BY MATT TUCK
Stray Dogs #5 will manipulate your emotions and have you wishing the ride could last forever. It would be a travesty for this series not to make it to the screen.
STRAY DOGS #5
Written by Tony Fleecs
Art by Trish Forstner
Stray Dogs is a contradiction when you think about it.
On one hand, it follows the plot of most serial killer/slasher suspense stories that have been a staple of movie theaters for decades. Yet, it defies all expectations and leads the reader along on an adrenaline ride that will have you chewing your nails. By the time you reach the fifth issue, it’s a roller coaster; you want it to come to a stop, but you don’t want to stop the rush, either.
One of the things that I appreciated most about the entirety of Stray Dogs is that Fleecs and Forstner provided a genuine horror/suspense story that relied on tone and mood rather than gore. Whether it is novels, films, or comics, creators tend to mistake severed limbs, blood splatters, and squeamishness for a good story. While blood and guts can be used effectively in the right scenarios, Stray Dogs reminds us that tension is most effective with the right atmosphere rather than simply disturbing images with little to no emotional context.
While keeping the same pulse-pounding rhythm as the previous four issues, Stray Dogs #5 offered something a little different: characterization. Despite the main characters being animals, this issue gives an introspective look specifically at Earl, the elder statesman of the group who defends what he views as his loving master. While this has been happening for a couple of issues, SD #5 paints a more vivid portrait, allowing us to see Earl as a puppy bonding with the man only known as the Master.
In any other context, I would probably shy away from the Disney art. However, the cute-and-cuddly atmosphere draws you into each dog, and naturally makes them easily sympathetic. They’re so adorable that you can’t resist your heart melting when you see them. Fleecs and Forstner take full advantage of the audience’s emotions and make you care what happens to these dogs. When Earl finally comes around and sees the Master for who he truly is, I found myself cheering for the Master’s undeserved faithful companion. Again, it’s nothing that I had never seen before, but I couldn’t help being hooked, and I loved every second of it.
Just like any good horror/suspense movie, the ending is left ambiguously enough to keep you guessing if the story is really over. No, you don’t see a hand pop out of a grave or anything that obvious and cliche, but the final panels will leave a question mark hanging over your head.
A ROLLERCOASTER OF A COMIC
From the first issue, the pacing of the story has been Stray Dogs’ strongest attribute. In a longer format, say a movie or television show, it would make sense to reveal the heartbreaking exposition one step at a time. We would likely get much more time spent on examining the relationships between the dogs and their former owners to build the emotional bonds of the characters with the audience.
For a five-issue series, revealing the backstory through momentary flashbacks, accentuated by a dogs’ natural short-term memory, fills in the gaps without slowing down the plot. Over all five issues, it feels like you’re watching a slasher movie unfold in the pages, and that is not the easiest trick to pull off in a comic where it is all too easy to get bogged down in exposition.
By the conclusion to Stray Dogs, Fleecs held tight to the suspense movie origins. While that could have easily dipped into the land of cliches and cornballs, the Disney mystique of the series helped it avoid feeling like just another Michael Myers ripoff. As Fleecs and Forstner have done throughout all five issues, it’s the twist in the storytelling that keeps it fresh and different.
THE LASTING IMPACT
I would not be surprised to see a hundred Stray Dogs copycats appear on the radar in the next year or two. Whenever a creator puts a unique spin on an old favorite, it is destined to spawn duplicates, some more inspired than others. Over time, Stray Dogs will stand as the original and hold a dear place in fans’ hearts.
This is such a trendsetting comic that it is bound for a streaming service, and fans will rejoice on the day that happens.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.