounters a herd of sheep and their sheepdog, who are soon revealed to be ghosts.
- Deadpan Snarker: Orphan. The other characters have their moments too.Orphan: I feel safer already.
- Defensive Feint Trap: The gang sets a trap for the invisible monster in "Hunters and Gatherers" by letting it chase them until they can lead it onto a bridge which collapses under its weight.
- Demonic Head Shake: Happens to Jack when he's possessed in "Lost".
- Demonic Possession: The ghost puppies possess Rex and Ace and their mother to take brutal vengeance on their murderer.
- Disease Bleach: In "Grave Happenings", the black dog Digger has a horrific supernatural encounter that leaves him in shock and turns the fur on his face white.
- Disney Death: In "A Dog and His Boy", Ace comes close to death, lying and bleeding in the snow. A black dog appears, seemingly the Grim Reaper figure mentioned earlier in the issue, but it turns out to be a wise dog apprentice who manages to help him.
- A Dog Named "Dog": Well, a pug named Pugsley.
- Domino Revelation: Ghosts, zombies, vampires, you get the point.
- Due to the Dead:
- In "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie", a dog is found dead on the side of a road, buried, and given a funeral.
- The gang drop flowers into the Devil's Well, where Hazel and the missing pets died.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In "Stray", Jack is able to understand human speech, namely the pet psychic talking to his owners. Later installments establish that normally, animals can not understand humans. In the letters column of "What the Cat Dragged In", Evan Dorkin points this out as something that was changed.
- The Empath: Brigid can scan for psychic impressions such as anger.
- Epigraph: "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" has a quote at the beginning and end.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Orphan, essentially.
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: The dog zombies.
- Foreshadowing: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.
- Eye Scream: The Orphan claws out the eye of the aggregate demon.
- Fainting Seer: Jack can get visions which cause him to collapse.
- Fear Is the Appropriate Response: In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, when the monster starts attacking, a warlock yells to the others not to panic and to stand their ground. Then the creature comes into full view.Lundy: Ah, no. Just no. Panic is exactly what's called for here.
- Fiery Salamander: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men opens with a forest fire that was caused by a fire elemental salamander.
- Fireball Eyeballs: Sometimes happens during the casting of fire spells.
- 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..."
- For Want of a Nail: In "Sacrifice", the giant stone golem raised by the villains is flawed, allowing Hellboy to take it down with ease. All because Pugsley peed on Karl's skull in defiance, tainting the blood magic.
- Full-Boar Action: Giant boars with two pairs of protruding tusks are used as mounts by the antagonists in Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men.
- Functional Magic
- Ghost Butler: In "What the Cat Dragged In", once the cats and Hoke get into the house, the door closes behind them, trapping them inside.
- Gilligan Cut: In "What the Cat Dragged In", when the cats try to get Hoke the raccoon to help them with opening a door.Hoke: This is stupid! Cats are stupid! And magic cats are the stupidest thing ever! I'm stayin' right here in my beautiful garbage, and that's that!
Hoke, holding doorknob: You owe me for this.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Used in concert with Nothing Is Scarier.
- When the Orphan is about to take out the aggregate demon's eye, the next panel shows the others fighting the demon with the eye-stuff raining down on them.
- When Ace kills Karl in the graveyard, instead of showing it, it switches to a Reaction Shot of the others.
- The Grim Reaper: The Black Dog from dog mythology, shepherdess of the dead who fetches the souls of the departed.
- Grumpy Old Man: Among the Wise Dogs, Lundy and Dempsey both give off this impression.Dempsey: Look at her. Wagging her tail, like it was a game in the park.
Brigid: Now, now, Dempsey, even you were young once.
Dempsey: Only once, Brigid. Then I got over it.
- Hand Gagging: In "The Presence of Others", Rex cuts off a rude retort from Pugsley by putting a paw over his muzzle.
- HeelFace 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.
- Hope Spot: In "Lost", Whitey manages to successfully cast a spell to get the ghosts surrounding them to leave, and Pugsley rejoices
before it turns out the ghosts went and possessed a bunch of nearby forest animals and are returning.Orphan: Holy crap. He did it.
Pugs: Whitey! I'll never make fun of you again! You're a goddamned wizard!
Orphan: Hey, wait a second. Shouldn't they have gone back into the water?
