REVIEW: Van Helsing: Beast of Exmoor is More Bark than Bite

An image of a woman in a red and black outfit with a crossbow. She stands against a city scape at night as a large cat-like beast comes out of the darkness behind her.

The legendary hunter Liesel Van Helsing returns in this bloody romp through the moorlands. A beast has returned to wreak havoc outside Somerset, and the locals are no match for the creature, leaving Liesel the only one left standing to take it down. However, while this monster-hunting adventure contains a fair bit of intrigue and heart, its execution delivers more unintended laughs than thrills.

Van Helsing: Beast of Exmoor

Allan Otero (Artist), Brian Hawkins (Writer), Sean Chen and Ivan Nunes (Cover Artists), Taylor Esposito (Letters), and Walter Pereyra and Maxflan Araujo (Colors)
Zenescope
October 6, 2021

An image of a woman in a red and black outfit with a crossbow. She stands against a city scape at night as a large cat-like beast comes out of the darkness behind her.

The story begins with the local townspeople heading into the moorlands by night to confront the Beast of Exmoor. The beast previously stalked the land thirty years ago, a giant cat-like creature attacking farm animals before disappearing without a trace. When this opening confrontation ends in mass casualties, local hunters Kingston and Shaelah contact Liesel Van Helsing to help them kill it.

Liesel is currently enjoying a romantic subplot with her boyfriend, Rick. She’s trying to balance the dangers of hunting with her relationship, leading to some friction as Rick wants her to come home safe when she can’t keep such promises. But there’s little time for romance as Liesel is quickly introduced to Jocelyn, the matriarch of the family that governs the town. Jocelyn wants Liesel to stop the beast without killing it, a plea that Liesel takes to heart.

Soon, Liesel finds herself torn between her relationship woes and a compounding loss of life as the beast attacks the town. She doesn’t want to put herself in danger for the sake of the worried Rick but also doesn’t want to kill the beast. But the longer she prolongs the hunt through non-lethal combat, the more danger she’s in and the more people may die. There can be no satisfying resolution to her dilemma as the beast forces her hand, bringing them into fatal conflict.

Van Helsing: Beast of Exmoor is an entertaining adventure with the benefit of a decent emotional conflict underpinning the action. Brian Hawkins’ scripted dialogue is a bit goofy, with awkward British-isms that read as cheesy and outdated in the campiest way possible. But Liesel’s constant internal monologue, thankfully, doesn’t infringe on the action even as she deals with her increasingly complicated feelings on the hunt. It’s restrained enough to provide some interesting character moments and even some decent turns of phrase without just telegraphing what’s on the page or monopolizing every panel. Taylor Esposito does an excellent job on letters, keeping the dialogue and narration seamless throughout even in the most hectic action sequences.

Colorists Walter Pereyra and Maxflan Araujo split the duties here to mixed results. Pereyra handles the colors in the first half, which leads to muddled blue-on-blue night scenes with the beast and very brown interior spaces that offer no visual interest. Araujo’s palette choices, shading, and lighting effects spice things up a bit toward the end of the book, making the beast more black than blue to differentiate them from their murky nighttime surroundings.

Allan Otero’s artwork is the book’s highlight, although not for the reasons he likely intended. Consistent proportions and perspective are hard to come by, with characters floating bizarrely in space and interacting with objects or figures that don’t quite make sense beside each other. Otero’s linework is serviceable, but Liesel’s face changes frequently enough to be distracting, and her head is occasionally too small for her body. Otero also frequently reuses poses, especially when characters are running or performing actions. The blatant copying draws attention to itself with characters just floating in mid-run because they were reused from another panel and don’t make visual sense in their new environment.

It becomes especially clear with Rick, whose pose of having a beer and leaning over the bar is used every time Liesel sees her boyfriend. This is partly because we only see them together at the pub where Liesel is introduced, which is a bit repetitive and silly on its own. However, it’s made all the more amusing by the fact Rick seems just to be stuck in place, like a glitched video game character waiting for Liesel to interact with him.

These quirks throughout the book make the reading experience more enjoyable. I found the disjointed visual elements oddly charming, earning a chuckle whenever the flow of a sequence is broken by reused poses or strange anatomy. The unnecessary copying adds a different dimension to the visual narrative in that it makes me aware of its production in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have been. It’s a fascinating element if certainly an unintentional one.

All in all, Van Helsing: Beast of Exmoor is a goofy and entertaining adventure. Its imperfections make it all the more engaging, and I find it’s worth a read for those who enjoy a good monster-hunting romp.

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed is a novelist, occasional critic, and general internet menace. Frequently seen hollering about monsters on Twitter.

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