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Skin Horse Vol 1 by Shaenon K. Garrity & Jeffrey C. Wells
Cover Artist: Shaenon K. Garrity
Review by Paul Haggerty
Softcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780984087709
Date: 01 August 2009

Links: Skin Horse Website / Narbonic Director's Cut Website / Show Official Info /

Imagine a world where mad science exists, as do all the creations thereof. Imagine a United States where talking dogs, zombies, ex-killer robots, sentient crystals, and opera singing silverfish live out their natural lives. As you can expect, few of these beings are able to hold down a 9-5 job and have a house in the suburbs. Most are forced to live on the fringes of society, downtrodden and outcast. In a world such as this, who will rise up to defend and protect these non-human sentient citizens? Welcome to project Skin Horse, the top secret (although woefully understaffed and underfunded) welfare agency chartered to seek out and give aid and protection to those who would otherwise be ignored, or perhaps chased with torches and pitchforks, by the human world we take for granted.

Skin Horse Vol 1 collects the first four story lines of the popular webcomic of the same name, which has been on-line since Dec. 31st 2007, where the first several strips introduce the main characters while they attempt to deal with a genetically modified lion creating a ruckus at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

On point in the intervention is Dennis "Tip" Wilkin, an ex-army officer, a psychologist, a cross-dresser with dynamite fashion sense, and an uncanny, nay, supernatural way with the ladies. Backing Tip up is his team. The team lead, Sweetheart, a genetically modified, highly intelligent dog. Sweetheart was created by a mad Canadian scientist as part of a plot to conquer the U.S. To give you an idea of her ruthless nature, here's a quote following one of her vicious rampages: "In case you're not paying attention, that's someone else's grass I spilled coffee on!". The strong-arm of the team, in case of emergencies, is Unity, a patchwork zombie created as part of a now defunct bio-weapons program. Unity is strong, resilient, and capable of replacing lost body parts from whatever spares might be lying around. A little too easily some might say. Here's a Unity quote concerning firefighters: "Seriously, if they're going to be babies about getting dismembered, why do they even carry axes?"

Highly dysfunctional, always overstressed, and chronically under-appreciated, the Skin Horse team is sent out whenever a non-human is in need of aid and protection, or possibly to be put down if things get too out of hand. In Skin Horse Vol 1 the team deals with Leo, a very confused lion with dominance issues; an outbreak of new civilizations in the basement of the team's headquarters...each accusing the next of atrocities which force them to deviate from their personal philosophy of peace and love and being really nice beings; a touching personal journey of philosophy and enlightenment as Sweetheart desperately searches for her inner beast so she can have a cathartic rampage...assisted by her rampage-mentor, Unity; and lastly the team heads out to the fabled Area 51 to help the military with a rogue AI that doesn't seem to like its assigned role as a weapon nor its bosses in general.

As a long time reader of Narbonic, Garrity's previous work, which included a long running fanfic by Wells, I was excited by the prospect of this collaboration. And I have to say, I have not been let down.

Skin Horse is part joke-a-day and part long running serial, filled with literary, scientific, and social references that, while you don't need to get them to laugh at the jokes, certainly add addition layers of quality enjoyment. You can jump in at any point and be up to speed in no time, but once you're hooked, there's nothing to be done but to go back to the beginning and read it all through again. What you'll find amongst the jokes is an interesting exploration of what it means to be human, regardless of your physical body, friendship, loyalty, standing up for what's right, and what shoes are appropriate for vintage A-line minidress.

So, pick up a copy of the first volume of Skin Horse, which includes a special, not available on the web, feature: Black Ops Customer Service ... and You! Make the acquaintance of Sweetheart, Unity, Tip, and the dozen unique supporting cast members that inhabit this slightly parallel universe that exists just out of the corner of your eye. You'll find yourself reading it out loud to your friends and family...who won't get it without the artwork of course, which means they'll have to read it too. Just be careful with the big words...they scare the cobras and then they'll be needing hugs. Don't know what that means? Get the book, you won't regret it.

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