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Published July 22, 2014

When I saw the cover of this comic, featuring werewolves and art by Riley Rossmo, I got excited. I’m generally a fan of Rossmo’s, and his work in werewolf series Curse was easily the best part of the series. Unfortunately this turned out to be a similar situation: the best part of this comic may have been its cover.

Issue 1 cover by Riley Rossmo
Issue 1 cover by Riley Rossmo

I’m a sucker for werewolf stories, and with its attempt at liberal-leaning social commentary, in theory this comic should have been for me. Writer Jeremy Holt opens with a werewolf being attacked by the KKK, and if that was too subtle for you, the characters throw around broad statements about hate and The American Way, to say nothing of lines like “let’s show this abomination who’s top dog!” Groan. We can infer pretty quickly that Jasper, the loner sensitive type in a family of bigots, will turn out to be our werewolf, and it’s a bit weird that the story draws this early parallel between a werewolf and the other victims of the KKK – even if he proves himself to be a nice werewolf, he’s still literally a monster and I don’t think attacking a monster, no matter how gentle, is the same as attacking a human being belonging to a minority group.

The plot progresses like you’d expect; Jasper’s father and older brother talk about how much they hate people who are unlike them, Jasper is attacked by a wolf, and ignored by the girl who likes him at school. When Jasper’s attacked by a group Black students for “looking at their women,” his dad decides to engage in some father-son bonding by getting some old-fashioned KKK-style revenge.

The plot is essentially a mishmash of clichés; lycanthropy as a metaphor for blossoming confidence (and puberty) for the teenage loner; the old-fashioned and bigoted American South; the older and more “normal” sibling forcing his values on the younger outsider. It’s all stuff we’ve seen before, and while I don’t mind stories using tropes if they’re having fun with them, this just feels uncreative. The dialogue reads like a caricature, and the bigotry loses some efficacy when there’s no nuance; hate is most sinister when it’s concealed or surprising, when someone seems like a good person and is unexpectedly revealed to hold awful prejudices. When bigotry is so easy to spot and talks like the rich Texan from The Simpsons, it loses most of its ability to truly horrify.

Southern Dog 1

Given the liberal bent of the story, I would have expected that the characters of colour – who the cartoonishly evil antagonists degrade at any opportunity – would have been more complex, but they too read as generic “thug” characters from any Hollywood B-movie. The story would have been more compelling and more effective if Holt could have written characters as slightly more multifaceted; as it is, their broadness renders them little more than cartoons, and I guess we’re supposed to come out of this believing that all humanity is irredeemable, besides maybe this bland teenager who narrates.

Alex Diotto’s art is serviceable, although not my choice stylistically as far as horror goes; it’s definitely not enough to redeem the story and dialogue. There’s a good idea in there somewhere, setting a movie-monster against humans who reveal themselves to be the real monsters, and it could have been a great story if executed with any subtlety. As it is, it’s probably not worth your time.

Southern Dog #1 will be released in August 2014 from Action Lab Entertainment.

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