“Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves” #1 by Robb Horan, Keith Davidsen, Montos and Shannon Ritchie is a revival of the original “Poison Elves,” a cult hit that survived the market implosion of the ’90s, ending only with Hayes’ untimely death.
Hayes’ title and concept were a friendly poke at Wendy and Richard Pini’s cheerful and influential “Elfquest,” but the epic fantasy title quickly moved beyond “elves who swear, kill and have sex” into its own voice. The main character, Lusiphur Malache, is a mash of antihero stereotypes — angst, traumatic childhood, gothy wardrobe, an arrogant swagger and a talent for violence, i.e. the whole antiheroic works — but Hayes’ addictive energy and sometimes bizarre humor made the title successful. Hayes’ skills improved rapidly, but even at his peak, “Poison Elves” was flawed and raw, like a garage band. I was excited when I heard the news that Ape Entertainment planned to continue the story from “Poison Elves,” based on notes that Hayes left behind.
Neither nostalgia nor respect for indie publishing can make me ignore that “Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves” #1 is a hot mess. It is created by and for fans of the original series, but its general incompetence and specific inferiority to Hayes’ work are painful.
The main story, “Presumed Dead,” is written by Robb Horan with art by Montos. Horan’s basic plot outline itself is fine in how it sets up a conflict and resolves it quickly. However, as an introduction to the world of “Poison Elves,” “Presumed Dead” approaches the new reader in exactly the wrong way. Horan’s world-building explains too much, but none of the information given is particularly interesting or useful to anyone not already familiar with the original “Poison Elves.”
It’s not so much that Lusiphur is out of character, as it is that “Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves” #1 lacks any kind of much-needed character introductions. New readers are given a tangle of swordplay and a power struggle, some back-and-forth insults and a confusing jumble of characters and place names.
Horan follows in Hayes’ footsteps in having Jace San Lanagaith narrate the story. While it’s a faithful touch, Jace’s wordy narration was always one of Hayes’ weaker techniques, and Horan’s information dumps are no easier to digest. Neither Horan’s script nor Montos’ art stages scenes to draw a reader in.
The art for “Presumed Dead” is the epitome of clutter, both in how shape and space are poorly defined and in the composition of panels and pages. Worse, the flow of action is difficult to follow and the facial expressions are awkward. Jaws, noses and musculature for the same character shift from panel to panel. Unusual layouts work against clarity and readability. The backgrounds are mostly depressingly flat. As a reader who is familiar with “Poison Elves,” it’s disorienting to read, and I can’t think how a new reader would possibly comprehend or care about what is going on.
Even the lettering in “Presumed Dead” is ill-crafted. Bennett uses a different script for different characters, and the effect is distracting. Not everyone can be like Todd Klein and make this kind of trick work. Without any sense of typographic design or how text styles interact with each other and the page, having more than two lettering styles on a page adds even more visual clutter.
The very last panel of “Presumed Dead” has a nice cityscape and a good use of white silhouettes by Montos, but it’s too little, too late.
The backup story, “The Seventh Sin” by Keith Davidsen and Shannon Ritchie is slightly better. Ritchie’s artwork does have a great woodcut look to it, but this elegance of line is neutralized by a haphazard and crowded page and panel layout. Davidsen’s dialogue sounds like Hayes’ Lusiphur, but unfortunately the story itself is equally unfriendly to new readers.
Both as a comic in its own right and as an exercise in bringing back the dead, “Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves” #1 fails, which is a shame, because the market could always use more diversity in publishers and genres. Curious readers would do better to pick up trades of the original “Poison Elves” instead.