Monday, February 6, 2012

52 In Review: Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. So Far...

Frankenstein was a title I nearly passed up, and I'm glad I didn't. I was reading Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers at the time, with re-introduced Frankenstein back into comics, so I decided to give issue #1 a try.

I also picked up a sort of lead-in to the series - the Flashpoint tie-in series "Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown". It was only a three issue story, so it went by quickly -- but it presented a unique twist for the Flashpoint Universe, of showing how Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos fought in WWII, and even got the opportunity to kill Hitler! After that Frankenstein and his companions where betrayed by the government, sealed away and put on ice - only awakening in the modern age after Flashpoint Superman's escape from the same government holding facility.

The Flashpoint tie-in wasn't necessary, though, to getting into the clean-slate that was issue #1. I was very impressed with the writing and art of the series. Jeff Lemire, who wrote the Flashpoint tie-in, was writing this series as well, with Alberto Ponticelli on art. Ponticelli's art was a real draw - even though it's not a clean-up art style. His drawings are rough and sketchy - but gives excellent detail to environments and all the oddities this series threw at him.

Grant Morrison's reinterpretation of Frankenstein in Seven Soldiers is probably the leading inspiration for this series -- taking cues from many of his concepts. S.H.A.D.E. Net, for example, was kept - as an online computer access Frankenstein is able to take advantage of. The idea of Frankenstein, working as an Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is a key element from Seven Soldiers. The first issue even works as a kind of continuation from where events ended for Frankenstein in Seven Soldiers.

Father Time, the leader of S.H.A.D.E., who in Seven Soldiers was depicted as a black man wearing a domino mask, appears here as well - but in quite a different form. It was established at some point that Father Time is somewhat immortal - regenerating into a new form every few decades or so. Frankenstein comes back to S.H.A.D.E. finding that Father Time has regenerated into a new form - that of a young japanese school girl. It struck me as such a brilliant and insane idea - having a little girl bossing Frankenstein around. Father Time is the same semi-amoral boss he was before - but now is humorously undersized against Frankenstein's large frame, but carrying the same authority he's always had.

The first issue introduces us to the strange and odd world of S.H.A.D.E., which stands for Super Human Advanced Defense Executive. They are essentially a mad scientist Think Tank, responding to extra-normal emergencies. Ray Palmer (who we know as the Atom; though I don't think DC is reinterpreting him as such, at least not yet) is present as the US Science liaison. He's essentially an observer, there to keep watch on this organization; and boy does it need to be watched over! S.H.A.D.E. HQ is actually a small metal sphere - floating around the world, and using miniaturization and teleport technology. Inside this deceptively small HQ is a large patch-work facility of technology, run by worker golems, called the "Ant Farm". It's simply a mad scientist powder keg waiting to explode -- but that's half the fun of this comic!

The main threat they deal with at first starts in Bone Lake Washington. Monsters appear and run havoc through the town. Soon enough the entire town is simply over-run with monsters - with only S.H.A.D.E. able to erect barriers to contain the outbreak and keep it from spreading. Frankenstein's estranged "Bride", also an agent of S.H.A.D.E., has gone into the town and lost contact.

Arriving on the scene to help quell the monster outbreak and investigate, Frankenstein arrives to find Father Time has a surprise. A new monster themed unit, dubbed the Creature Commandos, are set to join in the mission. Frankenstein is incensed, asking what Father Time has done! Father Time replies "I know, it's pretty cool, isn't it?" This group is actually volunteering - though I'm sure gathering together horror-themed monsters, results of government experiments and such, isn't a coincidence on Father Time's part.

Father Time tells Frankenstein that he's too set in his ways - that he's gotta learn to upgrade. He slips in that maybe if "she" had only loved him... In a wonderfully hilarious scene Frankenstein is yelling at this little girl, saying "My relationship with my wife is of no concern to you!". "She's been your wife in Name Only for at least the last seven decades, and you know it.", Father Time remarks back.

