To put it all out on the table, Disney's Oliver and Company happens to be one of my favorite Disney movies ever—up there on my list of all movies period. You can then see why Tony Fleecs and Trish Forstner's new Image Comics series Stray Dogs is right up my alley. I'm not going to lie, I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I do. Visually the series feels straight out of a Don Bluth catalog, and the mystery at the center of it is one that will leave you floored, twisting the series in a direction hard to anticipate. That premise was what compelled me to read the series in the first place, and it did not disappoint.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, the story follows an adorable but very skittish puppy named Sophie who finds herself in a new environment surrounded by other dogs and cannot remember why she's there. Fleecs establishes her character in just a few pages, quickly moving to introduce the rest of the canine cast. This pace is maintained throughout the issue, and the few moments in which it pauses it does so with purpose.
This is really where the classic animation adventure similarities come into play, as Sophie meets a varied cast of dogs, each with their own personalities and demeanors that help them stand out. Forstner and colorist Brad Simpson's style perfectly compliments the animated aesthetic with character designs that are comforting and adorable, though as they illustrate several times, the tone can turn on a dime.
At times it hits you right in the heart, as you empathize with Sophie's fear and hesitation to trust, and dog owners will especially feel that impact. That said, it's the harrowing moments that really impress, as everything bathes in a red glow, only broken up by Sophie's terrified expressions that really get under your skin.
The twist is what the whole series is built around, and it's compelling enough that I won't spoil it here. Suffice it to say this is not your typical animal-themed story, and thus far the dialogue, characters, and setting are all doing their part to sell the premise and horror that comes with it without overdoing it.
The tension slowly builds during the second half of Stray Dogs #1, and despite that previous twist a call back to the issue's earliest pages introduces yet another wrinkle to the concept, making for a mystery that doesn't quite feel like anything else out there. This comic hits you like a freight train.
Stray Dogs #1 is better than even I expected it to be, pairing a sinister mystery and compelling characters with a classic and expressive visual aesthetic. It's not something that comes around every day, and if enjoy trying new twists on classic comics premises, this should be at the top of your list.
Published by Image Comics
Written by Tony Fleecs
Art by Trish Forstner
Colored by Brad Simpson
Layouts by Tone Rodriguez