Review by Ian Keogh
When young Orphan Mo is taken in by the demanding master of a martial arts house the master requires dedication and discipline. We also learn that when a supernatural threat manifested in the past, five spirits came to him asking to be taught. The master agreed, but extracted a promise that should they succeed in repelling a demon they would be bound to the house and committed to learning further. They broke their oath, and have now become corrupted, changing into the five beasts of the title, the strength of each compared to a mountain. Mo is tasked with defeating them.
James Stokoe certainly knows how to set a story. There’s a sense of the epic from the very beginning, and his incredibly detailed art and wonderfully staged action scenes bring even the flashbacks opening the story to pulsating life. It’s as if Stokoe has spent a year immersing himself in the legends supplied in Hong Kong action comics, and the result is an amalgamation of martial arts and sorcery the likes of which hasn’t previously been seen from an American creator.
That there are five beasts indicates a quest where all must be defeated in sequence, and each has been given a unique ability. As a representative, the first was endowed with prodigiously strong leg muscles, earning him the name Thunderthighs, and in a memorable introductory sequence he’s seen crushing a horse between his legs. Stokoe ensures this isn’t a simple parade of victories, throwing in well conceived complications that shock and surprise as they’re usually toward the gross end of the scale.
As a pastiche/homage there’s little original about the premise, and the philosophy is hilarious, but what Stokoe delivers from it is high velocity thrills and fun where suitably gruesome fates are dealt out to the deserving. There’s no way all five beasts are going to be defeated in this opening volume, so only two are introduced. The wonder of the art and the imagination, though, render this a mouth-watering appetiser for the main course still to come.