Frankenstein relents and takes command on this new unit. The group includes a mer-woman, Dr. Nina Mazursky; Warren Griffith, a werwolf; Vincent Velcoro, a vampire bat; and Khalis, a mummy who's origin is unknown. This cast of characters, of course cliche, work well in this wacky horror sci-fi comic. Frankenstein and the Creature Commandos storm the gates and cut a swath into the hoard of monsters.

After some fighting they are directed by Khalis to a group of people he senses are alive. Barricaded within a church they find an elderly nun with a large gathering of children. She yells at them, saying "We're all paid up! You won't take another!!" Frankenstein, who is always sensitive to the presence of evil, smacks the woman away - and has the group lead the children to safety. It turns out the monster invasion of this town was a very unexpected thing - as for years this town has sacrificed children to the monsters underneath Bone Lake, in return for their safety. Frankenstein and Nina Mazursky investigate the lake, and find monsters spewing forth from below the water.

It turns out there is a portal beneath the lake - which the monsters have used for years to feed on what was on the other side. This is where The Bride was lost, having been dragged through the portal to the other side.

A spherical ship is put together to safely transport the team to the other side of this portal. It leads to what can only be described as a monster planet - conjoined with Earth through this portal. The group arrives to find an endless hoard of monsters, with the Bride miraculously having survived and defending herself.

After the initial wave of creatures has been fought back, and a reprieve earned, contact with S.H.A.D.E. HQ is reached, allowing the team to hear the information Father Time and Palmer have found out, scanning from the other side. Apparently there are three different continents on this planet, each with it's own unique form of monsters - and all with a massive Titan commanding each faction. The continent they are on contains spider-like creatures. Another has nothing but ogres - and the third dominate the seas.

After running afoul the Spider Titan, and defeating it, they eventually realize that the planet itself is alive. The group of psychics in S.H.A.D.E. HQ began screaming -- as psychic interference through the portal reached them on Earth. The planet is a massive living telepathic entity - and it seems the Titans, and all these monsters, have been infecting and killing this near dead creature. That is the reason for the invasion of Earth - these parasitic Titans want a new and healthier host planet.

A decision to split up is made. Frankenstein and Nina Mazursky take the ocean Titan - since they can both survive under water. The colors and the art in these scenes is wonderful, depicting a swarming ocean - with the largest monster fish eventually discovered and put down.

To help exterminate the ogre monsters, Father Time sends through experimental weapons, through the portal. These object, coming from the "toybox", are untested - with Palmer worried about what he's gotten himself into. You see - these "toys" are massive War Wheels - giant spiked tires, with robotic infantry, and unrelenting firepower to steam-roll over the monstrous forces. These War Wheels are of course controlled by a game controller - with Father Time and his fellow scientist having a fun old time killing some ogres!

It's an incredibly fun adventure all around - with the two remaining parasitic Titans eventually defeated. The planet even sends through a psychic message of thanks, communicated through the psychics. The living planet is free, and now setting out drifting back into space to where it once was. This causes the portal, though, to become fragile - with a limited window to get back home before time runs out. Frankenstein and his group just barely manage to regroup and return in the sphere they came in.

For only 4 issues - this was quite an opening adventure! A lot of cliche staples where utilized - but that adds to the wacky and strange nature of this comic. It might not make logical sense, but there is a historical comic back-drop to it all. The Creature Commandos, for example, are an old and previously defunct super hero concept in DC's stable. Geoff Johns, a few years ago, made a point of reviving them in a Superman story. The War Wheels, also, are an old but fun concept. So this all turned out to be rather fun adventure, with cleaver writing and stellar, if unconventional, art. It almost seems like an indy-book in a lot of ways.

It should be mentioned that with the inclusion of the Creature Commandos, this series, while very fun, has pointedly reminded me of another monster-themed government group: that of Hellboy and B.P.R.D. That's not a bad model to take inspiration from; and its by no means ripping that off. There was one scene, however, at the beginning of issue #5 that has Frankenstein warning off Dwarves, telling them that Tibet is off limits; I could easily see Hellboy in a similar scenario.

