IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!!! But... is it any good? Let's find out.
Welcome to 52apolooza, the Outhouse feature focusing on DC's September Relaunch. All of DC's 52 titles will be reviewed by our pool of reviewers to point out the best and worst that DC's new comic book line has to offer. To see how this book ranks among the other new DC titles, be sure to check out our 52apolooza Rankings!
Everyone has a Frankenstein character. They seem popular in recent years. DC's very unique Frankenstein's Monster gets a chance at an ongoing with the New 52. Will Frank go the distance or will he prove that even the monster spy game is Hell? Boy, we'll find out.
New Reader Reviewer: dik-dik
Starting off this review, I should note a few things: I'm still rather new to comics (I started reading comics seriously in summer '09), I've never read Frankenstein comics before, besides Batman I've ready very little in the way of DC comics so far, and this is the first comic written by Jeff Lemire that I've read (Sweet Tooth is definitely on my "to read" list, but that list is currently dominated by textbooks as well, so it'll be a while).
All that is to say that, I suppose I'm more or less DC's target audience for this whole "new 52" reboot. So let's get back to the real review:
The story opens on a young boy and his grandpa fishing at a lake in Washington. Their dog senses something is wrong, runs off to investigate. It's not long before he's skinned and his lifeless body is tossed at Grandpa's feet, who, when seeing the creatures that did this, utters the ominous sentence "It's--it's finally happening... isn't it?"
The story then cuts to S.H.A.D.E. Headquarters, which is microscopic and orbiting the earth in the thermosphere, where we are introduced to: our hero, Frankenstein; Father Time, head of S.H.A.D.E. (currently in the form of a young schoolgirl with a black mask); and Dr. Ray Palmer, the scientist who designed the shrinking and teleportation tech necessary to enter S.H.A.D.E HQ, and the "resident government rat", tasked with overseeing S.H.A.D.E.'s operations.
We're also introduced to Frank's mission: it turns out that those monsters weren't quite satisfied with ripping the flesh off dogs. They had gone to kill poor gramps, leaving the boy to tell the story, and continued on, destroying the nearby city. Frank's wife was sent in to clean up the mess, but mysteriously vanished. Frankenstein has six hours to find her, rescue the survivors, and contain the invasion. If he can't do that, the entire town gets nuked.
Finally, we're introduced to the Frankenstein's team, the "Creature Commandos", assembled with the idea of "tapping into man's irrational fear of the unknown": Dr. Nina Mazursky, who used eugenics to transform herself into an amphibian/human hybrid; Warren Griffith, a werewolf; Vincent Velcoro, a sort of half-vampire; and Khalis, who's a mummy and, since he's already got the bandages, also the team's medic.
The art is clean, expressive, well colored, and fun. It's easy to follow, and since basically all of the characters are of different species, you won't run have the problem some comics have where you can't tell who's who in half the panels. Somehow, Alberto Ponticelli has accomplished the feat of having highly detailed panels with thick, black lines that are still easy to read.
As with any first issue, this one serves mostly to introduce us to the characters and story. In this case, Lemire uses the somewhat cheesy, somewhat fun trope of introducing characters and locations as though the reader were looking them up on a computer database. It contributes to the tongue-in-cheek, self-aware nature of the comic book, making it much more fun to read. Over all, this looks like a promising start to a fun story.
Final Score: 85/100
DC Reviewer: Adrian
Of all of Grant Morrison's creations since coming back to DC, his Frankenstein reinterpretation is one of the best and potentially most enduring. Frank is an introspective, poetic monster with a clear moral code and a yearning for the love of his estranged wife. Utilizing these key concepts plus a healthy dose of crazy science-gone-mad and Universal Movie-era monsterdom, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. attempts to tap into the Hellboy market of fantasy, and for the most part does a decent job.
The plot is simple: a town is under seige by an army of monsters, and Frankenstein must take a team to save its residents and his missing wife. Along the way, high-yet-not-completely-original concepts of science are introduced to give a feel of the world where Frankenstein resides. People--including a reintroduced Ray Palmer--are playing God everywhere, creating life while not grasping the consequences, and Frankenstein obviously hates it. It's an interesting theme that I hope continues for the duration of the title, because it shines a interesting light on the concept of werewolves, vampires, mummies, etc., all of whom are introduced later. If you create life unnaturally, do you own its soul? Are you responsible for its surivival?
The art is straightforward, with heavy inks and simple storytelling. The facial expressions, especially those of "Father", are well-done, and the coloring is adequate, even if it doesn't quite capture the B-movie monster-movie feel DC is going for. The fighting and violence are done in a way that's clear and not confusing.
The book's pretty accesible to anyone who's ever watched a monster movie. There's no added importance to the intro of Palmer, and really, why should there be? The only reference to any complex backstory is that of Frankenstein's wife and their estrangement, but if that's a source of paralyzing confusion then reading might not be the thing for you anyway.
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. was a fun, if slightly derivative take on monsterdom created by mad science. While the cliffhanger wasn't as strong as many of DC's other New 52 #1's, the overall comic was enough to keep a reader's interest for at least another issue. It's a title that should provide a zany backdrop for DC's emerging horror universe.
Total Score: 79/100
Grab Bag Reviewer: Tyler Ward
Six years ago, Grant Morrison and a large group of fantastic artists reworked some unused DC characters as part of a mega-project called Seven Soldiers. I was a big fan, and I've been waiting (patiently) for one of those concepts to be picked up again as an ongoing. Hurrah, the wait is over and my second favorite character from that project has his own ongoing.
To be clear, you needn't have read that series to enjoy this (or the Flashpoint mini penned by Lemire)- other than the Morrison/Mahnke characterization/look of Frankenstein and the concepts of S.H.A.D.E., Father Time, and the Bride, this is all fresh ground. It is clear that Lemire enjoyed those concepts in the Seven Soldiers mini and is intent on keeping them around. Good news.
The story itself is pretty standard so far (a small town is attacked by monsters), but does a great job of setting things up and seeding future conflicts (Anyone else want to bet those robots run amok by the fourth storyline?). Lemire has a great voice for Frankenstein and this book is filled with cool ideas- Ray Palmer and his mini-city, little girl Father Time, etc. I'm a little disappointed that the Creature Commandos don't seem as interesting as they did in the Flashpoint series (Velcoro and Griffith in particular) but Khalis is an intriguing addition. My only other disappointment is the lack of a "Fuck yeah, Frankenstein!" moment- the last page is not as exciting as it could be- but I'm sure that's upcoming (see the first issue of the Flashpoint mini as proof that Lemire is capable of that).
Alberto Ponticelli was an inspired choice for this book- His Frankenstein looks great and he draws amazingly twisted monsters. His style can be described as "scratchy" and most of his people end up looking creepy or scared- which will probably be an asset to this book. He's a good storyteller who picks interesting shots for panels. I'm not a fan of how he draws little girl Father Time- she looks funny- or the dog on the first two pages -pig dog- but from the sampling I've seen this is well above average art for the relaunch.
A moment to comment on that elephant in the corner: this book is not BPRD, nor does it try to be. Yes they're both books about government agencies that fight monsters, but their tone and influences are noticeably different already. This has almost none of the Lovecraft moodiness of Mignola's work, and instead is aiming for something much more sci-fi action oriented. I'm glad too, as I can't think of anyone who was clamoring for DC to release a watered down version of BPRD.
This wasn't my favorite DC book in September, but it is very good and will be near the top of my stack the next few months. Now if only we could get that Manhattan Guardian book...
Total 52apolooza Score (with Three Review In): 251 (Average Score: 83.67)
Written or Contributed by: dik-dik, Adrian and Tyler Ward