TRADE RATING: Battlecats is a wild, feline-centric ride

Battlecats Volume 1, The Hunt for the Dire Beast  is out now.

Battlecats Volume 1, The Hunt for the Dire Beast is out now.

By Harrison Stewart — Have you ever asked yourself what Dungeons & Dragons meets ThunderCats might look like? I hadn’t, but the folks over at Mad Cave Studios make a solid case for why I should’ve asked sooner. Enter Battlecats, the anthropomorphic high-fantasy that comic that rises above a fluffy exterior to deliver a fun, if uneven, adventure-mystery. Furries rejoice!

Writer Mark London opens our tale in medias res, quickly throwing the audience into an epic battle with little information. London holds his cards close to the vest, which is both a narrative blessing and curse. It’s a blessing because when we do get answers, they come in the form of a rich and expansive mythos with a life all its own. The downside, however, is that we receive all this information at once in an exposition-heavy flashback issue. While this decision renders the first three issues a little confusing, the structure is more palatable in trade format, where one can quickly flip back and make sense of previous plot points.

Despite a few small pacing problems, the aforementioned world-building is without a doubt the greatest strength of this book. The larger kingdom is comprised of five smaller realms with corresponding moons, the source of the Battlecats’ powers. Each realm feels unique and worthy of exploration, with the Battlecats themselves serving as microcosms of the domains they represent. The promise of visiting more of these tantalizing locales in future installments is certainly a strong incentive to keep coming back.

London utilizes the extensive lore he has built to end this first volume with a bang. Once the underlying mystery is solved, we are brought to a rather satisfying moment of confused allegiances and hard decisions. Characters are placed in a difficult moral position with no readily apparent answer, leaving the reader to ponder who the heroes and villains truly are. It may not be a completely unpredictable predicament, but I was pleased with the resulting drama and tension nonetheless.  

Overall, the characters are generally likable. The core five are slight variations on archetypes we’ve seen before – the noble leader, the quiet brute, the impulsive youth, the over-powered mystic, and the wise-cracking comic relief. You can immediately tell which is which just by looking at them. Yet for all their familiar trappings, these characters fit admittedly well into their RPG-inspired world.

I never thought I would have the distinct pleasure of describing a cat wearing armor as looking “cool,” but here we are.

Far more interesting, though, are the morally complex secondary characters that form the backdrop. From a bird’s eye view, blame for the political turmoil that engulfs the kingdom cannot be easily placed at the feet of one side or the other. Both are consistently at fault, making for a welcome marring of good/bad guy lines. I hope to see further complications in the wars to come.

Perhaps the most surprising element here is the art. I never thought I would have the distinct pleasure of describing a cat wearing armor as looking “cool,” but here we are. Andy King’s weapon and armor designs are slick and creative, resisting the urge to arm the heroes with simple paint-by-numbers tools. Each Battlecat’s weapon of choice is a certifiable cosplayer’s fantasy. And they look even better in motion – the action sequences are excellently rendered and staged. I should note that the blood and gore are a little excessive for my tastes, particularly because they make it difficult to determine the mortality of any given wound.

Equally impressive are King’s landscapes and representations of the individual realms. The designs are truly inspired, furthering the reader’s desire to explore their inner workings. We don’t get a ton of location variation in this volume, but what we do get is the promise of a larger world. Michael Camelo, the artist for the fifth and final issue of this volume, also provides some top-notch work. His lines and anatomies are slightly cleaner than King’s, providing clearer representation of motion. Additionally, there is some very solid facial work in this issue, adding appropriate depth and drama to the climactic final confrontation.

All things considered, I enjoyed my time with Battlecats. It may not be perfectly executed, but it never allowed me to slip into boredom or disinterest. And there’s plenty to be said for that. The story has just enough hooks to keep you invested and the art is consistently stimulating. If you’ve never much cared for fantasy or anthropomorphism, you could probably do without. But if the idea of ferocious, furry fun is your particular cup of tea, drink up. Battlecats is the book for you.

Battlecats Volume 1, The Hunt for the Dire Beast
Mark London
Artists: Andy King Issues 1 - 4; Michael Camelo Issue 5
Colors: Alejandro Giraldo Issues 1 - 3; Julian Gonzalez Issues 4 - 5
Letterer: Miguel Zapata
Publisher: Mad Cave Studios
Price: $14.99
Release Date: July 25, 2018

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Harrison Stewart is an aspiring human being whose goals include solving the mathematical equation for love. Follow him on Twitter for more writing stuff.