Written by Richard Starkings and drawn by Moritat with covers by Ladronn
Published by Image Comics
Opening on a wet, neon futuristic city scape we are introduced to “A tale from Mystery City by Starkings and Moritat”. On the next page we see a giant rhino in a tuxedo on a tv talk show, a giraffe man outside a tailor, a crocodile hitting on women in a club and finally underneath a rain-soaked fedora a hippo looms out of the rain. Sometimes you come across a comic that feels as though it has been published forever and you are late to catch on. Elephantmen is like that, these stories seem to be going on in a real place but we are only just reading them now.
Set in the 23rd century these are the stories of giant, genetically modified animal super soldiers left over after the war they were bred for has ended. Cast adrift in peacetime society they struggle to find their place and against the warrior instincts born into them. Also known as ‘munts’, the Elephantmen were created by implanting manipulated animal fetuses inside living human mothers. The mothers did not survive the births, and the corporation Mappo that created them did not survive the war.
That war is long over but we are given flashbacks of it through the eyes of Ebenezer ‘Ebony’ Hide, a gigantic elephant of a man and his partner Hieronymus ‘Hip’ Flask, the hippo with the fedora. Working for the Information Agency they often come into conflict with others of their kind. Many like Elijah Delaney, an eight foot three crocodile work on the far side of the law and seem perfectly suited to that life.
Written by renowned comics letter Richard Starkings, this sci-fi series delves deeply into noirish crime tales with an edge of horror, providing the pulp mash-up you didn’t know you needed. He has a firm hand on the characterisation of each of these different Elephantmen. We are introduced to their world though the eyes of Savannah, a young girl loitering on the street outside her Mum’s nail salon. Ebony is about to enter a Hooters when she starts asking him questions, and though he keeps his answers polite, the flashbacks they trigger give us a sense of the brutal history of the Elephantmen. As the issues unfold we learn more about their cruel creation and training in Africa and the deep scars that it has left.
One among their kind has risen high in society. Obadiah Horn has grown far from his rhino roots, running a huge multinational corporation and with a human lover to rub in the face of normal society, the beautiful Sahara. He is not to be crossed and will do anything to protect Sahara or his interests. He and Sahara also have a history with Hip Flask.
The bulk of the excellent art is by Moritat*, it can appear simple and he often keeps backgrounds unadorned but I love the way he has the Elephantmen loom through the panels. Obadiah Horn is shown as too large for the frame with a panel cutoff at chin or horn level, or just showing a large hand and cuff reaching down. Ebony and Hip are shown as less threatening but still enormous and they dwarf the human characters.
There are many guest artists that contribute as the series develops and Starkings uses them to tell stories from the past, or tales within the tale like TV shows, comics or children’s stories while Moritat handles the drive of the main narrative.
Should I buy it? Hell yes. This is why you started reading comics in the first place. Giant animal men solving mysteries and having adventures through future cities with beautiful women while running from their haunted pasts. Damn, I cannot wait for each new volume of this to appear. The trades are excellent and come in huge cheap, phonebook type editions. Buy a few, give them to anyone who needs a bit of radness in their lives.
*For unexplained reasons, Moritat always adds an exclamation point when he signs his name. Generally I am no supporter of superfluous punctuation, but for Moritat! I make an exception.