Trading Up: Supernatural: The Dogs of Edinburgh

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Wood crafts a tale that has a portentous inevitability to it; a bittersweet story of lost love with an ending that seems hopelessly preordained.

I am hardly making the most incisive of observations when I say that television and film tie-ins are an infamously difficult thing to pull off in comics. By definition the tales they present cannot add anything significant to the continuity of the show or movie in question because they sit somewhere to the side of the ongoing parent medium in terms of canon. Nor are they are able to move the characters’ individual narratives on in any tangible or meaningful way. In fact by arc’s end everything must be just as it was at the beginning, often bringing a feeling of inconsequence and meaninglessness to the proceedings.

Writer Brian Wood battles bravely against these constraints in Supernatural: The Dogs of Edinburgh, a trade paperback collecting the six issues of DC’s adaptation of the paranormal TV series that brings the two demon-hunting Winchester brothers to the comics page. Perhaps recognising the limitations of doing anything of weight with siblings Sam and Dean within the context of the television show’s contemporary mythology, Wood instead opts to split his tale across two time periods and in so doing also allows for the twist of breaking up the road movie/buddy dynamic of the television series by focusing initially on Sam’s college days – and then on a solo Sam – in the first two-thirds of the book.

The adventure begins years ago when Sam was still a college student. On a cultural study exchange to Edinburgh, Scotland he meets the alluring and mysterious Emma, a Scottish lass with a similar supernatural-busting mission in life. In one brief, whirlwind association, Emma introduces the young demon hunter to Edinburgh’s otherworldly corners, nooks and crannies before they go their separate ways. Years later Sam receives a plea for help from Emma and finds himself caught up in an investigation into missing villagers on a remote Scottish coastline, and a tribe of the sea-dwelling mythological spirits known as the Selkies. In over his head he calls on Dean for aid. But the brothers will soon discover that there’s far more to the enigmatic Emma than either of them could ever have imagined…

Calling this trade The Dogs of Edinburgh is somewhat misleading to be frank. That’s the title of the two-issue prologue/set-up while the meat of the story is in the next four parts entitled Emma of the Isles. Presumably some marketing bod somewhere at DC decided Emma of the Isles wasn’t a catchy enough title, but that does the collection a disservice because it’s the poignant story of Sam’s reunion with a lost love with a startling secret that makes up the heart and soul of this arc.


As for those aforementioned dogs they’re largely a sidenote to the true thrust of this six-parter – a throwaway threat quickly forgotten when the real action starts and the watery menace of the Selkies is introduced. Wood crafts a tale that has a portentous inevitability to it; a bittersweet story of lost love with an ending that seems hopelessly  preordained from the beginning of the book’s second act but one that carefully sweeps the reader into its dark, inescapable embrace. In this he’s ably assisted by Grant Bond’s moody, atmospheric visuals. His claustrophobic layouts, and their often murky colouring, ramping up the sense of tension as the narrative moves towards its unavoidable denouement.

As is perhaps rather appropriate for a graphic novel based on a television show that actively seeks to recycle and replay elements of myth and legend, the main plotline of The Dogs of Edinburgh has a certain familiarity to it in terms of structure and tone. Crucially, though, it does that rarest of things for a cross-media comic by actually feeling like a story with importance in the lives of the characters, while also treading that fine line and avoiding disturbing the canon’s status quo to any noticeable degree. And what’s more it’s an extremely accessible offering. I could imagine this could be picked up by a reader with little or no knowledge of Supernatural the television show and still be enjoyed. All in all, a rather pleasant surprise for that most notorious, and usually rather casually dismissed, sub-genre of the comics world: the TV tie-in...

Supernatural: The Dogs of Edinburgh is available in the U.K. via Titan Books priced £10.99 and is published in the U.S. by DC Comics priced $14.99.

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