- Posted by Johanna on February 20, 2006 at 9:32 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Batton Lash
- PUBLISHER: Exhibit A Press; $16.95 US
This series, formerly titled Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, is easy to sum up: two lawyers represent a variety of monsters in cases ranging from the punny to the parodic. Background storylines, usually involving the cast’s love lives, provide continuity, while their ever-changing caseload deals with established horror conventions, including vampires, zombies, and curses. It’s quite amusing to see how such a factual, evidence-based profession interacts with the vagaries of the supernatural.
This collection, first in the series, establishes the core cast of characters: Alanna Wolff, no-nonsense go-getter; Jeff Byrd, schlubby nice guy with a heart of gold and a core of steel; and Mavis, their unflappable office manager. In their first case, they’re defending Sodd, the Thing Called It, a man turned into a swamp monster. Botanical puns abound. For instance, in requesting their client’s release, they mention his “roots in the community”.
The next story concerns a man who found the Monkey’s Paw and used it to bring his dog back from the dead. The idea of being careful what you wish for is an old one, and who better than lawyers to help word your desires very carefully? Wolff and Byrd aren’t just concerned with the law, although they’re very good at it; they also seek to bring justice to those who deserve it.
Often, those who appear most horrific are the ones who need the most help, and the monsters are the otherwise normal-looking humans. Appearances are deceiving, with traditional supernatural creatures often treated as the underdogs of society. The book takes the welcome stance that everyone, no matter their appearance, deserves guidance, advice, and legal representation, and the author includes in his satire over-zealous officials exceeding their authority.
Although fantastic, the characters are often used to comment on current events or societal concerns, as when a guy using zombies in his factory gets sued for back wages. Other stories involve a werehouse (a house that transforms under a full moon), a bespelled model who wants out of her agency contract, and a lawyers’ convention.
The stories are told in sections, making it an excellent choice for pick-up-and-put-down reading. The backgrounds, settings, and character variety all demonstrate Lash’s skill, with the clients ranging from Charles Addams-inspired oddballs to Wrightson-like horrors. Lash obviously knows his comic history and uses it to add another level of enjoyment to the book. One of the most layered stories involves a group of unemployed horror hosts who are drawn in the EC style, complete with the same lettering. They’re still bitter over the psychiatrist who cut short their careers years ago, in an allusion to the formation of the Comics Code in the 1950s. Lash draws parallels between their types of stories and his, acknowledging the tradition he works in. There’s also a Neil Gaiman-like modern horror comic writer, bringing together old and new.
The collection itself has been completely remastered compared to the original comics. The pages are retoned (giving the art a more consistent and three-dimensional look), relettered, and in some cases, redrawn. Wolff and Byrd have never looked better.