Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1

Frankenstein's history at DC is an interesting one. He was first used by the company in 1948, but the current version didn't appear until the 2005 maxiseries Seven Soldiers. Since then, DC has tried their best to find a role for the character, using him event comics such as Infinite Crisis and Blackest Night. As a fan of the character, I appreciated his cropping up, but he never really seemed to find his niche in the comics universe. With Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., I think he's found it at last.

In the first issue, writer Jeff Lemire succeeds in setting up an grand adventure series that's weird enough to differentiate itself from titles like BPRD and Atomic Robo. More than anything, this title reminds me of last week's OMAC. While Frankenstein lacks OMAC's retro style and isn't quite as action packed, both issues throw out wildly creative concepts one after another. From the Antfarm, S.H.A.D.E.'s secret headquarters that you have to shrink to enter, to the Universal Classics monster inspired Creature Commandos, Frankenstein is pure, crazy fun.

Several issues of the new 52 have struggled to work in the necessary exposition in a way that doesn't feel awkward or slow down the comic. Much like in Animal Man, Lemire uses unconventional means to convey important information to readers,  this time giving them access S.H.A.D.E.NET database. This is simultaneously entertaining and helpful, and really helped draw me into the story. I hope Lemire doesn't abandon this device in future issues, because I think it's got a lot of potential.

I have a feeling the art in this comic will be polarizing, which is a shame. Alberto Ponticelli was born to draw crazy looking monsters, and Frankenstein takes full advantage of that. There's a spread of monsters wreaking havoc on a town that I keep going back to look at again and again, and he gets in some really brilliant facial expressions. His art here looks a little more rough and sketchy than usual, almost as if he was inspired by writer Jeff Lemire's art style. I get the sense that the level of collaboration between Lemire and Ponticelli is very high, which makes me really excited for future issues. Ponticelli is capable of playing with perspective and panel layout in really interesting, Frank Quitely-like ways, and I'd love to see the book take advantage of that.

Frankenstein isn't an easy character to write, but Lemire really nails his voice here. He feels both like an old, world-weary warrior and someone completely accustomed to all thing strange, dropping lines like "Father Time was under strict instructions not to interrupt my vacation on Mars" on one page and quoting John Milton on another. I get the impression that he's often going to be playing the straight man to his creature crew, which should be a great source of amusement. Sticking Father Time into the body of a tiny Asian girl is another terrific idea. Every time a character referred to him as "Father" I wanted to giggle, and somehow, this form fits his take no crap attitude perfectly.

I really enjoyed Lemire's The Atom backups in Adventure Comics, and it was a pleasant surprise to see him using Ray Palmer here. Ray's new role as a government super scientist (who can still shrink) is a great one, and I hope DC takes note. I completely understand why they don't want 3 Flashes or 2 Blue Beetles running around, but there's no reason why these characters can't be used in other ways. I'd love to see Ted Kord start creating tech for the Justice League International, and befriending Booster Gold that way. Other members of Frankenstein's supporting cast seem promising as well. I especially like Nina, who we first saw in the Frankenstein Flashpoint miniseries. I'm really interested to see how she'll interact with Bride when she shows up.

Lemire really excels at writing about families, and I'd love to see him put that talent to use here. I can easily see this comic developing a sort Doom Patrol dysfunctional family dynamic, and I think that would add a lot of heart to the book's off the wall adventure tales. Frankenstein is shaping up to be the sort of comic I can curl up with when I just want something fun, while still being a title that can fire up my imagination. I hope this comic doesn't get lost in the shadow of some of this week's bigger titles, as I think it has the potential to appeal to a pretty wide audience. I'd recommend this book to fans of adventure stories, old school horror movies, and crazy comic book science, and of course, to any fan of Seven Soldiers.

By Marceline with 1 comment


Yeah, I was really surprised when I read this and actually liked it. Though, I never realized how silly it is to think, "Frankenstein is the straight man in the group". I agree totally. But it's funny that there could be something where Frankenstein is the straight man.

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