Shiny Shelf

Elephantmen v.1-3

By Matthew Badham on 09 September 2010

Some time ago, I was walking along discussing comics with a friend of mine called Marc. In truth, I was less discussing them and more complaining about various brainless titles that populate the medium.

Anyway, eventually he turned to me and remarked that my comments didn’t come as much of a surprise to him, because, of course, I don’t like comics.

Later, when I was on the train going home, I realised how Marc had managed to formulate such an erroneous picture of my tastes. You see, he’s a big fan of the super hero genre and so if we do discuss comics, then that’s what we tend to talk about. And I have to admit that I don’t share his predilection for super hero titles.

Oh, there are some great ones out there, such as ‘All-Star Superman’, ‘Starman’ and ‘Jersey Gods’. Mostly, though, they leave me cold, maybe because my mark of true quality when it comes to that kind of story is the work of giants such as Lee, Kirby and Ditko; big shoes to fill by anyone’s standards (the Sub-Mariner pretends to be a Hollywood producer to lure a nearly bankrupt Fantastic Four into his trap: pure genius!)

I’m also disappointed by the way that super hero comics have become fetish items. Some fans will buy a title just because they always have, even though they’re not particularly excited by the direction it’s going in. Instead, they carry on pouring good money after bad, instead of changing their habits and taking a chance on a comic they’re unfamiliar with.

I think the ‘industry’ would be in a healthier state if more fans once in a while took a chance on something new. And if you agree and want to shake up your comics-buying habit a bit, then you could do worse than pick up ‘Elephantmen’…

My relationship with ‘Elephantmen’ began when I read the first three Image Comics trade collections, ‘Wounded Animals’, ‘Fatal Diseases’ and ‘Dangerous Liasons’, and fell head over heels in love with the title. The comic is set in a ‘Blade Runner’-esque future populated by both humans and the genetically engineered Elephantmen of the title (sometimes referred to as unhumans or munts), whom a corporation called Mappo originally bred for war.

The story follows a varied ensemble of now liberated Elephantmen and their associates as the former attempt to adjust to civvy street. These include Hip Flask, a hippo who also features in his own eponymous mini-series, Ebony Hide, a troubled elephant and the beautiful Sahara, whose marriage to the an unhuman called Obadiah Horn (think Lex Luthor meets the Kingpin in rhino form) is a source of some controversy.

I’ve heard creator/writer Richard Starkings describe ‘Elephantmen’ as “pulp science fiction”. Like all good science fiction it holds a mirror up to the contemporary world, dealing with issues as diverse as racial prejudice, post-traumatic stress disorder and violence against women. One of the great strengths of the comic though is that it never feels preachy.

Starkings doesn’t neglect the ‘pulp’ aspect of his creation and although there are ‘quiet’ stories in these three collections, most are pretty action-packed and, at times, quite dark and violent, although this darkness is also leavened by humour. (In one issue, several of the main characters have to be decontaminated after exposure to a potentially fatal pathogen and when their clothes are destroyed they consequently end up naked and embarrassed together.)

Starkings is ably assisted in his realisation of ‘Elephantmen’ by a dizzying array of artists, including Henry Flint, Boo Cook, the Jack Kirby-inspired Tom Scioli and Marian Churchland. (Indeed, one of the great things about reading the collections was being introduced to a whole plethora of artists whose work I was not familiar with.)

The lack of exact visual consistency that results should be a problem, I suppose. It isn’t though, and actually seems to the suit the title well; with its already mentioned wide ensemble of characters and variations of tone and theme. In fact, the only disappointing thing about the art is the decision by some artists to portray almost all of the female characters as pneumatically busted sex kittens (especially considering Starkings’ penchant for writing strong women).

The trade collections come with fairly robust introductions and include the covers from the original comics. The second and third volumes all contain concept art, while Volume Three reprints ‘Sushi Nachos’, an excellent mini-comic by ‘Elephantmen’ contributing artist, Andre Szymanowicz.

And I highly recommend that you buy all three at your earliest opportunity.

You can buy volumes one, two and three of ‘Elephantmen’ from those there links.

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By Matthew Badham

2 Responses

  1. Thanks, Matthew… y’know, the reason the girls in ELEPHANTMEN are depicted as, ahem, “sex kittens” is telegraphed on page one of issue #1… SEE THE ELEPHANT.

  2. Matt Badham says:

    Thanks for your comment, Richard. The good thing about the Internet, I think, is that you get a ‘right to reply’ on my review.

    I shall go and look at page one of issue #1 again and see what I missed…