While it's cool having the Creature Commandos in the series as well, I actually enjoy Frankenstein the most out of all the group. He's the enigmatic, stoic lead of the series - and has developed a wonderful sense of character, mixing elements Seven Soldiers, and the classic Marry Shelly Frankenstein.

The next issue is a tie-in, of sorts - with Frankenstein recruited by Cadmus to help them solve a problem of theirs. Tying in with O.M.A.C., another monster-themed sci-fi comic - we are treated to pretty much a royal slug-fest between these two niche DC monsters/heroes. Reading the O.M.A.C. side of things isn't required - as they are both depicting the same fight, but from different perspectives.

I really enjoyed seeing Frankenstein tackle this mission solo - allowing him to solely duke it out with O.M.A.C. An unwitting pawn of Brother Eye, a sentient spy satellite, Kevin Kho is transformed into a techno-organic monster, who has been running amok while being hunted. Frankenstein treats O.M.A.C. like any other monster, and O.M.A.C. treats him like any other threat.

While these two are fighting, Father Time is taking advantage of the situation to breach Brother Eye's security. Coming into contact with Frankenstein, Brother Eye naturally tried to hack into S.H.A.D.E. Net, giving Father Time a way into this highly secret device. This, in fact, seems to be the real reason Frankenstein was sent on this mission at all -- just to allow Father Time access to the technology and information stored in the rogue Brother Eye.

The fight between Frankenstein and O.M.A.C. is really gorgeous, as drawn by Alberto Ponticelli. Eventually O.M.A.C. is defeated. With Brother Eye is busy with it's security being breached, O.M.A.C., who usually only repeats commands he's given ("O.M.A.C. Destroy!", "O.M.A.C. Defend!") begins yelling out in a far more emotional and panicked response. Calling out for his "Brother" - the beleaguered cyber monster elicits more sympathy than you might expect. Frankenstein has been ordered to keep on attacking, to give Father Time more time to hack into Brother Eye.

Eventually Brother Eye's security is breached - and is forced to teleport O.M.A.C. away. Frankenstein, who was about to finish the creature off, inadvertently had his entire left arm ripped off, teleporting away with O.M.A.C. Back at S.H.A.D.E. HQ, Nina is able to grow a new arm for Frank. When Father Time drops in, Frankenstein questions him about the real reason he was sent out on that mission. Frankenstein is mad, telling Father Time that his only mission is to protect humanity from the things they themselves cannot bear to face. He says he will not be Father Time's pawn, and if this happens again, he can find himself a new agent.

Issue #6 is apparently going to delve into the past. Over all this has been an extremely enjoyable series! The Frankenstein side of the O.M.A.C. fight was actually better than what happened in O.M.A.C. #5. And upcoming Frankenstein is supposedly going to have to deal with the "Spawn" of Frankenstein. Did he and the Bride have a kid? With this title, I really don't know what to expect; and that's a good thing.

There's also going to be a bonus appearance of Frankenstein in another DC book, Men of War #8. Men of War, written by Matt Kindt, is being canceled - but his final issue is going to combine his writing with Jeff Lemire, to show the secret history of Frankenstein's time during World War II.

That tie-in turns out to be very telling - as it was recently announced that Jeff Lemire is leaving Frankenstein, with Matt Kindt taking over with issue #10. I'm not exactly trilled to see yet another DC 52 title suffer a writer change. I've never read Matt Kindt's work - but Jeff Lemire insists that Kindt is very well suited to taking over the title - saying that, because they are both friends, that Kindt has actually given input and ideas on the development of the new Frankenstein series. The collaboration with Men of War #8 being a prime example of this.

I actually don't mind Matt Kindt taking over. I don't know what to expect from him, in terms of writing -- but if what Lemire said is true, then it sounds like he might really be the perfect fit for taking over the series. So I'm going to stay on board for this title.

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