Few characters have enjoyed the same staying power as Mary Shelley's creation, Frankenstein. For many people around my age, our first experience with The Modern Prometheus came in the form of Boris Karloff's iconic portrayal in Universal Studios' Frankenstein and it's sequels. The film was dark and moody, and set the character firmly in the role of “monster.” For the record, I saw those films on TV as a kid, specifically on WGN in Chicago, so I'm not that old. I'm not sure what it is about the character and the story that so enthralls us, but Frankenstein continues to capture audience imaginations as he moves from medium to medium, constantly evolving as different authors, artists, actors and directors put their own spin on him.
I've been reading and collecting comics since my best friend (at the time) gave me a copy of G.I.Joe #21, Silent Interlude (March 1984). In all that time, I don't remember seeing Frankenstien in the comics. Which doesn't mean he, or some variation of him, wasn't there—only that I wasn't aware of it. Recently, John DeNardo from SF Signal pointed out that DC's New 52 included the character in an ongoing series. Curious, I picked up the first volume and, sure enough, there wasn’t only Frankenstien included, but his wife as well.
Even more curious? Frank's been around the DC universe for quite some time. He first appeared in Batman comics way back in 1948 and since has been sprinkled throughout the DC Universe, even appearing in a Super Friend's episode. Yet, I was completely unaware of him.
In Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Vol. 1: War of the Monsters (The New 52) (978-1401234713), our title character is part of a monster supergroup called the “Super Human Advanced Defense Executive.” Looking at that, I immediately thought of Marvel's SH.I.E.L.D. and S.W.O.R.D. groups. Reading further, I learned the group is being managed by Father Time, who can choose to be reborn in a new body each new year—and in the pages of S.H.A.D.E., he has chosen the body of a Japanese elementary schoolgirl. S.H.A.D.E.'s mandate is to handle the supernatural elements of the DC Universe, which took me straight to Hellboy and the BPRD—The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. They even give Frankenstein a team member, Dr. Nina Mazursky, who is an amphibian/human hybrid extrememly reminiscent of Hellboy's teammate Abe Sapien. With these similarities in mind, I found myself judging the book against the Hellboy books, and finding Frankenstein Agent of S.HA.D.E. to be a poor pretender.
The bulk of Volume 1 centers around a monster invasion taking place in small town U.S.A. Frankenstein and his team are sent in to investigate and stop the invasion. They are also tasked with saving the civilian population believed to be alive somewhere in the town. At this point, a revelation is made—a dark, dark revelation—and is quickly tossed aside without any further investigation or discovery, which is such a wasted moment! I pictured Hellboy coming across the same bit of information and then completely losing it. Not so with Frank. From there, it's all about stopping the invasion and finding Frankenstein's wife, also an agent of S.H.A.D.E., who was originally sent to investigate the monster invasion and vanished.
The rest of the book suffers from a common comic book issue in that one story ends, and before the next can begin, there are a couple of one-shots which probably foreshadow furture events, but feel stunted and ill-fitting here.
As you can tell, I'm not digging this one so much. The similarities between this Frankenstein and Shelley's Modern Prometheus pretty much end with the name. I think kids would enjoy it for the art, which I fully admit it very well done by Alberto Ponticelli, but the story, written by Jeff Lemire, lacks a certain amount of depth I wanted going in. Everything feels light and superficial. Normally, this can be solved as the book matures and finds its feet, but I never felt that moment came along.
I also think kids (and parents) looking for a light monster mag, might enjoy this one. Most of the violence is pretty over the top and easily explained as fantasy/unreal. But for me, I think I'd rather dig up an old Boris Karloff feature on Netflix....
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal). He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013