Hip Flask: Elephantmen

Story by Richard Starkings, Joe Casey, and Ladronn
Dialogue by Richard Starkings and Joe Casey
Art by Ladronn
36 pages, color
Published by Active Images

When Richard Starkings came up with a mascot to appear in the ads for his lettering company ComiCraft, he invented the hippopotamus private investigator Hip Flask. I don’t know if he knew just then what would eventually happen to Hip Flask, but most people were surprised when Starkings announced that Hip Flask would get his own comic. What started out as a joke turned out to be one of the most gorgeous books on the market, with an equally thoughtful story. Now that’s a pleasant surprise.

In the future, a madman tried to create a genetically engineered army based on African wildlife: hippopotami, giraffes, lions, zebras, and so forth. These bipedal, intelligent beings were eventually freed from their imprisonment and declared to be sentient beings, and the so-called “elephantmen” had to find a place in society. Now one of them, Hieronymous “Hip” Flask, is an investigator for the government. What he’s about to discover is something he probably already knows—the world is still very hostile for “elephantmen” to live in.

Starkings, Joe Casey, and Ladronn have created a perfect world for Hip Flask and the rest of his compatriots. Instead of going for a silly or goofy take on the character (“It’s a hippo! In a trench coat!”), they’ve gone for a grim dystopia to plunge them into. The initial Hip Flask: Unnatural Selection one-shot was a strong introduction, but Elephantmen showed that Starkings, Casey, and Ladronn were ready to move to the next step. It’s almost more of a mood piece than anything else, showing where Hip Flask, Obadiah Horn, and the rest of the Elephantmen have ended up in society. At the same time, though, there are lots of hints on where the saga of Hip Flask is going. Between the assassin, the corporate intrigue, and the science-fiction elements, there’s a lot of elements that they’re throwing into the air, but after reading Elephantmen you get a real sense that they’ll be able to follow through with it.

It’s impossible to talk about Elephantmen without talking about Ladronn’s gorgeous painted art, though. Each panel crackles with energy, and is a work of art in its own right. Ladronn’s renditions of the Elephantmen make them look so real it’s impossible to not take them seriously; these are creations that move across the page like living creatures, with expressions and stances that show in an instant exactly what they’re doing. Ladronn pays careful attention to the settings of Elephantmen, making them as much of a character as everything else. From the sunny veldt of Africa to the darkened streets of Los Angeles, each location is instantly recognizable by how Ladronn paints it. It was intensely hard to select an image to best portray Ladronn’s work here, because each place looks so different than the one before, but all are jaw-droppingly awesome. While Starkings’s decision to publish Hip Flask in a standard comic book format meant that many more people would buy it, I found myself selfishly wishing for a European oversized album format, to better show off all the detail that Ladronn packed into every page. It’s just that good.

Hip Flask: Unnatural Selection and now Hip Flask: Elephantmen are two stunning creations by Starkings, Casey, and Ladronn. They’ve done a fantastic job of turning Hip Flask’s world into a reality, creating an enthralling comic that makes you desperate to see more. With more Hip Flask on the horizon, one can’t help but hope for another set of illegal genetic experiments to happen… in order to create hundreds of Ladronns to help paint more issues, and quickly. If you haven’t checked out Hip Flask, you really are missing out on something truly special.

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