Battlepug vol. 1 HC – Mike Norton

3 out of 5

‘Battlepug’ is in metal font; Mike Norton’s bright, poppy, classic comic stylings depict a Conan dude riding a giant pug while a naked, tattooed lass looks out at us with a smile.  If the cover has succeeded in making you grin, you’re good to go.  But even if it hasn’t – if you’re rolling your eyes at naked chick, let’s say – you owe it a chance, as Norton kicks some assumptions you might be making in the nards and then goes on to populate his borne-from-a-sketchbook concept with actual, like, narrative.  Where most people would ride the wake of the funny setup for as long as possible – which likely wouldn’t be very long – Norton goes story first, pug-riding second, giving us context for his barbarian and steed.

Moll is naked for this whole thing, rolling about on her bed, bedecked in a carefully placed blanket, but it’s a quirky riff on cheesecake: she’s actually our storyteller, entertaining her two talking dogs with a tale she promises involves magic and pugs.  So at no point is this about Moll, or about focusing on her pinup status; she’s in charge, and she’s just hanging out, presumably in the nude because duh it’s comfy that way.  And the story she’s telling?  But of course: it’s that of the warrior.

Last of his tribe; seeks revenge; yadda yadda.  The primary plot is a variant of one you’ve heard before.  But setting this above some similar creatives (Eric Powell very much comes to mind for his occasional embrace of the absurd) is how Mike somehow grounds his ridiculous details – like giant seals, and a slave-driving Santa – so that they feel relevant to the story.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: this is all very, very, dumb still, and very much just for fun, but what Mike seemingly executes so casually is often a chore for others.

Issued in an oversized hardcover by Dark Horse, with some sketches as extras.