Review: Elephentmen: War Toys

In the year 2239 war rages across the European continent as Africa and China fight a bloody and brutal conflict. A deadly virus known as FCN, “the deadliest pandemic that the world had ever known,” has killed untold masses of people across the world. The survivors are left to try to live through a war they neither asked for or deserved.

Whereas the Chinese fight with human soldiers, the African soldiers are transgenetic creatures made by the shadowy company Mappo which rules Africa in all but name. In other words Europe (the backdrop for War Toys) is being overrun by an army of African animals genetically modified into humanoid forms.

War Toys is essentially a prequel to the larger Elephantmen universe. It’s the story of how that world came to be born out of the ashes of the world we know. Aside from just being a very engaging sci-fi war story, War Toys is also a thoughtful exploration on what it means to be “human.”

The three issue mini-series follows the advance of Mappo’s foot soldiers across France and and into Scandinavia. The main focus of the story is a young French girl named Yvette. Her home, family and friends have all been destroyed by the Elephantmen. Her suffering has been so great that she vows to teach them pain, fear and anger, to “defy death and drive him into the enemies ranks.”

This plot is the framework that writer Richard Starkings uses to comment on the nature of humanity. The Elephantmen’s appearance contrasts with comments from themselves that humans are merely animals who need not be mourned, merely exterminated. While the humans in the path of the Elephantmen are forced to become more animalistic merely survive.

Many of these themes couldn’t have been conveyed without the amazing artistic talent of Moritat. The three comics are done largely in black and white with minimal touches of color. And just as the story explores the many shades of difference between humanity and animality the art is rendered in many different shades of gray, not just stark black and white.

Also impressive was Moritat’s ability to render human emotions on animal faces. His rich shades also give weight to the massive Elephantmen. The combination of his rough and sharp brush strokes bring a rich diversity to his characters and backgrounds.

In addition to the impeccable story and artwork, each issue of Elephantmen: War Toys is packed with backmatter. Each issue is loaded with old comic recommendations, mini-comics and lots of sketches, most notably the Ladrönn sketches at the back of every issue. At 40 pages per issue you’re sure to get your money’s worth no matter how much you find it marked up.

While I’m not familiar with the overall story of Elephantmen, a complete understanding of it isn’t necessary to appreciate the story. War Toys stands on its own or as perfect compliment to the primary comic series. Pick this up in trade (which I don’t believe has as much of the backmatter) or single issues the next time you visit your comic shop.