Secret Origins Of The Most Famous Character In The World: Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #0 Reviewon September 17, 2012 at 8:40 pm
I haven’t really paid much attention to Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. since its first issue, which, if I recall correctly, we felt only merited a summarizing in our first podcast as “a mildly entertaining yet inferior Hellboy knockoff.” However, given the combination of a new zero issue – meaning a one-and-done – and the news from San Diego Comic-Con that the title would be taking part in Jeff Lemire’s and Scott Snyder’s Rotworld crossover, it seemed like a good time to jump back in, re-familiarize myself with the character, and see if things have become any different.
However, based on my initial impressions of the first issue of the book, I’m issuing myself a challenge, here: I want to try to get through this entire review commenting on the book on its own merits, without mentioning Hellboy or B.R.P.D. even once.
Flips to page with panel of Frankenstein battling a giant Nazi spider…
Ooookay. Strap in; this might be a bumpier ride than I originally thought.
Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. #0 is a recounting of the origin of Frankenstein’s Monster, which is an interesting tack to take for a comic book starring a character who has existed in popular culture in books, movies, television, radio, other comic books, children-made stop-motion animated movies, telegraph and occasionally even random patterns of burned toast. After the monster escapes Frankenstein’s Castle, he flees to the jungle (because the Arctic is so 19th Century, and these days it’s less scary knowing the Palins are able to survive and procreate there), chased by Dr. Frankenstein and his hired team of cybernetic mercenaries (because we all know that, back in 1823, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a brigand with a bionic arm). There, Frankenstein (the monster) confronts Frankenstein (the doctor – stick with me here) before finally accepting recruitment into S.H.A.D.E.
If it sounds like I’m making some fun of this comic book, well, it’s because I really kind of am, particularly the choice to recount Frankenstein’s origin when it is amongst the most well-known genre origins in the English language. And writer Matt Kindt doesn’t add a lot to that origin story; sure, he eschews the Shelley-written “galvanism” in favor of an equally gimmicky yet meaner-sounding “soul grinder,” but otherwise there’s nothing new in this sequence. But then again, why would there be? It’s the origin of fucking Frankenstein, for God’s sake; what’re you gonna add to it? I mean, unless you’re Grant Morrison, who would probably make Frankenstein the result of the shared hallucination of three acidheads buttfucking in an abattoir, but that’s because he has a lot of mescaline and no editorial supervision. I can only imagine that the decision to rewrite the origin of Frankenstein’s Monster happened at the editorial level:
“Matt, we’d like you to use Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #0 to write the origin of Frankenstein’s Monster. You know, just in case the readers don’t know it.”
“…are you fucking kidding me?”
With that said, there’s still a bunch of stuff to like in this book. Victor Frankenstein’s hunt for the monster with his cybernetic pirates, while kinda ridiculous on its face (seriously, this is 1823. What do the bionics run on, lit farts?), actually has a cool, old school pulp feel; between the “noble savages” Frankenstein is defending and the weird, oldie fart-driven technology of the mercenaries, the whole thing feels like an old Doc Savage story. Sure, there’s not a lot of plot development in it, but sometimes tone really matters, and there are panels in it that are simply, balls-out fun – seeing Frankenstein stalking toward Victor, via the reader’s point of view, while the monster absentmindedly just demolishes the mercenaries who happen to be around him is just a flat-out, pulpy blast. It won’t make you any smarter, but if you have any taste for old pulp, you’re gonna like this sequence. Sure, it ends with the most anticlimactic murder sequences in a comic that includes reanimated corpses, bionic douchebags, steam-powered cannons and a sword as long as Johnny Wadd’s third leg, but at least the right person gets killed… and if Frankenstein is frugal, he’ll have a Hallowe’en gift for Charlie Brown, if you get my drift.
Alberto Ponticelli’s art is kind of a strange mix of styles that actually works very well for this kind of story. He works with an extremely fine line, but unlike the standard 90s-style jacked steroid beasts, Ponticelli is drawing things that are generally inhuman. So what we wind up with are extremely detailed visions of things that shouldn’t exist. And somehow, he doesn’t allow the detail to prevent things from looking kind of abstract and just wrong and otherworldly. I’ve been making fun of the bionic pirates, but Ponticelli reveals them on the prow of a boat, with Victor standing angrily at the I’m-The-King-Of-The-World station, surrounded by misshapen, monstrous savages that are just creepy. If there’s a complaint here, it’s that there are a few sequences where the main image is clearly unchanged, while Ponticelli adds some ancillary detail, then copies and pastes the image to simulate subtle changes in a static scene; the effect works, but it has to battle with the fact that the reader knows what a Photoshop copy and paste is these days. But overall, this is a unique-looking book that is a good match for a monster story; I liked the look of this book a lot.
In the final analysis, there is more positive to this book than negative. The pulpy feel is fun, and there is some exceptional violence, and a line like, “The paperwork system was retooled after the fact to prevent further genocides,” is worth the $2.99 cost of admission and in and of itself. But there really isn’t any getting around that fully 20 percent of this book retells the origin of Frankenstein’s Monster, which is not a story that has needed retelling since Boris Karloff was more than a lyric in Rocky Horror. It seems a little odd that nowhere in the New 52 reboot did anyone think that we needed to see Superman’s rocket land in Smallville… but that we needed to see the origin to a character that was 120 years old before Siegel and Shuster put pen to paper… and who was about 180 years old before Mike Mignola created Hellboy.