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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Elephantmen. Wounded Animals. Image Comics (2007)


This is first rate science fiction combining huge ideas and superb execution. The Elephantmen are human animal hybrids created by Dr. Nikken as super soldiers to be sold to the highest bidder in the war between Africa and China taking place in plague devastated Europe. The surviving Elephantmen have been rehabilitated and integrated into human society and the stories in the collection follow the uneasy aftermath. There is not a central narrative spine to the stories, there is a common cast and threads of continuity as the stories overlap each other. The cast is very engaging, the stories are sharp and very cleverly structured, the art frequently luminous and they exploit the possibilities of comics in a gripping and thrilling way.
The creator and lead writer of the series, Richard Starkings, has managed a very impressive feat, he has embodied the structural ideas that drive the stories effortlessly in to the actions of the varied and credible cast. None of the leading characters are somewhat animated symbols, they are rounded personalities who are responding credibly to their circumstances. This gives the stories a depth, flavour and texture that makes them a pleasure to read. The problems that the Elepthantmen have with their current situation and their past are woven carefully together with the problems that humans have with the Elephantmen. The interactions are not all negative and that can be a problem as well as a pleasure, the skillful, subtle storytelling allows for a wonderful range of possibilities.
The extraordinary art by Moritat, Chris Bachalo, J. Scott Campbell, Ian Churchill, Nick Filardi, Henry Flint, David Hine, Aron Lusen, Joe Madureira, Tom Scoli, Dave Stewart and Chris Weston combines the high concept and the mundane to establish the world of the Elephantmen as a physical reality. The human cast are varied and expressive, the Elephantmen are a triumph. They are both human and animal without compromising either, their personalities are sharply and clearly embodied in their gestures and actions. The difference in scale between them and the human cast is captured effectively without overbalancing.
The collection contains the pirate fairytale "Captain Stoneheart and the Truth Fairy", written by Joe Kelly. That the story sits so comfortably in the collection is due to the tremendously skillful way Joe Kelly captures the themes of the other stories in an way that is entirely appropriate to a significantly different context. An outstanding collection, a must read.

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