What do you do when your two talking dogs want wildly different bedtime stories? Well, if you’re mysterious storyteller Moll, you tell them the tale of the Warrior and the Battlepug, a story with enough cute, puggish antics to satisfy puppy-loving pug Mingo but enough monsters and mayhem for battle-hungry terrier Colfax.
The story-within-a-story features a nameless warrior of the pulp-fantasy barbarian mold, scarred and squinting and taciturn, who is on a quest to avenge his family and his village when he encounters a giant pug. This in itself is not terribly unusual, because his world is full of bizarrely huge animals – indeed, our hero’s village was destroyed by a baby harp seal the size of a stadium. The warrior learns, however, that some of these animals form bonds with humans who can then command their loyalty. This jibes with what he already knows: that a strange man with a scarred face seemed to be controlling the baby harp seal that razed his village. Now, the warrior must overcome his dislike for the dangerous giant animals of his world so that he can ride his faithful pug to victory.
This is volume one of this beautifully bizarre story, so the adventures clearly continue. The framing device, storyteller Moll, a voluptuous tattooed woman who lounges naked on her bed (naughty bits covered by strategically placed limbs or bedsheets), remains an enigma. Who is she, where is she (the setting seems reminiscent of an Arabian Nights story), and why is she telling stories to talking dogs? Perhaps later volumes will shed some light.
The artwork is fun, expressive, and detailed. The color is bold, but skillfully blended, the characters well-drawn and well-differentiated. Settings and backgrounds are full of lush fantastical detail, and the unusual characters fit nicely with them. This is a world where a warrior can have a serious quest for vengeance and he can ride out to that quest on an enormous bug-eyed pug.
Considering the amount of fighting that takes place here, gore is surprisingly absent. Sure, there are some blood spurts here and there, and certainly our hero gets thrown around a lot, but the drama is highlighted more than the actual violence. When our hero actually kills the rampaging baby harp seal, for example, the battle is only hinted at, not shown at all (more important to his vengeance will be locating and battling the seal’s scar-faced commander).
Moll’s nudity is prominent – she’s right there on the cover, prompting a passing friend of mine to grab the book and say, “I thought you reviewed graphic novels for KIDS!” There’s nothing frontal, though, and despite her lying naked on a bed, she shows no sign of sexual behavior. Just a naked person chatting with her dogs. Nothing to see here. (And nothing to see, nudity-wise, in the main story, either, unless you count the brief appearance of the rather icky Witch Toad, a semi-anthropomorphic and evil giant toad who is topless and, for whatever reason, has breasts. Icky, icky toad breasts. They’re certainly not presented in a sexual light, though – the witch toad is interested only in killing and eating villagers.) As of yet, there are no romance subplots (and indeed barely any female characters at all) in the story of the warrior and the battlepug.
In case it hasn’t come across already, this is a quirky story. Fans of not-too-serious fantasy and of indie comics will likely love it. They’ll also enjoy the funny introduction, which provides some background to the story’s creation, and the silly character sketches at the end of the book.
Battlepug, vol. 1
by Mike Norton
Art by Mike Norton, Allen Passalaqua, Chris Crank
Dark Horse, 2012