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Elephantmen: War Toys

Vol. 1 'No Surrender'

Reviewed by Bernice Watson

Genetically modified safari park monsters with rocket launchers? Sounds like a good time!

Elephantmen: War Stories, penned by series creator Richard Starkings and with art by Moritat aka Justin Norman (covers by Ladrönn and Boo Cook), lays down some background story to the Elephantmen series and provides insight into the apocalyptic events that led to the creation and deployment of an army of giant human- animal hybrids by Mappo (evil corporation du jour).

Elephantmen itself is a spin-off series from Starkings' original series Hip Flask that started in the early nineties as a platform to showcase the lettering and design skills of his team at Comicraft. But the characters and world of Hip Flask/Elephantmen have come a long way since those early days and today they deliver far more than an example of Comicraft's lettering expertise.

Against the backdrop of a grim future where humanity has torn itself apart through conflict, where the deadly HCN Virus has decimated mainland Europe comes forth the rise of Mappo's perfect soldiers - the Elephantmen. Sold to the highest bidder and capable of the most ruthless and total destruction, the Elephantmen become the deadliest weapon on Earth. In the war between China and Africa the Elephantmen are sent in to seize Europe and destroy any remaining humans who may carry the disease. It is here, in the brutal arena of devastation and human suffering that War Stories, vol. 1 plays out.

Starkings has to walk a fine line between vilifying the creatures who will later become central characters in the Elephantmen series, and illustrating the brutal reality of what they were originally bred and trained to do. Luckily for readers he walks this line with style and finesse. The narrative wends its way through the lives of the human survivors facing an invasion by monsters on the heels of a viral pandemic. In scenes reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic horror The Road they struggle for survival in the rubble and ash. The Elephantmen sweep through Europe driving before them death and destruction but they themselves are victims of humanity's conflict and corporate greed. Created for profit, raised without love and starved of compassion and humanity they are not monsters by nature but by necessity and training.

Starkings and Moritat draw heavily on World War II imagery and themes here (appropriately given the neo-30s /sci fi noir feel of the whole Elephantmen series) not only in the black and white format but also in the themes of invasion and resistance (in this case the French resistance), the rise of the machine and the impact of science on warfare and, of course, genocide (Mappo aims to wipe out all of humanity in Europe).

Although it came as an initial surprise to find the artwork rendered without the use of colour, it soon became obvious how vital this element is to the feel of the story. The artwork speaks not only of things past but in haunting greyscale it lends a feeling of cold and hopelessness. Moritat's work is both personal and epic, it captures a moment of emotion as deftly as it does grand destruction. This TPB edition also features a collection of sketches and concept artwork with captions as well as single issue covers by Boo Cook and Ladrönn.

Starkings and Moritat have created between them and intriguing world with a lot of questions yet to be answered. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and place an order for more Elephantmen...