Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman: Puppets (#9 – 11) – Tom Ward

3 out of 5

Given that it’s an independent, self-published production, gaps between issues of Merrick can be a while, and I was too eager to tear into this new series to reread what came before, so I ask for your patience if I bungle any storyline mentions.

But up front, I want to make clear that, despite the rating, ‘Puppets’ is a blast. Luke Parker’s strengths as an artist (and colorist?) just keep getting strong and stronger, and writer Tom Ward’s paced use of splash pages and montage pages really gives Parker the ability to shine in his storytelling, blending perfectly with the narrative and / or showing off amazing snapshots of action. In general, the flow of any given page of this book is sensational, whether delivering exposition or fisticuffs – our artist and writer are lockstep, and though Parker is obviously massively indebted to Mignola, his particular use of dropshadows and panel placement is certainly his own. Capped with Micah Myers expressive lettering, there’s not a moment of this book that isn’t enjoyable to look at, or to read. And especially the last issue, when it all kind of explodes with characters and craziness, it’s just page-turningly great.

‘Puppets’ brings a few well-known examples of its title into the Merrick world in a wonderfully inventive fashion, wrapping our Sensational Elephantman into a weird adventure that, once again, ties into his past – though this tale mostly functions as a standalone tale. In fact, it’s the bits that aren’t standalone that end up dragging it down a bit, and making it clunky in its first issue: we touch base with Treves, and get an update on his secret society’s standings, and though this is important stuff for the narrative, it doesn’t fit into the story well. Parker tries to alternate between Merrick and Treves, but it’s done so in a manner that feels more random than purposeful – like, it’s been a few pages, so we might as well switch scenes. And he notably has trouble trying to draw ‘Puppets’ new characters into the lore, clumsily lampshading their explanation for how things tie together as “really stupid.” That said, by that point the series has clicked in to full-on crazy, and so it’s absolutely enjoyable in that regard – the issues are super fun, they’re just not plotted the tightest.

As a side note, I’m not sure the use of some f-bombs in the dialogue fits with the book. Merrick man by no means has to be PG, but it didn’t really work with the tone for me. These instances weren’t frequent, thankfully; just something I wanted to toss out there.