The last issue of Elephantmen I spent a long while breaking down the intensity of the scenes and really digging into the subtext of each scene both the story and art. After reading a ton of other reviews for the last issue I think everyone else that reviewed the book only took it at face value. I’m going to do my best to follow up with #38, but it’s a very different issue that has different narrative goals than the previous. It’s still a great issue that has a huge pay off for anyone that’s been following the series since the beginning.
The main thing to remember for this issue is that it has a “round narrative.” A “round narrative” is when the narrative that starts the issue also ends the issue, but now has a different meaning then it once did; different but still the same. In this case we start off with, “This is a story about a girl that cheated death.” It’s a vague narrative if we’re unclear about the girl it’s referring too, but then we’re shown Blackthorne fighting in the Great War that this story takes place after. Blackthrone is flying a small craft and shooting Elephantmen to pieces as she does it.
The narrative tells us as these events are happening in the background, that Blackthrone didn’t start hating the Elephantmen until they killed her husband. She wakes up in the present in bed alone with a single pillow. She heads to the shower only to be greeted by a half-naked man. She tells him she doesn’t want to see him anymore and to take a clue. It’s looking like a “friends with benefits” type situation that’s gone sour. Blackthorne jumps into the shower and our male visitor is quick to follow, but she isn’t receptive of his affection. They continue their conversation about her not wanting him there all the way to the point where he fades away and it’s revealed that she’s been alone the entire time. It’s an emotionally tense scene in which this woman who is clearly tough as nails engages in her morning routine of seeing her dead husband and interacting with him.
The next several scenes are plot builders in which the reader will need to remember there seemingly unimportant nature for future issues. It’s scenes like this that actually contribute to the brilliance of the series as nothing is filler. Every scene has a point to the story, even if it’s not the story of that issue. The next scene shows the arrival of Hip at Miki’s house. She’s sleeping in the garage because her mother won’t let her back in the house after disowning her. This scene has a huge payoff for anyone that’s a long time reader of the series and so I’m not going to spoil it by breaking it down for you; just know that there is plenty of subtext about the soul.
The scary part is that I’m barely half way through the issue again. I feel like I really need to explain this series to more people after reading others reviews. It’s sad how many people only get the face value of the story and see it as the old “Human/animals” story with perhaps hints of bestiality. The sexiness of the book is taken as being, "good but wrong" because they're so focused on the appearance of the character and not the representation of the character. If that’s all you take away from this series then you’re not getting it. I’m not telling you you’re reading it wrong, but you’re really not getting it. Richard Starkings has created a world that’s far deeper than just replacing humans with animals and yet at the same time he’s done just that. The story is full of double meanings and commentary on the world; the Elephantmen themselves have so many cultural and historical meanings that I could write a paper just on the three main characters. I encourage you to dig deeper when reading this series you’re only cheating yourself if you don't.
Once upon a time I said that Axel Medellin’s art was good, but that he was no Moritat. I feel foolish for having ever said that. Medellin’s art has developed further than I could ever imagine and I hope that he sticks with the book until its end. I don’t know if Starkings would be lucky three times and at this point I have to say that Medellin is becoming pretty irreplaceable. The opening scene with Blackthorne has so much emotion and intensity to the feelings that can only be seen on the page. Starkings narrative and dialog is not there to give you those feelings because it’s there to support the imagery. Medellin’s art is what allows for this back and forth nature of the story and art and the two creators make a perfect partnership.
People often times talk about the great partnerships in comics and it’s become a rarity in the industry now a days. There aren’t too many Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s or Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s anymore. Personally I think that the partnership between Richard Starkings and Axel Medellin is quickly becoming one that has the potential to make the list.
Writer: Richard Starkings
Aritst: Axel Medellin
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 3/28/12