Comic Book Review: Elephantmen Vol. 1 TPB

Book: Elephantmen Volume 1: Wounded Animals
Author: Story by Richard Starkings; Artwork by Moritat, Henry Flint, Tom Scioli, David Hine and Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Image Comics
Release date: July 2008
Source: Bought from Graham Crackers Comics

Summary: (from They were genetically engineered to be supra-human weapons of mass destruction, but ultimately dismissed collectively as Elephantmen. Hip Flask, Ebony Hide and Obadiah Horn count amongst their number; wounded animals who, despite their differences and origins, must live in the world of man.

Collects ELEPHANTMEN #1-7 featuring art by Ladrönn, Moritat, Henry Flint, Tom Scioli, David Hine and Chris Bachalo.

First impressions: I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I knew nothing about it when I ordered it other than that Lia Habel said the series is so good it has left her sobbing, and that it was about, well, Elephantmen. I love nothing better than a glowing recommendation, so I decided to spring for it despite my limited knowledge of the subject matter.

Lasting impressions: I think that in the future, Lia Habel should be in charge of determining all of my reading material. She has never failed to steer me toward incredible stories and this is certainly no exception.

Conflicting impressions: I don’t think you could pay me to say a bad thing about this one.

Overall impressions: This trade paperback collects the first 7 issues of the Elephantmen series, which follows a group of hybrid animal-men in the future. Billed as “pulp science fiction,” the story is dark and at times violent, exploring the consequences of private military experimentation when its products are introduced into society.

The Elephantmen, as they are collectively called, consist of Hip Flask (a hippo), Ebony Hide (an elephant), Obadiah Horn (a rhino), and others. They were born from experiments by the Mappo corporation to combine large animals with humans that could be trained to be the ultimate killing machines. They spent their youth under Mappo’s control, unaware that a world existed beyond pain and suffering. They massacred North African communities under the command of their brutal leader.

Fast forward 15 or so years, and the Elephantmen are now living in California, having been rescued by American forces. They now work as operatives for the U.S. government, and much of the focus of this book is on Hip Flask’s quest to track down an African doll/idol.

We also witness the prejudice they face in society. They are outcasts, misunderstood, and supposed to maintain a quiet presence, yet Obadiah Horn has risen to become a powerful corporate leader. He is challenging the status quo by getting engaged to a human woman, Sahara, who has her own history and ties to Mappo. There seems to be conflict brewing between Hip Flask and Obadiah Horn, particularly where Sahara is concerned.

Though definitely dark, the book is surprisingly touching, particularly in the opening issue. Ebony Hide has a conversation with a young girl named Savannah, who fails to understand the complexities or differences between people, as only a child can. Her unflinching desire to befriend, rather than fear, Ebony is a heartbreaking moment. Ebony feels he is only as good as his past actions, and the violence he committed in Africa haunts him. The gentle and giving soul he confronts in Savannah certainly gives him room for thought.

The thematic elements in this book around war, animal experimentation, love without boundaries, and the consequences of power are beautifully explored through the rich plot and gorgeous artwork. The images are complex and easy to follow, with neither the text nor the art outshining the other. Instead, they work in perfect tandem to convey the story with ease, and I could not put down this book until I’d finished it.

For anyone interested in the subjects explored through this title, with even a passing interest in comic books, I urge you to give this one a try. Check it out from a library, borrow it from a friend, or even read the first issue for free online. I get that it’s not going to appeal to everyone, but if you even think you might like it, you simply must read this book.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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