This may be the most gorgeous graphic novel ever devoted to a corporate mascot. Hip Flask, a hippopotamus/hard-boiled detective, was originally created to illustrate Richard Starkings's computer lettering site, Comicbookfonts.com. This European-style oversized hardcover graphic novel presents the character's origin as an absolutely straight-faced science-fiction melodrama: Hip Flask and his half-animal brethren, readers learn, were created by an evil Dr. Moreau-ish 23rd-century scientist to be unstoppable killing machines for a wicked corporation. This story shows very little of Hip Flask himself; the story is mostly a setup for future volumes (at the end readers meet Obadiah Horn, a rhinoceros who means to "create the new future, unfettered by weak, human morality"). It's a ridiculous exercise, but it's enhanced with stunning painted artwork by Mexican artist Ladronn, equal parts Jack Kirby, Moebius and H.R. Giger. Ladronn turns every gigantic panel into a tour de force of riotously complicated machinery, terrifying biological workings and minutely stippled color. His vision of Hip Flask is of a genuinely bestial creature, so finely detailed readers can sense the texture of his skin. His outdoor scenes are landscapes on steroids, rust-stained and rubble-strewn. While not much of a story, this volume will delight fans of fantasy and science-fiction art. (July) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.