Writer: Richard Starkings
Publisher: Image Comics
I think the best way to describe Elephantmen #1 is by repeating the title of the back story: Just another guy named Joe. What am I talking about? The two stories that make up this first issue are pseudo-minimalist, derivative, and straight-forward, the narrative equivalent of the stereotypical Joe that walks through this future world in the second story. However, where this would be a major fault in most comic books, this approach actually works here, as it helps to bring us into this new world where bipedal, intelligent animals roam the urban landscape. Nothing complex is hammered down on us, nor are we hit full-force with grand governmental conspiracies behind the future we see here (Though we are introduced to a mad scientist briefly). These are simple stories with solid substance, holding universal truths that endear us to the comic very easily. Believe me, this is a rare approach in this day and age, where almost every writer packs as much as possible into every issue, simply to bring readers back for more. With Elephantmen, Richard Starkings is banking on the emotional appeal of his simple stories, along with the outstanding art by Moritat, to build readership. My only hope is that these are not solely isolated stories, and that there is a connecting thread or plot that will move the reader from issue to issue. If the stories connect, then this is a series I will definitely keep reading, because this will be a series filled with primal wonders.
The main story in Issue #1, "See the Elephant," combines a chance meeting between a girl and the elephant-man named Ebony with the dark, violent memories that Ebony hides in his obviously scarred psyche. You almost can’t believe that this is the same creature when you compare the two lives of Ebony. In the present (if it can be called such), he makes the little girl, Savannah, laugh by sticking his prehensile nose in his mouth. In his past, Ebony viciously murders a young African man for throwing a stone at him, which obviously doesn’t even hurt his large frame. As this dichotomy of images unfolds in this story, Savannah’s comments become double entendres, meaning something in both Ebony’s past and present life. “Do you have a girlfriend,” brings back memories of his former love, Sahara, as well as representing the ease of a child’s romantic crush. “Are you an animal or are you a man,” mirrors the very dilemma that caused Ebony to attempt suicide in the past, while Savannah is simply being a curious child. After combining these two elements over 20 pages, Starkings ends things on a positive note. After Ebony repeats something that Sahara had told him in the past, “All things will change,” he reflects on that sentiment to claim, “Nothing changes, Sahara.” Then, he opens the drawing that Savannah had given him before being dragged off by her mother, exposing a giant heart surrounding the elephant. Yes, there is a chance that future humans will see beings like Ebony as fellows rather than aliens, which will certainly come as a welcome change for a creature as emotionally damaged as Ebony. Like I said, this and the ultra-simplistic 4-page story Joe aren’t complex or demanding in any way. Rather, they capture a mood that is sure to enthrall readers at a primal level. So, I would have to give Starkings a solid grade on this issue, although he’s really not belting it out of the park here.
Concerning the artwork, Moritat has done a fine job filling the big shoes of Ladronn, who illustrated these main characters in the Hip Flask comics. He doesn’t reach the painstaking detail or breathtaking emotion of those earlier works, but Moritat does put together some great pages filled with his unique style, combining expressive eyes with terrific backgrounds. Ebony’s violent and passive faces are well-rendered because of his eyes, which are either red with rage or seconds from tears. The inks he uses to surround the characters can be a little overpowering at times, but the overall impression of his art is clean and dream-like, which fits nicely with the tale being told. I particularly liked the art in the back story (the detailed landscape in the first splash-page is great), though it tended to be a little dark for my tastes. The art and the atmosphere created by it help raise this title above the norm, and I would recommend checking this out just for the mood that Starkings and Moritat create.
Oh, and for the giant walking elephants and hippos...
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