When a friend recently asked me to describe Elephantmen Vol. 2: Fatal Diseases (having been unaware of the series) I was a initially stumped, it being a tad complex. I umm’d and urr’d but was pushed into blurting out, as my impatient chum demanded an explanation, “It’s a bit like a science-fiction version of Magnolia with genetically modified hippos, elephants and rhinos!” My acquaintance looked suitably surprised. “And the frogs?” he enquired. “A huge flippin’ meteor!” came my reply and this was enough to invoke genuine awe and the remark, “Sounds great.”
And he’s right. It does sound great (although I have simplified the plot in a slightly reductive fashion) but more importantly, it is great.
Elephantmen Vol. 2: Fatal Diseases is a collection of the monthly Elephantmen series though do not let the “Vol. 2” in the title put you off. No previous knowledge is needed as any essential background information is either neatly portrayed in the introductions or in the dialogue. Writer Richard Starkings is all too aware that, although a mythology can work wonders, it can also serve against inviting new fans and pitches his work accordingly.
The world of Hip Flask, he’s the aforementioned genetically modified hippopotamus (again, that’s putting it simply – it’s much more intricate), is one that is still coming to grips with the after effects of war with many still waging their own battles (much like the Vietnam veterans). It’s a truly global affair with the action taking place all over the world, the main players coming from varying nations.
Starkings & Co. don’t shy away from the intricacies of war, refusing to state categorically stringent moral parameters. In the first tale, Moxa Cautery!, we find the grey between good and bad – a grey that comes courtesy of a character who denies that good is not always ‘good’ and that ‘bad’ people aren’t necessarily ‘bad’. This chap, called Trench, sees things in ‘black and white’ and doesn’t care for those caught in the crossfire. Trench, a Zebra, was trained to kill by men and turns this to his advantage and, though he is on the side of the Elephantmen, he comes off as a cove whose rationality has been extricated by ‘man’.
The artwork matches the tension of the narrative with glorious cityscapes and eerie desert plains though the reader is treated to the diversion, as it were, of the amusing iFrog and a mini-series of ‘fantasy’ adventures for the characters. Here, the authors and artists kick back and let their giggles free with GladeRunner (Hip Flask’s city is a tribute to that of Ridley Scott’s classic and here they play on their love for the film) and the wonderfully retro The Victor of Sammy Thrace. The inclusion of the ‘fan fic’ framing device aptly plays on how the world of comics is sometimes seen – that of the adolescent boy. “Comics full of BOOBS and GUNS?! What’s not to love?” asks a tightly clad, ridiculously good looking young ‘lady’ stating she wants to take you home. Crikey.
But it’s this imagination and trust in the readership that allows such an entertaining diversion. The ongoing plot line (a meteor racing towards Earth) pops up keeping you readied and gasping for the next installment, in true Saturday morning serial style. Starkings is clever enough to keep this anticipation building throughout and when it does strike, well, that leads on to something even more intriguing as we are introduced to more skullduggery of man.
In DVD-style, Starkings & Co. also treat us to some marvelous ‘extras’ – namely some exquisite artwork from Messrs. Ladronn, Churchill, Cook and Roshell (and many more superb artists with their takes on the characters – including Tim “Heroes” Sale) along with some bonus sketches from Moritat and introductions and background information. Not only that but Fatal Diseases is packaged and bound beautifullly – a real work of art from people who care greatly about their chosen media. Value for money, to be sure.
Elephantmen Vol. 2: Fatal Diseases continues the series with some style but, in fact, it works superbly as an introduction to the series in general as you’ll be intrigued and enthused by the characters and their history beyond this tome.
More trips to the comic book shop (or the Internet) will ensue with requests for Elephantmen on your lips. One wonders, though, how long Starkings’ creations will stay on the page. Hip Flask and his chums (and enemies) are crying out for some form of screen adaptation and I’m sure those film company cheque books cannot be far away.