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Elephantmen, Volume 1: Wounded Animals and Volume 2: Fatal Diseases

Reviewed by Bernice Watson

Never a dull moment in Mystery City

Richard Starkings builds, layer upon layer, a rich and engaging post-World War III world where humanity's demon children have been reintegrated into mainstream society alongside their creators. The Elephantmen were designed and built using genetic wizardry to deploy as weapons in the apocalyptic war for global supremacy but the war is over; a delicate peace has settled and yet the Elephantmen remain. Hated and feared by most of the human population they live in a no man's land, neither accepted nor fully rejected.

These two volumes are truly a pleasure to read in so many ways. First of all the high production value is breathtaking.

Maybe it's just me (I do have a bit of a thing for spot lamination) but I spent at least fifteen minutes just admiring the cover of Volume Two: Fatal Diseases.

The entire series makes such a wonderful use of colour and tone that I find myself examining random pages in minute detail - there's always so much to see! You might be surprised by how large the books are and the reason is the relatively low number of panels per page (usually no more than four, often less). However, the fewer the panels the more beautiful, detailed and visually rich the artwork.

It's not only the wonderful artwork which elevates Elephantmen as a series from a good yarn to a true classic but also Starkings' scripting. Richard Starkings sets a tone that can shift effortlessly from post-apocalyptic horror to black humour to touching tenderness and back again. Both of these volumes include quotes from literature throughout which provide a sense of history and intertextuality in keeping with Elephantmen's ongoing exploration of humanity's grim future and its connection to the past.

Starkings describes Elephantmen as Pulp Science Fiction and cites his major influences as the sci-fi of the 70's and 80's. Certainly the influence of the likes of Blade Runner can be seen very strongly in Elephantmen but also the spirit of classic film noir. If you've ever enjoyed classic science, or detective, fiction then you'll find in Elephantmen a treasure trove of affectionate references to both genres.

If you haven't already picked up an issue of Elephantmen then I recommend you do so immediately. I haven't enjoyed a series this much since I discovered Neil Gaiman's Sandman back when I was a teenager. Also, just FYI, Richard Starkings is going to be at the London MCM Expo later this month (weekend of May 29/30) promoting the third collected edition of Elephantmen so if you want to head down, pick up a copy and have a chat the man himself it's a golden opportunity! (More information at www.londonexpo.com).

Read our review of Elephantmen: War Toys, Vol. 1 'No Surrender'