Few comics have more atmosphere to burn than Tyler Boss’ Dead Dogs Bite.
If you’ve ever seen a crime show, then you’ve probably heard the statistic that missing person cases are harder to solve after the first 48 hours. Cormac Guffin has been missing three days There should be a real sense of urgency, then, when Dead Dog’s Bite #1 begins with its own Rod Serling-type announcing, “We’re short on time” only to have the 9-panel grid stop early at 8 panels.
Dead Dog’s Bite #1 isn’t a comic that musters urgency so much as atmosphere, though, and is atmosphere enough to carry a series? If Dead Dog’s Bite #1 was serious about not wanting to waste time for example, you wouldn’t see more 9-panel grids after that but cutting that page short was all show. There are plenty more 9-panel grids where that came from.
The first issue begins with Cormac’s best friend, Joe, as she tries to light a fire under the people of Pendermills. Whether they’re actually not taking Cormac’s case seriously or that’s just Joe’s perception of their efforts, her impatience is reaching boiling point and by her estimation, no one seems to be doing enough to find Cormac except her.
It does make a difference, though, when you realize the person gluing photos of Cormac on all the milk cartons at the grocery store isn’t a friend of Cormac’s but a local cop. A friend doing that could be sweet but when that’s the best the police can do, it doesn’t inspire much confidence (though the fact that Joe is in one of the photos and wearing a Little Red Riding Hood coat does make you wonder if she isn’t metaphorically lost, too).
What Tyler Boss achieves the most with this series is a sense that the citizens of Pendermills aren’t in control of their actions. At the grocery store, for instance, Boss makes sure to include an overhead shot of Joe walking down the aisle, so you get to see that the floor looks like a chess board from above. If you’ve ever read Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, the stage directions in that play are really specific for how each character moves – like pieces on a chess board – and visually, Boss manages to create the same effect.
Determination doesn’t mean new clues are going to reveal themselves, however, which is why no matter how hard Joe tries to chase leads, Pendermills’ inertia is tough to shake. Mysteries might stall in real life, but fiction stories can’t always afford to, and while it might’ve been overkill to end on a cliffhanger, Boss doesn’t really end the first issue with anything to propel readers onto the next one. There’s that entrancing and odd atmosphere, and that’s not nothing. Watching a guy laugh at his own joke for four panels might not do much for the plot but it does show off Boss’ prowess as a letterer and tell you exactly what it’s like to live in Pendermills, but a mystery needs developments, and Dead Dog’s Bite #1 doesn’t quite have the balance right yet, between atmosphere (those off-kilter colors!) and plot.
Dead Dog’s Bite #1 goes on sale March 3rd from Dark Horse Comics.