Pullbox Reviews Hound- The dogs of war have been let loose in a WWI graphic novel from Mad Cave Studios

  • Hound
  • Mad Cave Studios
  • Written by Sam Romesburg & Sam Freeman
  • Illustrated by Rodrigo Vázquez
  • Letters by Justin Birch
  • Published February 28, 2024
  • Paperback/Graphic Novel 96 pages
  • ISBN: 9781952303784

During World War I, a young soldier is assigned to one of the most deadly areas along the western front. However, he finds the greatest threat to his life lies not with the enemy, but with a cult formed by his own men.

Found nestled and protected within a den of wolves, the journal of Private Barrow, a fresh young soldier drafted into Britain’s royal army during the height of World War I, meticulously and explicitly recounts the events that lead to his death. However, where most men are sent to the trenches, Barrow was sent to a place known only to him as the “gas quarter” — a patch along the western front known for incessant mustard gas attacks. Our story and the journal both begin with Barrow’s introduction to the unit occupying the quarter — a group referred to by the top brass as “The Hounds,” a nickname earned by the appearance of their long-snouted gas masks. Immediately, Barrow is shaken by the sight of them and is soon pulled into a hell that can only come from the savage horror of war.

I’m a little behind on this one, and I’m ashamed to admit that I kind of passed over it at first. I took it for a World War I story and when it came across my email I just wasn’t looking for that kind of thing to read. When I finally sat down to look at it, I got what I thought it was going to be- a story about what war does to good people- and about a yard and a half more.

The Sams (Romesburg & Freeman) start with an opening that I kinda compare to the HBO series, Band of Brothers. There was an episode called “Replacements”, in which fresh recruits were shipped in to replace soldiers that had been killed in action. In Hound, Private William Barrow arrives at the Western Front and is assigned to the Hounds, a squad patrolling the “gas quarter”. Among this group of battle-hardened veterans, the young and innocent Barrow feels out of place in ways that he can’t even conceive.

This story works, going above and beyond by building on the isolation felt by every rookie on their first day. Barrow doesn’t know anyone, has no idea where they’ve been or what they’ve done to get there, but is dropped into their midst with a pat on the back and a “godspeed, soldier”. The Sams take Barrow’s confusion, douse it in lighter fluid, and toss in a lit match. What we get then is the story of a fresh-faced young lad who finds out that war isn’t about honor, duty, and “fighting the good fight”. It’s about finding out what needs to be done to survive and figuring out how to live with it all after.

Rodrigo Vázquez comes in & emphasizes all of the grime and muck of trench warfare in WWI. His style is all rough lines and dingy colors, nothing clean or crisp to give the reader the impression that war is anything but dirty. There are panels of Barrow crawling through the mud that reminded me how great it is to be able to hop in a hot shower, and for an artist to be able to get that grimy feeling of muck & mildew across to the reader of a comic book is as good as it gets.

Following up on the visuals in the book, letterer Justin “I’m not a tree” Birch picks up where the script leaves off. Spoken dialogue, sound effects integrated into the artwork, letters from home, & most importantly Barrow’s own written journal entries serving as the story’s narration are all kept distinct without going too far into an over-stylized rabbit hole. The biggest peeve I have in comics is seeing a good story ruined by a letterer who’s trying too hard to show off their work. Birch is one whose name I recognize in the credits of a book, & I immediately relax without a worry for that particular trigger.

Fans of a good war story… readers looking for an entertaining but occasionally disturbing look into this chapter of world history… you’re all going to find something in the pages of Hound. For those of you who might be looking for something a little different… without giving anything away, I think the Sams have got you covered. Coming in at a lean 96 pages, this is a graphic novel well worth the investment in time and money.

Final Score: 11/13

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