Owen Michael Johnson & John Pearson released their small press sensation into the wild back in 2015 with a launch/exhibition and that journey comes to an end with the release of the double-sized Finale this Saturday……..but thankfully that’s not an April Fools.
Beast Wagon is a series I’ve followed since the beginning and having recently interviewed the creative team about the success of the series it’s a mixture of happy & sad to see the completed final issue. While chapters #1, 2, 3 & 4 already introduced a new level of consistency wrapped in a story that got the best out of writer Owen, artist John & letterer Colin Bell it’s no wonder that the its grown in popularity during its run.
This fifth chapter gives us a frantic opening as chaos ensues within the confines of Whipsnarl Zoo but with organized animals and terrified humans the action begins to spill out into the real world beyond the caged walls. The thing with Beast Wagon in every issue so far is that it never really takes the direction you expect and there is always a shock or a moment of clarity that’s just a page turn away. The same is true of this final issue as the animal casualties begin to build and the creative team are obviously having fun while they charge through with the unflinching momentum of creativity.
Each injury or death comes with a strong sense of loss or a cataclysmic impact on the quest for freedom and there’s even division in the ranks that see the animals turn against each other as the authorities flood in to gain control of the situation. The same level of crushing death & deadpan humour becomes a stranger and more jarring blend in this issue but given the chaos it’s coming from it’s just another element that the creative team are able to use to push those comic creating boundaries even further than they have already.
There’s a slick flashback moment later in this issue that is eased into the story as a moment of connection between human & animal strengthens the deeper elements that have been present in Beast Wagon from the beginning. A poignant message that shows that the archaic treatment of animals may have moved from the likes of Circuses and into the far more clinical world of zoo’s but the ability for mistreatment is still the same. Giving the animals a voice is a genius move and they almost act as the voice of reason in a crazy world but the status quo needs to be reclaimed with things closing out to a somewhat unexpected but fitting end.
Beast Wagon has been a complete revelation after hitting us with a strong & powerful opener and then to build on that issue after issue until this finale. We end up with a multi-layered story that covers everything from social hierarchies to self-induced hallucinations and while the cast of humans & animals start off divided, the drives among them become far more alike than we would have initially expected. Owen & John have brought us an energetic world that’s equal parts madness & sense, and in the context of the story and the world we find ourselves in today that becomes a refreshing slice of honesty captured in the paneled pages of a comic.
Artistically you can see an exponential improvement from John as an experimental feel in some of the early issues becomes a very definite and flawless approach to storytelling with a rich set of colours to breathe life into the pages with a familiar glow. Colin Nails it again on letters and while he seems to have more narrative & speech to tackle amidst the chaos of this final issue, he still manages to work it in and let the art shine through. If this IS the last Beast Wagon issue then I can safely say the creative team have gone out on a high with a fitting end to one of the best comics around, be that small press or mainstream. Take a bow team……take a bow.
You can get hold of the final issue or the whole series bundle over on the Changeling Studios website now.