Comic Book Review: Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves #1-3
A while back, I expressed my love for Drew Hayes’ seminal dark fantasy comic, Poison Elves. Recently, Ape Entertainment has relaunched the title under their new(ish) adult imprint, Outlaw. Now three bimonthly issues in, how does it shape up against the original? Peek below the fold to find out.
Self-published by Hayes before he transitioned the title to Sirius, Poison Elves told the story of Lusiphur Malache, an alcoholic elf with a Napoleon complex, a bad attitude, and a gun that never runs out of bullets. The story of “Luse,” along with Hayes’ motley of interesting characters (including Lusiphur’s sorceress ex-wife and the harlequinade-festooned imp that dwells in his subconscious), gradually transitioned from episodic adventure stories (which, in an inversion of the type exemplified by Robert Howard, were usually attendant on or resultant in Luse’s inability to get laid…), towards an epic, fate-of-the-world-and-a-bag-of-Doritos quest. What’s more, Hayes’ protagonist exhibited a remarkable propensity for growth, maturing over the lifetime of series in an incredibly organic way, until finally it seemed possible that this walking, talking DSM5 of a character could actually save the world…
Unfortunately Hayes, who suffered from a battery of health concerns, died in 2007, leaving his epic unfinished. Enter Ape Entertainment.
Kicking off the series with a new issue #1, “Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves” continues more or less where Hayes’ original series left off. As a longtime reader I appreciated that they dove into the story without much preamble, but this book is by no means a good entry point for new readers. No introductions, or even clear scene setting here—you are immediately thrust into the thick of things, with little more than a ‘how do you do.’ Now, this doesn’t bother me much (having recently come off of a full reread of the classic series), but I can’t imagine the outward appearance of being, well, a jumbled mess is working for the title’s long-term benefit. That said, the fervor subsides considerably in subsequent issues, and by #3 a bit more clarity is achieved. Still, three issues is quite an investment of time and money for a potential fan who just wants to know what the hell is going on.
Credit to the creative team—they are adroitly following in Hayes’ stylistic footprints (for instance, most of the narrative is Luse’s buddy Jace reflecting on their adventures some years hence, as it was in Hayes’ run), and author Robb Horan’s scripting follows familiar patterns. If anything, his writing might be somewhat more accessible than Hayes’, despite the textual density of the first few issues.
Speaking of density, one of the things I’ve always loved about Poison Elves was Hayes’ artistic style. While his drawings during the early years were often… rough… we really got to see Hayes develop has an artist over the comic’s run. One of his key stylistic facets was his balanced his use of white space versus hyper-lineated or dense blacks. Some pages would have just enough lines to hold the whole thing together, while others would be so thick with detail that I’m still noticing things ten rereads later, or so dark and dense that they veritably dripped with menace. Primary series artist Montos has thus far demonstrated one speed: dense! The first issue in particular offers readers very little breathing room and very few vistas to stop and appreciate. Everything from the page layouts to the panels themselves are so tightly packed, I got anxious just reading the thing (and not in a good way. In a, “wow, I’ve never had a comic inspire claustrophobia before” kinda way…). Fortunately, this quality is lessening somewhat in subsequent issues, but I hope that the remarkable variety of textures that Hayes used make their way back to Poison Elves. That said, Montos’ is a talented artist and I have faith that he’ll continue to develop a style that does justice to Hayes’ legacy, while simultaneously carving his own way.
I confess to having a complicated relationship with this book. I’m a fan from way back and Poison Elves was a book I could relate to when I was at my most misanthropic. More than any other title, it has a special place in my heart, so of course I’m conflicted about the idea of Drew-less continuation. Beyond that, the Ape team has kicked off with a story that is really challenging to grab new readership, without first inculcating them in the 70+ issues that come before. With those points raised, it’s clear that the folks at Ape and the creative team have at least as much love for the material as I do, and I look forward to following their rendition for as long as they keep going.