My first thought after reading the title of this mini-series was, “Hey, that sounds like Flowers for Algernon…” (which I have never fully read, but know the gist of). My second thought after viewing the cover of the comic was, “Well, that’s clever”.
In an unsubtle-but-still-fully-appreciated nod to one of literature’s great classics, “Flowers for Rhino” opens with a five-hundred pound ex-con covered in rhinoceros skin playing the part of the hero and rescuing the pretty girl… for about ten minutes. Then the Disney themes take a hike once and for all, and you get to know the man underneath all that “near-impregnable, chemically and radioactively-treated” rhino hide. (Yes, you can laugh. I did.)
“Flowers for Rhino” reminds me of a slightly campy movie that you just can’t tear your eyes away from… like WATERWORLD! Letter from the editor: You do remember that he drinks his own urine in that right? Awesome… But seriously, writer Peter Milligan does a great job creating an antihero who captures your sympathy while reminding you why it’s not a good idea to undergo highly experimental surgery that grafts rhino hide onto your human body. (The question of whether he weighed five hundred pounds before or after this operation remains unanswered. Presumably… not.) Rhino is admittedly not the most intelligent being to run through a wall and right into a Spidey-web. But his lonely heart strikes a chord with one of the basic tenets of humanity. You feel compassion for this giant, blundering gray man as he, spurred on by “that genetic twitch, socio-paternalistic hiccup, pheromone palsy interpreted by primates and banal songwriters as, ahem, love” for his unattainable damsel in distress Stella, blunders through his friendless life. Milligan somehow makes Rhino capable of receiving pity without making him pitiful, the distinction of which is vitally important to the central role of any antihero. Add some unexpectedly witty dialogue that made me laugh out loud several times, and you have a pretty good comic.
Of course Spider-Man has to make several appearances (this is his Tangled Web), but Rhino is by far the story’s main character. Spider-Man serves at times as Rhino’s foe, and at other times his ally. However, he’s mostly relegated to a few quips here and there and an occasional foil for Rhino’s raw brute strength and simple mannerisms. Rhino is also not to be confused with the main character from the novel by Daniel Keyes. The book serves as a very general, broad basis for this two-issue series, but having known the basic plotline of the book, I still enjoyed “Flowers for Rhino” very much. I found that the artistry of Duncan Fegredo did an excellent job reflecting the essence of who Rhino is-simple and uncomplicated.
If you enjoy witty comics and are looking for a quick read, go for “Flowers for Rhino”, issues Five and Six of “Spider-Man’s Tangled Web”.
~ Shiera Carter ~