Merrick the Sensational Elephant Man
Writer – Tom Ward, Artist – Luke Parker, Letterer – Micah Myers, Editor – Clare Lenton
Victorian London has long been a place that has stimulated the imagination of writers. From the world of fiction we have Sherlock Holmes, Fagin and the Artful Dodger and even Dracula himself strode the foggy streets. The world of non-fiction might be even richer. The city saw Charles Darwin and Karl Marx haunting the libraries and lecture theatres. Monstrous characters like Jack the Ripper lurked in the East End. Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, was not a monster – but a man who suffered from disabilities related to his physical deformity.
Tom Ward and Luke Parker’s Merrick the Sensational Elephant Man transforms Merrick from a gentle but stoic soul to a fantastic hero, a superhero you might say, with a story and abilities rather removed from the real world Merrick. With near unbreakable skin and superhuman strength Merrick stands up for justice, although he is naive and often subject to manipulation.
Masked and lurking on rooftops, Merrick is like a Victorian Batman. He lives in a world of occult danger. The masonic elements are reminiscent of Alan Moore’s From Hell but overall is closer to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with its collection of copyright free heroes. Indeed Merrick meets other characters from Victorian Penny Dreadful’s like Spring-Heeled Jack (a candidate for the first superhero.) There is also a ‘team-up’ issue alongside creator Corey Fryia with another indie hero in the Merrick and Crowe issue.
That issue along with two other story arcs from issues 5-8 of the book are included in a new Kickstarter for the second collected volume of the comic. I think the book really starts to hit its stride in these arcs. The character of Merrick is developed beyond the bits and pieces we know from history. The adventures are wilder and more imaginative.
A point of reference for Merrick is certainly Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy and BPRD. Some of the same diabolical themes are present alongside a pulp sensitivity. Luke Parker’s art style also ties into this overall feel.
The dark streets of Victorian London and the murky cellars where fiendish plots are hatched are depicted in a crepuscular palette with shades of violet and sepia. There is also a visual hint of Steve Ditko’s Dr Strange in the magical and otherworldly occult elements of the book, especially when it veers into H.P. Lovecraft territory.
The lettering from Micah Myers adds to the pulp style of the book and there is some really nice work on both logos and sound effects.
Merrick is an entertaining read which gets better as the story unfolds. Some of the early issues didn’t always succeed in bringing a Victorian feel, with contemporary words and Americanisms slipping into the dialogue. But these problems are largely overcome in these later issues. The concept and art are of a very professional standard and the current Kickstarter, which also offers the first compiled volume, provides a good chance to get on board with the book and discover violent Victorian values.