Had Marian Churchland drawn "Yvette", the Elephantmen book for this month and a one-shot that fills in some gaps from the "War Toys" mini-series, it could've easily fit right in with the upcoming Damaged Goods trade, collecting Churchland's work on Elephantmen #18, #19, and #20, with some bonus stuff.
Alas, "Yvette's only got a variant cover by Churchland which only makes it more of a bummer when you open it up and don't see her cartooned comics realism and bugged-out marker colors. Not that regular Elephantmen artist Moritat isn't very good himself, it's just Churchland's style is the total opposite of Starkings' writing...and the perfect complement.
In regards to Moritat, if Churchland's run on the series has shown anything, it's that Elephantmen can thrive just as well outside of its very inward, awesomely prohibitive universe. Future issues should ease-up on the in-quotes 90's comics dark coloring and computer-y dark inks because Moritat's unfucked-with pencils are amazing. Just check the back of the issue sketches. Or look at the pages of "Yvette" wherein a ton of shading and splashes of color and sound effects aren't necessary, like the bizarre meeting with the Giraffe Medic. You see a kind of elegant 80s space Manga style there, just the right amount of lines and details. The single-panel page of Yvette following the Giraffe through a forest trail, the light from explosions of war emanating in the background is just gorgeous--mythic or something.
I'm spending some time on the art here, because Starkings' writing is always on-point but especially so as of late. The "Fatal Diseases" storyline was cool and is already echoing through the Elephantmen universe in big ways, but the arc was also the low-point of the series or rather, the lowest high-point of a series that can't be praised enough.
The first two Churchland stories were excellent and read like a movement back towards a certain "purity" of the first bunch of issues but also Starkings really challenging himself (or Churchland's art challenging him, or both) and the third Churchland issue, #20, is simple, back to basics Elephantmen. An entire issue that mostly takes place at a diner but sneaks little details about the Elephantmen universe in there (He has to apologize to the family of anyone killed in the line of duty as part of his rehabilitation process), works in the kind of obvious-subtle Stanley Kramer-like race metaphors the series does so well, and manages to tell an all too human story. Mainly, the issue's flipping expectations of Vanity, a girl with a tramp-stamp, who wears belly shirts, who's been weirdly flirty with Hipflask in the past.
When this issue was teased in #19, I assumed it was going to be a piece of Romantic Comedy absurdity, with Hipflask falling for an obvious "hot girl" and going to lengths to impress her. But it's nothing like that, it's a quick story whose main goal is to humanize Vanity the same way the series has gone about humanizing the Elephantmen, the ultimate symbol of maligned, outliers from society. Through dialogue primarily, Vanity's revealed as thoughtful and witty and perceptive to the things around her, and in the only point in the story where action supercedes dialogue, Vanity shows herself to be something of a karate expert--an odd, unexpected piece of characterization. And though it's hard to put into words, she's characterized as not a smart, cool chick in spite of her less flattering, makes-her-easy-to-dismiss style of dress but like those things don't matter; she's just a person. This ultimate rejection of the Comic Book Chick is the perfect way to wrap-up Churchland's run because in many ways, I saw her run as a tiny but important corrective to Elephantmen's smart but very dude-like presentation of the world.
The series' depiction of absurdly-proportioned women to me, always seemed kinda in-quotes (more a parody/nod to 90s comics than a continuation of the tradition) but Churchland threw in the tiniest and most human of details to the series' women characters--a rumbled bra on the floor, the way Sahara's hair rested on her shoulders, the solemn look on Vanity's face ad she stirs a straw between ice cubes--and it freed the series in an entirely new way.
And though I know it's fan-boy "What If" type bullshit, it's unfortunate Churchland didn't draw "Yvette"--if only because it would've been even better. Ostensibly, this one-shot is what happens between issues #2 and #3 in the mini-series, but contextualized as a stand-alone it holds even more power. Less the tale of one of the war's characters than the story of a character in the war, "Yvette" traces the character's arrival at unabashed brutalism--both a necessity for her to keep living and in many ways, the point where she stops living. "Yvette" is jarring in its brutality and moreso because it's come after three particularly down-to-earth issues of the series. That Elephantmen can jump from a super-sincere Hippo and cute girl in a diner to the war-torn future Europe is a testament to the series' balance of wide-angle socio-political pondering and humble, naturalistic characterization.