Richard Starkings, swell guy that he is, recently sent me issues #34-37 of his fine, fine comic book serial, Elephantmen. So here is where I write about them!
The back-up storyin #34 is written by Monifa Aldridge and drawn by Medellin, and the back-up in #35 is by Starkings and Medellin. Issues #36-37 are drawn by Medellin, and the back-up stories in both are by Rob Steen and Starkings (Steen draws it, but I’m not sure if he writes it, as the credits are unclear). These are all $3.99, but as usual, they’re packed with content.
Issues #34-35 revisit everyone’s favorite freedom fighter, Yvette, who starred in “War Toys,” a superb mini-series (which, considering how good the regular series is, is saying something) about the actual war for which the elephantmen were bred and who was, apparently, killed off at the end of. Starkings, like a lot of writers, decided that one of their creations was too good to kill, so he brought her back to life, and now he’s checking in on her again (I imagine some day we’ll find out if Yvette is still alive 20 years later, but for now, we’re not getting that story). She’s tracking elephantmen across Asia, looking for revenge for her murdered brother, and when she catches up to them (coincidentally, they include the hybrids who star in the “present” sections of the book), she discovers that they’ve come across a new enemy – a group of tiger hybrids who arrive from a base on the moon. Yes, they really do. It’s not as silly as it sounds – I mean, if you’re reading this series at all, you’ve already accepted human/animal hybrids – and these tigers don’t have any sympathy for their fellow hybrids, so Yvette and her group are able to point out some irony to the wounded elephantmen – maybe they now know how humans feel around them. It’s not as emotionally or morally complex as “War Toys,” mainly because Starkings doesn’t really introduce any new themes, but it’s an exciting and brutal war story, plus it introduces a new element to the Elephantmen universe – namely, the tigers – so we’ll see what Starkings is going to do with that.
The next two issues return us to the present, and they’re better reads, mainly because Starkings can once again juggle a bunch of plots, which he seems to do effortlessly. The creepy murder mystery from the issues prior to #34 has been solved … or has it?
Starkings jumps back in time a bit to show that there are three separate killers of hybrids, all with different motives, it seems. It’s an interesting read because he fills in some blanks from the previous issues, like where Miki went after her first night with Hip and the consequences of that action, and what Vanity did after the crazy doctor was arrested. It’s a keen way of telling the story – Starkings is putting more jigsaw pieces into the narrative and giving us a fuller picture of what’s going on, and it works very well. Starkings also continues to delve into the societal issues with the hybrids living among the humans they once tried to kill, as we find out that Miki and Hip’s relationship might be doomed before it really starts, not only because of what society thinks but because of the insecurities of the two characters. Starkings has done a very good job making us believe that these two people would think they way they do, and it foreshadows a bleak future for their relationship. He also continues to do a nice job with the other characters, including Obadiah, whose anger at humanity is still simmering, and Sahara, who wants to give Obadiah a child but can’t figure out how to do it (and the solution she comes up with will lead, I’m sure, to nothing but trouble). Even the murders help illuminate the way this society – and, by extension, almost every society – operates. This is a world where people live in fear of the other, and some people have chosen to take matters into their own hands. There is prejudice and hatred all around these characters, and it’s interesting how Starkings chooses to let some of them rise above it and others fall into it.
The back-up stories contribute to the overall mosaic of the society, too. Aldridge’s concerns Panya, Sahara’s double, and how she is trying to survive in a male-dominated world (the hybrids, after all, are all male). “Patient Zero,” the five-part back-up story that begins in issue #36, takes us back to when Dr. Nikken hadn’t yet figured out how to make hybrids viable and introduces us to Vernal, a deformed worker who discovers that one of the experiments is actually alive. That won’t end well, I predict.
As usual, Starkings has built such a compelling world that he’s able to switch easily back and forth between subplots without losing long-time readers, and he provides enough exposition that I don’t think it’s too hard for a new reader to get caught up. He’s still working with good artists, too – Cook’s pencil work is rougher than his cover art, unsurprisingly, but he does a good job with the grittiness of the war zone, while Medellin continues to get better with every issue.
His women are still a bit too well endowed for their clothes – Sahara and Blackthorne, in particular, wear clothing that would not, in any universe, contain their breasts – but otherwise, he’s done a very good job with the book. There’s no colorist listed for his issues, so I imagine he does it himself, and while its slickness takes some getting used to, it fits the sci-fi aspect of the book fairly well. I wasn’t sure if Medellin would be a good artist for the book, but he’s allayed my fears quite well.
Elephantmen has been one of the best comics out there for a few years now, and Starkings is really doing a nice job bringing in a lot of fascinating elements to keep pushing the book forward. He can shift easily from philosophy to violence to relationships, and they’re all equally compelling. You can always find Elephantmen trades if you like those more (these issues are collected in the “volume zero” hardcover, out now!), but however you read it, you should be reading it. It’s really good. Would I lie to you?