Elephantmen: Wounded Animals
Richard Starkings and others
(a) Moritat and others
FC, 224 pgs, $24.99 US / Higher in Canada
Elephantmen is a spin off from the series Hip Flask. It’s set in the same dystopian future and expands on various minor characters from the main series. Each issue features two stories. The first puts the focus on a different Elephantman, a genetic hybrid between man and animal, to give us insight into their current and former lives, thus providing more information about these characters, many of whom play supporting roles in Hip Flask. The second stories are pieces of a longer story involving Hieronymus “Hip” Flask trying to obtain an African artifact.
Elephantmen has been released by Image Comics since July 2006 and while Richard Starkings provides the majority of the writing, he is sometimes joined by other top comics talent. On art, the untouchable Ladronn is replaced by Moritat for the majority of the work, but as with the writing the art chores are completed by a round table of industry top talent. Elephantmen was created to fill the large spaces between Hip Flask issues and to expand upon its world and characters. Wounded Animals is the first collected edition.
In its hardcover form, Wounded Animals is one impressive package, but the real interest in this collection is the stories themselves. As a whole, Wounded Animals is a very satisfying read even though it is a series of loosely connected vignettes connected to another series you, like me, might not have read. This is possible because Starkings and his fellow writers and Moritat and the guest artists treat and craft each individual story in such a way that it can stand on its own, even if characters appear in multiple stories and events in one are touched on in others. Together, a bigger, more complex tapestry is woven, but the emotional and visual power definitely resides in the individual tales.
Take for instance this collection’s opener, the Starkings and Moritat created “Just Another Guy Named Joe.” It begins with a full page of Moritat’s talent in which we are introduced to a wet, bleak, heavily populated and neon lit future. We then go street level to meet an average human bloke who walks the crowded streets, shoulders hunched against the rain. Through him we learn about this world in which genetically manufactured man / animal hybrids have been given special citizen status, much to the chagrin of xenophobes like Joe. This quick tale sets the place, the time and the tone for the rest of what is to follow.
My favorite story in the bunch comes next. Crafted by Starkings and Moritat, “See the Elephant” focuses on Ebony and a young girl who happens across his path one day in the crowded city. She is naturally curious about Ebony, a hulking man / elephant that nonetheless appears harmless to the girl, Savannah. We readers are shown through a series of flashbacks that Ebony wasn’t always harmless. These reminisces show how the Elephantmen were created and how they were ill treated and used as weapons in war. The brutal violence and even more brutal science is a stark contrast to this present day Ebony, with his heavy, sorrowful eyes and his gentle ways with Savannah. Savannah is quick to befriend Ebony, but through her innocently candid comments it’s obvious a lot of adults regard the Elephantmen as unwanted monsters. This is reinforced by the appearance of Savannah’s mom. “You just stay away from her,” she shouts at Ebony, who knows all too well how his kind is regarded. “Nothing changes,” he says quietly to himself after Savannah has been whisked away.
Cries for more tolerance by showing the effects of intolerance is a common thread in Elephantmen. As we in real life increasingly become a part of a bigger global community tolerance is needed more and more but so often less and less attempted let alone achieved. I don’t think a comic like Elephantmen is going to change the world but its stories take hold, ring true and evoke emotion because we can see the parallels in our own world.
There are also parallels in the realms of science. In some respects, Elephantmen is a cautionary tale for the work corporate and government funded scientists are currently performing in the fields of genetics. The future seen in Elephantmen is most likely unattainable, but the warnings are applicable to real world achievements and goals. Part of the lesson is as old as the one found in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I think in general terms the creative teams are saying science should always be approached with care and caution, with an eye toward the potential social, cultural and ethical ramifications.
Wounded Animals is a dense volume and I’m not just speaking of the combined weight of its hardcover packaging and 224 pages. It will challenge you, move you, and make you think about the world in which you live and the future to which we appear to be heading. Elephantmen is an example of what is best in not just comics but science fiction. (Chad Boudreau)