Black Shuck vol. 1 & 2 (pkgd. w/ JD Meg #418 – 419) – Leah Moore and John Reppion

1 out of 5

I started up with floppy copies of 2000 AD and the Megs – outside of reading collections of particular storylines – in the early-ish 2010s, so definitely into the “modern” reign of the mags.  I missed the so-called dark years, and I don’t have decades of issues under my belt to recall all-time standouts or failures.  During my relatively short exposure time, though, Black Shuck was the first thrill that I actively disliked.  I’d read other thrills that didn’t appeal, and that I didn’t necessarily consider quality, but I accepted why / how they might appeal to other readers.  Black Shuck I couldn’t suss out those exceptions, and I groaned when it returned for a second round, even though that second round was a little bit better than the first.  But overall: it still was quite a miss, excepting some good Steve Yeowell art (in part 2) and an underlying concept that had promise, bungled in execution.  I didn’t like it in weekly installments, and I really didn’t like reading it all collected together.  (Which, for the record, I think can make a difference, which is why it can be worth the time to give double readings a shot.)

Black Shuck is an attempt to marry some folklore concerning a monstrous black dog to an imgined story of a curse (which renders a man into the ‘Black Shuck’ dog – visualized as more of a bear) and how it affected early 800s Norse history via putting the beast in the middle of warring kings.  Volume one – the first part of the story – flips back and forth to tell how Shuck gained these powers and used them to best another monster and gain some followers, and then volume two in which that newly gathered crew protect Shuck’s wife during her pregnancy, while also dealing with the aforementioned leadership squabbles.

Yeowell’s art in volume one is incredibly rushed looking, with really poor foreshortening and odd framing and timing.  Many men look exactly alike – long black hair, bears – making following the narrative difficult sometimes, which is compounded by Leah Moore’s and John Reppion’s horrid arrangement of events that undermines every conflict and makes no real clear divide between its current and flashback moments, which is doubly doubled by Yeowell not doing much artistically for the same.  (There’s some minor color saturation, but the majority of the tale takes place at night, and so it all kinda looks similar.)  Yeowell’s art significantly improves in volume two, and Moore / Reppion add some more narrational structure via text that tells of the modern-day Black Shuck lore, but the references (and sometimes visuals from) modern times are very jarring against the 800 AD setting, and muddies what the focus of the story is supposed to be.  The undermining of their own pacing and structure continues, to the extent that a big battle toward the end is just sort of faded out in favor of going back to telling us Black Shuck lore, which would seem to have been the writing duo’s main fascination here, as opposed to telling a good comic story: there are, essentially, no characters, and no involving plotlines because we’re just trying to hit beats that match moments from the recorded history and myths.

…Which is interesting, but the poor storytelling (and initially unappealing art) render it almost unreadable at points, and unenjoyable as a whole.