Lisa Brown: ‘Mister Mammoth’ an engaging graphic novel

Like many people, I grew up reading comic books.

My parents would buy them at rummage sales for me and my sisters, so we had a sizable collection of the Technicolor treasures in various states of disarray — some with worn pages, others with missing covers. They were tattered by being well loved.

Several focused on superheroes — Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman — or Archie and his teenage pals. There were even a few “Star Wars” comics in the mix. I wish I still had those. But my absolute favorites were the horror comics that told spine-tingling stories of ghosts, ghouls and other supernatural creatures.

To this day, I read comics, though now usually they are in graphic novel format. My current tastes veer more toward memoirs like Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic “Maus” or James Spooner’s more recent “The High Desert.” But horrifying, atmospheric tales still call to me. Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” series and any of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories are personal favorites.

So when I came across “Mister Mammoth” on a colleague’s book cart this summer, I could not stop my hand from reaching for the slim volume. The moody cover, in shades of black and rust, with a huge, shadowed figure looming over the scene, captured my attention. Was this a version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” that I had somehow missed?

Alas, it was on hold for a patron, so I had to wait a bit for it. But when it finally came my turn, I tore through the book in one sitting. To my surprise, it was not the adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic classic that I anticipated. What I found was a mysterious tale featuring an intriguing hero with a damaged body and a pacifist’s yearning heart.

“Mister Mammoth,” written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Jean-Denis Pendanx, is beautifully sleek and efficient in its storytelling, which unfolds subtly until the end startled me by revealing itself. This first release from the Flux House label follows a 7-foot-tall detective known only as Mr. Mammoth. He is hulking, covered in scars and a man of few words, but his investigative services are much sought after. But who is he really? Is he really what he seems?

When the reader first meets Mammoth, he is being beaten in an alley by a group of men. We learn a couple things from this violence. Despite his size, Mammoth does not fight back. And he is a fan of — perhaps is even obsessed with — what he describes as an “existential crime drama” on television and its beautiful star. This fixation makes appearances throughout the graphic novel and possibly sets up the next installment of the series.

On the surface, “Mister Mammoth” is a traditional detective story. The action kicks off when a wealthy man hires our protagonist to investigate who is blackmailing him. But, like Mammoth, he is not entirely who he seems. Mammoth tracks suspects through the unnamed city, and as the plot moves forward, we learn more about Mammoth, this client and their connection. I think it will keep you engaged until the final pages.

Although this graphic novel was not what I originally expected, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The complex hero with a shadowy past called to me, and seeing his history reveal itself was intriguing. I dug the gritty, urban, 1970s vibe of the setting. The artwork was perfect, with a mixture of brightly illuminated panels and dark, gloomy ones. The writing was succinct and added to the sense of the unknown for the characters. I hope that Mammoth’s story continues in forthcoming volumes from Flux House.

If you are as keen on graphic novels as I am, check out the Joplin Public Library’s wonderful collection. They can be found with the children’s, teen and adult books, as well as on the new nonfiction shelf, where “Mister Mammoth” currently resides.

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