My favorite monsters have always been the sympathetic ones. They don’t have to be good, moral or misunderstood, but I like to understand where they are coming from and learn what makes them tick. Sometimes, in the case of vampires, werewolves or zombies, it is simply in their nature to be monsters and their motivations need not be explained. Sometimes the monster is struggling with simply being a monster, like Frankenstein’s Monster, an outsider who curses both his creation and his creator, or vampires and werewolves who struggle against their primal desires that separate them from civilized men. And sometimes they just want justice.
In Supernatural Law, the law firm of Wolff & Byrd deals in protecting the rights and reputations of monsters and victims of supernatural circumstance. Their clientele includes Sodd (who is redundantly referred to as “the Thing that’s an It!”), the shapely Dawn Devine and the pun-making Bier-Meister. With both their legal and paranormal know-how, they win case after case and prove that just because someone or something isn’t “normal” it doesn’t mean there isn’t a precedent. In this first trade, Tales of Supernatural Law, Alanna Wolff and Jeff Byrd deal with romantic woes and ridicule as they defend a horror host accused of corrupting the minds of “kiddies,” help a couple prove they aren’t a public nuisance (it’s their haunted house’s fault) and help Dracula deal with his legion of imitators.
Supernatural Law feels very much inspired by the classic early issues of MAD Magazine when it was filled with goofy horror and suspense parodies. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since creator Batton Lash studied under the legendary MAD writer/artist/editor Harvey Kurtzman. Lash isn’t just going for a simple loving homage to Kurtzman or horror or courtroom dramas but creates a world of his own where everyone is equal under the eyes of the law. The monsters in this series are sympathetic and often victimized by the humans who would harass, exploit or declare them a public nuisance. The Bier-Meister is a harmless horror host who likes to tell scary stories, but is accused of putting bad ideas in kids’ heads (an obvious allusion to Dr. Fredric Wertham’s accusation that horror comics taint children’s minds). Zombies working at a novelty company fight for workers’ rights. Dracula wants to protect his name from the countless imitators who have popped up in his absence. These monsters aren’t always good guys, but in this series we see that even evil bloodsucking fiends deserve their day in court.
But the twist on classic monsters isn’t the only thing the series has going for it: it’s the trials and tribulations of Law‘s well-developed cast that keep the series fresh from issue to issue. Alanna Wolff seems to be all business but as we see in the first book she has a wicked sense of humour and even a romantic side, while her partner Byrd does a great job putting his clients at ease, yet is constantly an overly self-conscious nervous wreck when it comes to love. There’s also the secretary Mavis whose has no problem dealing with monsters, but finds walking home after dark a daunting task thanks to all the weirdos who come out at night in the big city. And Sodd is a swamp monster that hates the jeers and lawyer’s bills (“My latest bill was for $5,000… This is the price I pay for being a monster!”) but soon finds himself intoxicated by his newfound fame. The romances and relationships between cast members and Sodd’s meteoric rise to fame keep the series from becoming formulaic and even make the series quite addictive.
While this book is a fun and smart all-ages read, the humor may not be for everyone. This isn’t because it is rude, controversial or strange, but a great deal of it comes from comes from puns (such as a vampire preparing for a “cross-examination”) and bad lawyer jokes (the recurring joke being that lawyers are scarier than monsters). In fact, when I first started reading the book, I didn’t quite understand the high praise from some of the most prestigious creators in the field of comics, but as a read further I started to see why this book works. Though there are a lot of puns in the book (good and bad), they fly so fast and furious, that every page will bring a smile to your lips, if not a chuckle.
Tales of Supernatural Law collects the first eight issues of the series, which were originally released in 1994/95 as Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, and even in the early issues the series feels like the perfect marriage of comedy, courtroom drama and soap opera. The characters, human and monster alike, are funny and likable, the overarching plots are well developed (particularly the romantic relationships between characters and the transformation of Sodd from a gentle giant to a short-tempered sellout) and unlike many courtroom dramas or comedies, the cases themselves are handled in a competent and plausible manner despite the fantastic elements introduced in each story. But what I appreciated most about this is that Batton Lash has created a world where monsters and fiends have the same rights as anyone else, and as monstrous as they are, they are more civilized and reasonable than the humans they face in court.
Finally, the monsters are given the chance to speak and they say “We are people too! Sort of ”