Publisher: Changeling Studios
Writer: Owen Michael Johnson
Illustrator: John Pearson
Letterer: Colin Bell
Release Date: 1st April, 2016
And so we reach the final instalment of John Pearson and Owen Michael Johnson’s Beast Wagon. A double-sized finale, no less. With the pressure cooker that is Whipsnarl Zoo finally exploding in the closing pages of the previous issue, this concluding chapter sees all hell breaking loose in a frenzied riot of teeth, claws and brutality.
Before I start on the artwork, I just want to quickly say one thing: the fact that John Pearson isn’t being inundated with offers from the biggest publishers in the world on a daily basis is nothing short of an absolute crime. And with that in mind, his work here is, dare I say it, his best yet. Swirling, intentionally disorientating layouts and expressive characters mix with a heady, almost visceral use of colour throughout to create a truly unique aesthetic. Just a quick glance at the preview pages below should confirm what a lot of us already knew – Pearson is the real deal. His work here as he injects “humanity”, for better or worse, into the animal inhabitants of Whipsnarl is truly sublime, and he once again provides several legitimately poster-worth splash pages along the way, just for good measure.
The darkly comic notes are still here, albeit heavily subdued amidst the blood-soaked carnage of the riot. Beloved characters fall at an almost dizzying pace, keeping the reader reeling from the first page to the last. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the actual specifics of what happens, as this is clearly a conclusion better experienced first-hand, but suffice to say that all of the plot threads which Johnson and Pearson have toyed with during the preceding three chapters are tied up – or in some cases brutally severed – over the course of this final issue.
Once again however, it’s worth noting that Beast Wagon is so much more than just a beautifully illustrated, darkly comic story about talking animals in a fictional zoo. Pearson and Johnson have injected their narrative with the urgency of real world issues throughout the course of the series, and that trend most certainly continues here. Domestic abuse, societal and class injustice, religion, racism – all of these are examined through the prism of the animals and their handlers, and while it’s the images that will undoubtedly grab the reader’s attention in the short-term, the underlying themes and messages explored in Beast Wagon are likely to resonate in the subconscious for far longer.
Ultimately, if you’ve got this far into the series, you’ll be in no doubt as to just how essential a purchase this final issue is. And if you haven’t experienced Beast Wagon yet, then you really owe it to yourself to remedy that as a matter of urgency (see below), as this is unquestionably one of the most polished, visually and narratively striking comics I’ve had the pleasure of reading in my five-odd years as a comic reviewer. Highest of recommendations.
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The Beast Wagon finale – as well as the first four issues in the series – is currently available to pre-order from the Changeling Studios online store.