Whitey: Uhhh, guys? I don't think my spell worked
[menacing forest animal noices]
Pugs: OH, CRAP! Whitey, I take it back! You're a suck wizard!
- Horse of a Different Color: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men has giant boars being used as mounts.
- Howling to the Night: The best way for the cast to communicate over a distance.
- Human Sacrifice: The warlocks in Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men attempt one of these to awaken the serpent they worship.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, when the monster starts attacking the warlock camp, many of them are impaled on its tentacles.
- 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.
- Invisible Monsters: 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.
- Jacob Marley Apparel: The ghost sheep encountered in one issue died in a barn fire, so their true forms look like charred corpses.
- 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 Speaks Fluent Animal beyond that his people do it.
- Magnetic Plot Device: The town itself, for reasons yet to be fully explained. Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men reveals there's a "blood lure" drawing in supernatural forces, but the nature of the lure has yet to be made 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.
- Mind-Control Eyes: In "Lost", Jack's eyes go white when he acts as a Willing Channeler, and Ace, Rex, and Hazel get red eyes when they're involuntarily possessed.
- More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The monster from Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men is covered in toothy mouths, with the main one being packed with rows of teeth.
- My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Or in Orphan's case, his first three did.
- Mundanger: Most of the dangers the characters face are supernatural in nature. However, in "Lost", ultimately the source of the problem turns out to be a teenage boy who is secretly a serial animal killer.
- 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 HeelFace Turn.
- In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, the Big Damn Heroes moment ends up breaking the seal imprisoning the creature.Lundy: Lovely. After all that, we bloody go and do the job for them.
- Nightmare Sequence:
- In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, Miranda has a nightmare about Ace being dead with crows pecking at him while the others address her, blaming her for her absence.
- At the end of "The Presence of Others", Sabina has a nightmare about Burden Hill in an apocalyptic state.
- On a Scale from One to Ten: In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men:Lundy: Huh. I think I have an idea. It's a bit chancey, though.
Emrys: How chancey? Scale of ten.
Lundy: Ummm, twenty?
- The Order: The Wise Dogs Society, an old order of dogs dedicated to dealing with supernatural matters.
- Orwellian Retcon: The Black Dog is referred to as male in the original version of "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" (published in The Dark Horse Book of the Dead) and female in the republished version (in the collection Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites).
- Our Goblins Are Different: Goblins are small green troublesome creatures that will steal chickens for food. There are also lurkers, larger green creatures; and thornlings, small green spiky creatures that live among thorny vines.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: Very. Silver bullets still work though.
- Painting the Medium: Speech bubbles for spells have special shapes and sometimes colors. Ghosts speak with borderless wispy bubbles. Demons and other supernatural entities have unique speech bubbles as well.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: The ghost puppies on their killer.
- Playing with Fire: Miranda and Emrys can conjure fire. Dymphna can make fire more intense.
- Rain of Something Unusual: In "The Gathering Storm", it rains frogs.
- Raising the Steaks: The zombie dogs in "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie".
- 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.
- Rat King: The rat king, a bunch of rats joined by the tails.
- Reaction Shot:
- In "Stray", after the ghost dog tells her story, the next panel shows everyone teary-eyed.
- In "A Dog and His Boy", after the gang sees the boy tearing apart rabbits with his mouth and bare hands, the next panel is them looking on in shock and horror.
- In "Lost", after Hazel comes to the gang to report her missing children, the next panel shows them all concerned and on alert.
- In "Grave Happenings", as Ace tears into the man, it cuts away to show the others' disturbed reactions.
- Religion of Evil: The Brotherhood of the Red Serpent, a group of warlocks who worship "the great serpent" and slaughter humans and animals for their own ends.
- Rewrite: The Black Dog is referred to as male in the original version of "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" (published in The Dark Horse Book of the Dead) and female in all subsequent stories. The republished version of "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie" (in the collection Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites) refers to her as female as well.
- Right Behind Me:
- In "Grave Happenings" when Pugsley badmouths Dymphna.Miranda: You do realize she's in the trees above us, listening to everything we say?
- In the beginning of "What the Cat Dragged In" as the Orphan and Getaway Kid are spying on Dymphna and examining a rat she killed.Getaway Kid: Real ball of yarn, that girl. You sure know how to pick 'em.
