01/02/2009. Contributed by Paul Skevington
pub: Comicraft. 36 page comic. Price: $ 2.99 (US) each.
check out websites: www.comicraft.com, www.imagecomics.com and www.hipflask.com
Although each issue of 'Elephantmen' is usually worthy of notice in its own right, it seems oddly appropriate for me to focus on these five issues as a whole, coming as they do from a troubled period in the title's history where massive delays plagued the comic, much to the sorrow of fans eager to experience more of this unique creation. Despite these problems, each issue that appeared was of sufficiently high quality to keep the interest of the comics-buying community peaked. One cannot help but think that your average mainstream comic would not be able to sustain a release schedule such as this, with their over-reliance on familiar and routine characters and settings. Even when 'Elephantmen' was being released regularly, each issue brought some new and volatile element to the mix.
Issues ten and eleven feature the core creative team of Moritat and Starkings, who by this point seem so comfortable working with each other that there isn't even a hint of discord between the script and the illustrations. Issue ten focuses exclusively on the character of Obadiah Horn, one of the eponymous Elephantmen, a race of genetically engineered human/animal hybrids, designed for war but now integrated back into society. Obadiah has done extremely well for himself and has become a captain of industry, through fair means and foul. The issue attempts to describe the battle between the dichotomous aspects of Horn's chosen career path and his nature and beliefs. We use the word 'nature' here very specifically, because as well as being the most culturally adjusted of the Elephantmen, he is also more prone to distinctly inhuman behaviour. This can be seen in the main body of the issue where Horn's beautiful companion Sahara presents him with a pair of rhinos from an extinct sub-species brought back to life, ironically by the same scientist who was responsible for Horn's own creation. This sequence is rendered in warm blues and browns and features a poetic comparison of Horn to the various unicorn myths that have occurred in different cultures. It is dreamlike and majestic, but lying in its midst are Horn's memories of his time as a Mappo soldier, which are depicted in a much darker colour scheme. They illuminate the angry motivation behind his interactions with the human world. At the end of the issue, the horror of the past intrudes upon the modern world, breaking our comfortable spell. It's a powerful piece and a great introduction to the 'Elephantmen: War Toys' mini-series, but it very much feels like an interlude and perhaps does not expand upon the characters as much as we would like, although it is almost certain that we have not seen the last of this particular twisted love story.
It is obvious that Starkings does not want any of his characters to appear even remotely two-dimensional and issue eleven highlights this. It is an analysis of two Elephantmen bad-guys: scientist and Elephantmen creator Kazushi Nikken and crime lord Serengheti. It has a similar structure to issue ten, utilising flashbacks to show us the people that they once were and the events that occurred to change them into the monsters they seem to be now. This works well for Nikken, who is believable as an amoral scientist, perhaps because the series, although set in the future, contains a tangible anti-science theme with its disturbing portrayals of twisted bio-engineering and other failed experiments. However, Serengheti has always seemed a little too much the villain for me and his journey from boy to man is less easy to swallow. The issue does introduce a couple of elements we will see again shortly, such as the corpse markers and provides another opportunity for Moritat to shine. Of particular note is the page featuring Savannah standing over a field of skulls which is beautifully drawn and coloured.
Issue twelve arrived after a real-time gap of almost a year and featured guest illustrator Rob Steen, who you may remember from issue eight of 'Elephantmen', where he drew a much more comedic story. This current piece, entitled 'Human Remains', wouldn't feel out of place in the company of the horror comics of the fifties with its fields of rotting corpses and graphic gore. The only thing that it is missing is a suitable comeuppance for the villain of the piece. The horror arises less from the misfortune of the characters and more from clean-up worker Keimond's disgusting treatment of the dead and his lack of empathy for the people in whose rotten flesh he wades. Steen's illustrations are suitably larger than life, mixing humour with the grotesque, taking the comic in a different and disturbing direction.
Issue 13 sees the welcome return of Mortitat in a story entitled 'Invasion Squid Force'. The comic goes widescreen again with lots of big open panels, two page spreads and action just about everywhere you look. It's full of exploding cars, snapping necks and hippo squid-beasts. However, Starkings and Moritat still find time for some claustrophobic world-building, such as the sequence featuring Keimond (remember him?) and his ill treatment of the Elephantmen patients of St. Francis's Hospital. Moritat come back from his absence stronger than ever in an issue that requires him to draw many extremely different scenes.
Finally, issue 14 features another guest artist, Ian Churchill, whose style differs substantially from Moritat's, but who soon finds the tone of Starkings's creation. He produces some good work with his representation of Sahara, but his depiction of Miki is spot-on, capturing her charm and vulnerability in what is certainly going to be a turning point storyline for the character. Starkings leaves us on a cliff-hanger ending, which is again linked to the cynical attitude towards science that pervades the work, as an outbreak of a killer disease from the past threatens the safety of America. It's post 9/11 paranoia mixed with cyberpunk and spliced with the horrors of war, encapsulating the core issues of the series to date.
So, in all another highly successful run of issues, supported by some excellent cover work by the likes of Ladronn and Boo Cook, coupled with some encouraging noises from Starkings that the title will go back to a monthly publishing schedule shortly. It is still, in my opinion, the must have comic title, even amongst several other excellent productions that have appeared recently. I hope that Starkings will continue to innovate and surprise in the next twelve months as much as he has done over that past couple of years.
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