There have been any number of versions in the past of the story of Joseph Merrick—a real person who lived in the late 19th century and whose deformities earned him the nickname “Elephant Man”—including a stage play and a 1980 film starring Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt. Merrick deliberately doesn’t follow the path of any of these previous versions, though, and makes a point of saying so. It’s an all-new take on the life of Merrick, but still at least partly based in fact. I haven’t seen any other versions of Merrick’s story, so I can’t say how similar or dissimilar it is from any of them, but, as far as I can tell, this one does seem to be wholly unique.
The story begins in London in 1886. A man named Dr. Treves is sent for, to care for a patient who has collapsed in the middle of a busy street. The patient, Joseph Merrick, needs huge amounts of care, due to his gradually worsening, entirely baffling medical condition. Unfortunately, Merrick is also alone and destitute, unable to get the care that he needs. But, Treves seems to be the one to help, as he knows Merrick and treats him like an old friend.
Then, in flashback, we see the two men’s history together, which is rather more complicated and more rocky than that, and is really anything but an “old friends” relationship. Still, help sometimes comes from unexpected places, and Treves, for the moment, is the only friend Merrick has.
The story is billed as a “gaslamp” comic, which is sometimes confused with Steampunk, but is, in fact, distinctly different. That is to say, it has the Victorian aesthetic, without the sci-fi elements that make Steampunk what it is. That’s perfectly all right, though. A Victorian story doesn’t need to be Steampunk to be worth reading, and writer Tom Ward manages to weave a very strange and compelling yarn.
The artwork, by Luke Parker, is unique and rather odd looking. Merrick himself looks sort of blobby and weird—though if you’ve seen photographs, so did the actual Joseph Merrick. In addition, the background, and, at times, the characters themselves, are tinted in odd colors: mostly blue, though occasionally yellow, light brown, or other hues. It can be a bit jarring, but it makes for an interesting visual style.
In addition to the comic itself, this issue also contains a supplemental section at the end, which depicts the story’s major characters thus far and their real-life biographies, along with some extra artwork for possible future storylines, done in varying styles by other artists.
All-in-all, this is a good first issue to what promises to be a worthwhile comic. I’m anxious to see where the story goes from here.
Merrick the Sensational Elephantman #1 is available for free download online. It’s also currently in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for future issues.