Dymphna: [appearing behind them] You wouldn't be talking about me, now, would you?
- In "Grave Happenings" when Pugsley badmouths Dymphna.
- Rodents of Unusual Size:
- Some of the rat soldiers, Bloodletter included, are the size of small dogs.Orphan: Holy god. Please tell me you're a skinny muskrat.
- The ogre rat in "The Presence of Others" is bigger than a cow.
- Some of the rat soldiers, Bloodletter included, are the size of small dogs.
- Scenery Porn: Jill Thompson's watercolors are pure eye candy.
- Scooby Stack: In "The Unfamiliar", the dogs do this to peek out at a passing black cat.
- 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.
- Shapeshifter Mode Lock: In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, Tommy turns into a dog to escape the battle at the camp, but loses the collar that lets him transform, leaving him trapped in that form.
- Shock and Awe: Brigid can cast lightning.
- Shout-Out: In "The Presence of Others", Sabina's notes on the apprentices include: "Wait'll O.D.M hears! cats and dogs living together! mass hysteria!!" and the Ghostbusters logo.
- 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.
- Snow Means Death: In "A Dog and His Boy", Ace comes close to death in the snow. Luckily, help manages to arrive in time.
- Sour Supporter: Pugsley is always complaining, but joins the others on their supernatural adventures.Pugsley: [Huffing as he tries to keep up with the others] It's hard to run to your death on little legs—
Jack: God, Pugs, why don't you just stay home?
Pugsley: What, and miss all the fun?
- Speaks Fluent Animal: Normally, humans and animals cannot understand each other. It's a rare exception to find a human who can speak to animals, such as the witches, the Native American boy, Sabina, and Paul. Russell can understand them too if he's in contact with Sabina or Paul. The animals keep tabs on any human entering their town who they can understand.
- Species-Specific Afterlife: The ghost sheep in "The View from the Hill" explain that this is why they don't move on; they don't want to be separated from their sheepdog companion, and from what they've heard from him, the dog afterlife is dogs-only.Sheep: He's never mentioned any cats there, or sheep, or humans. Only dogs. When the end comes, and you leave this place Won't you miss your friend, if his path takes him somewhere else?
- 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).
- Strange-Syntax Speaker: The goblins have their own way of speaking, including differences in pronunciation (e.g. "aminals" for "animals", "cass" for "catch") and grammar.Goblin: You dead, cat! Dead an' et up in me belly!
- Supernatural Team: The main characters are a team that investigates and deals with local supernatural occurrences.
- Swarm of Rats: The sewer rats are usually encountered in swarms.
- Taken for Granite: The basilisk in "Story Time" petrified all the enemies that approached its tower, until the surrounding grounds were crammed with the stony bodies of its victims. This is also the fate of Bítan, the heroic dog in the story.
- Team Hand-Stack: A variant — when the main characters are inducted into the Wise Dogs Society, they put their paws forward in a circle.
- 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.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: The beginning of "Lost" sees the gang listening to "supernatural" reports from various neighborhood dogs. One reports a loud neighbor cat, one saw the Great Dog in a bowl of food, two report an urban legend about a killer tree, and another speaks about having been microchipped as if it were an alien abduction.
- Together in Death: Hazel is reunited with her pups in death.
- Tongue Trauma: In "The Gathering Storm", the dogs bite and hold onto the frog demon's tongue when it attacks them with it.
- Too Many Mouths: The monster in Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men has one main mouth at the front, and multiple mouths along its sides.
- Urban Fantasy
- Urine Trouble:
- In "Sacrifice", Pugsley pees on Karl's talking skull in defiance, which inadvertently ends up being the key to victory as it taints the blood ritual.
- In Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men, Lundy pees on one of the warlocks' symbols that's been carved into a tree.
- The War Has Just Begun: At the end of "Grave Happenings".Miranda: Things are on the move. Terrible things.
Pugsley: What the hell does that mean?
Ace: It means we may have won the fight—but the war's just begun.
- Willing Channeler: In "Lost", Jack acts as one to the ghosts of Hazel's puppies, so they can speak through him.
- 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. Subverted by some rats encountered aboveground who emphasize that they don't follow the rat king or the "master".
- You Have Failed Me: The cat goddess does this to her followers when Orphan sabotages their ritual.
- Your Head A-Splode: One of Lundy's spells has this effect.