Infinity Studios / Scout Comics, March 2019
Writer: Curtis Clow
Picture this: a young boy with an ever-loyal exotic animal companion which will protect him from harm, and will follow him to the ends of the earth. It is a very old fantasy – the faithful beast, powerful, dangerous, and adoring, no doubt rooted in ancient fears of unpredictable predators. This is what writer Curtis Clow brings to us, together with swords and castles, in Beastlands.
Powerful animals as pets is a theme readers see in many creative contexts, from Pokémon to Game of Thrones. How ancient the concept is we do not know. The earliest example we can think of is Pegasus in Greek mythology: Theseus was able to tame and ride the proud flying horse. But the best visual example of the tamed fantasy beast is from the beautiful Unicorn Tapestries (1495-1505), created in the Netherlands by an unknown artist.
As the Met Museum website notes:
“”The Unicorn in Captivity” may have been created as a single image rather than part of a series. In this instance, the unicorn probably represents the beloved tamed. He is tethered to a tree and constrained by a fence, but the chain is not secure and the fence is low enough to leap over: The unicorn could escape if he wished. Clearly, however, his confinement is a happy one, to which the ripe, seed-laden pomegranates in the tree—a medieval symbol of fertility and marriage—testify.”
Mr Clow calls on this ancient concept – the fidelity of the magical pet – in Beastlands. Here, the creatures are called “keepers”. They are various oversized animals, apparently rare (as not everyone has one), with a strong attachment to their owners. Although in captivity, the keepers seem happy with human companionship. Unfortunately in the nearby Kingdom of Griff, the death by a keeper of the daughter of a monarch has led to keepers being outlawed, and each keeper is to be killed on sight.
Mac, the lead protagonist, is a hothead following a map left to him by his father. An insight in a cave – a missing portion of the map – propels the quest. But in finding the secret, Mac pays a price – he abandons his keeper, Renzo, on a rocky ledge. When Mac returns to the encampment to join his friends the studious Ping, the grouchy Ava, and the heroic Luna, he discovers that Renzo is missing. Renzo for his part wanted to follow Mac, but was scared of the jump on the ledge into the cave. Renzo was injured in a fight at the beginning of the story, and Mac did not tend to Renzo’s wound. And Renzo will not let Mac ride him, suggesting an incomplete trust. Mac’s self-absorption has led to the loss of the creature he so plainly undervalued.
At first, we likened Beastlands as a cousin to the delightful fantasy classic, Bone. But re-reading the story, Mr Clow’s demographic audience is not obvious. The plot structure of a quest coupled with father abandonment issues is clearly orientated towards early teens, as is the use of giant but cute animals. But the threatened rape and murder of the trio by a group of outlaws, together with some solid swearing, suggests an older audience. The king’s bloody beheading of his own keeper, and the rotting skulls of the keepers mounted outside the boundaries of the Kingdom of Griff should together be an additional deterrent to the parents of younger readers, despite the alluring cover art.
This story has a long way to go, but it is a solid, fun start to our journey. We look forward to progressing deeper into Beastlands. Beastlands is presently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. More information on the comic, including a link to the Kickstarter page, can be found at www.beastlandscomic.com