Everything can change in an instant -- your day, your world, even yourself. This simple yet profound concept seems to lie at the heart of writer Richard Starkings' upcoming March one-shot "Man and Elephantman," which, as one of the triptych covers apparently indicates, centers around the hybrid stars of Image Comics' "Elephantmen" ongoing series mysteriously transforming from animal to man.
"I guess so," teased Starkings when asked about the details of the over-sized issue. "I really cannot say more than that."
For those wondering who or what the Elephantmen are, the backstory of the ongoing series involves the tragic tale of man and animal hybrids created by the MAPPO Corporation -- who then brainwashed and stripped the resulting creatures of their free will in order to make them into soldiers, mercenaries and killers. After their liberation and rehabilitation following a violent and bloody confrontation with U.N. forces, the remaining Elephantmen spend their days desperately trying to fit into a world where most humans look at them with disdain, disgust and distrust.
The "Elephantmen" ongoing focuses on three specific hybrids -- the hippo-mixed Hip Flask, the elephant Ebony and the rhino-based Obadiah Horn -- and the human allies in their lives, including the Information Agency's Vanity Case, sexy Skycab driver Miki and Horn's wife Sahara. The upcoming single-issue "Man and Elephantman" serves as both the start of a new arc for the title and as a "jumping-on point" story that catches readers up on the world and the characters. More than that, however, Starkings considers the special to be penciler Axel Medellin's "first proper issue on the book" as well as a visual treat for both old readers and new arrivals.
"Even though he's been with us now for five issues, it feels like a new departure, and Axel deserves a #1 issue -- his work is just so beautiful," said the writer. "Over the course of the last five issues, Axel's illustration process has evolved considerably, and readers will see it in full effect on the special. Axel is a consummate artist and isn't afraid to tackle anything I throw at him. He's helped expand the world of the Elephantmen with a confidence and skill that constantly astonishes me."
Starkings told CBR that the idea behind releasing the issue as a one-shot standalone came about in a rather serendipitous manner. Last year, other comic publishers began headhunting the book, and while re-launching almost became a very real possibility, in the end, Starkings, Image publisher Eric Stephenson and Image co-founder Erik Larsen all wanted the title to remain at its current home. This led to the development of the one-shot, a means of major promotion for the series and a way in which to bring in new readers. However, Starkings said that he wanted to make sure that the issue didn't simply rehash what came before. Instead, he wanted an experience easily accessible to newcomers while being fresh and interesting to longtime fans.
"It is a very different story and an opportunity of looking at Hip Flask and the Elephantmen from a slightly different point of view. It's 22 pages of fantastic color art by Axel, and it showcases a story featuring all the usual suspects," explained Starkings. "But because it's told from Hip's point of view -- which is a unique point of view in this issue -- it is slightly different. I don't like jump on issues that read like Wikipedia posts. I've always believed that every issue is a first issue for somebody, but I never forget that for someone else it's their 31st. Regular readers won't feel they've read this issue before."
In fact, regular readers of the comic ought to get a unique -- but not wholly dependent -- perspective on things since February's issue #30, the conclusion to the "Questionable Things" arc, tangentially leads into March's one-shot. The penultimate chapter to the arc took place in issue #29, concentrating on the title's very prominent female characters and setting the stage for the potential romantic advancement of Miki and Hip's friendship in the forthcoming finale -- something Starkings actually hinted toward since the early days of the title. Granted, some might find it weird for a human and an anthropomorphized hippo to form a relationship, but to that, Starkings offers a thoughtful rebuttal.
"Was the relationship between the Thing and Alicia weird? The Hulk and Betty Ross? Cerebus and Jaka? Roger and Jessica Rabbit? Mickey and Minnie Mouse," argued the writer. "I think there is a fine line, and I'm very conscious of it. Right from the beginning, I wanted to show that the Elephantmen were attractive to women -- and attracted to women. When [artist] Ladrönn and I launched 'Hip Flask,' we decided very definitely that the book would be R rated, and I think issue #30 will carry an actual rating because there are scenes in the issue which will raise some eyebrows.
"This is not a book for anyone under 18 -- unless they know why and how to hide it from their parents," Starkings joked as he continued. "Axel and I talked about this as we worked on the issue, recalling early issues of 'Savage Sword of Conan' and 'Heavy Metal.' If it was okay for Conan to go to bed with his women, I think it's okay for our tough guys, too. I do like that Miki is very much the proactive partner in the relationship, because some girls in the real world do like to let guys know that they're interested -- they like to lead, they like to be in control, and Miki is one of those girls."
As mentioned, the events of "Elephantmen" #30 do carry over into the one-shot to a degree, but even beyond the "Man and Elephantmen" special, Starkings definitely has plans in place for the future of the series, including the introduction and expansion of a new character named Apostrophe and some tie-in tales to the previous "War Toys" minseries.
"We will be finding out a lot more about Miki's family, specifically her stepfather and mother," he hinted further. "We will learn more about the U.S. government's plans for the Elephantmen. We will also eventually reveal exactly how the war between Africa and China was brought to an end. And Ladrönn is finishing up HIP FLASK #4, so we will see that this year. Only one more to go after that – seven years in the making!"
The "Man and Elephantman" one-shot hits stores in March while the collected "Questionable Things" arrives on shelves in April.