SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #4A comic review article by: Chris Kiser, Nick Boisson, Michael Deeley
Chris: From day one, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. has been one of the most fun, off-the-wall and creative books of the New 52. Jeff Lemire has taken one of the most unusual characters in DC's stable -- the ubiquitous creature from classic literature and old monster movies, retooled by Grant Morrison into a grim, broadsword-wielding knight for justice -- and thrust him in the midst of a series of wacky sci-fi adventures with a misfit band of "creature commandos" who likewise resemble other archetypal beasts of black-and-white horror. It's the kind of delightful comic where the protagonist can defeat a gargantuan otherworldly foe by jumping into its mouth and cutting out its heart from the inside, where a top secret government strike force is led by a guy named Father Time who looks like he was culled from the cast of Sailor Moon. Unfortunately, it is also a series whose fourth issue -- the final chapter of the introductory arc -- is a disappointing and conventional departure from the unrestrained insanity that preceded it.
Nick: To me, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. has been the series I point to in regards to "what DC has done right with the New 52" in promising, varied titles that could appeal to more than the usual superhero fan. Frankly, it has been a great series so far. However, this issue, I would agree, was a remarkably disappointing conclusion to the first story arc that Jeff Lemire has given us. And in a time when most are trying to narrow down their DC pull lists after the first story arcs, I worry about this otherwise fantastic title losing readers.
Mike: I agree with Chris. The ending to this story arc is conventional. The last-minute twists of Dr. Mazursky being mistaken for the mother of some monsters and S.H.A.D.E.'s deployment of secret weapons are old hat. This comic felt like it was written by someone who'd only read comics. Velcoro even makes a joke about the X-Men's Fastball Special. The sudden appearances of War Wheels and G.I. Robots were just references for DC nerds. Morrison would have added a twist to them with a clever caption box.
Chris: Well, now, I don't think it's entirely fair to fault a writer for not ascending to Morrison's incredibly high standard, but I see what you mean. The fact is, Lemire has proven himself to be capable of that level of imagination, both in earlier issues of this series and in most of his other DC output. This opening arc of Frankenstein has been fairly simple plot-wise, so all of its charm came from the crazy ideas and concepts Lemire kept throwing at us. With all of those cards already on the table, the conclusion played out like an old school video game. We know we've got these two remaining big monsters to deal with, so let's make our way through their minions and have ourselves a couple of boss fights.
Nick: My main bother with this issue is its lack of conflict. We have a team that is literally designed to take on anything that can possibly be thrown at them, but nothing ever is. There is never a chance for the Creature Commandos to do what they are said to do best. Instead, we get a deus ex machina whenever the evil rears its ugly head. If there is no conflict, there is no story. We don't even get to see Frankenstein fight the Sea Titan! He swings his blade and the next we see him, the titan is defeated! Did DiDio demand that Lemire finish this arc in four issues so they could get to the OMAC crossover? Because this was wrapped up far worse than Lemire's Superboy run, which was cut short by the New 52's conception.
But with the OMAC crossover coming up, this should give the story the conflict that it needs. Since OMAC most certainly will not be killed by Frankenstein's blade (I'm sure they do not plan on ending the series that early), maybe the next arc will give this book the push back in the right direction that it so clearly needs.
Chris: I personally wouldn't have wanted to see this story arc stretched to a fifth issue. Seeing how Lemire seemed to have used up all his great ideas in the first three issues, I can't imagine how barren "War of the Monsters" Part 5 would have felt. But I'm with you on the second point; bring on OMAC! That oughta be nice and weird.
Nick: The only thing I enjoyed with the writing was the character interactions. Griffith and Velcoro's banter is almost reason enough to read the issue. And when Father Time and Dr. Belroy begin controlling the War Wheels with gamepads, you cannot help but chuckle. While not enough to fix the issue, these truly are notes worth mentioning.
Mike: And for the art, its flaws are starting to show. The inking is murky, resulting in everything blurring together. S.H.A.D.E. has cutting-edge secret technology. The interior of its secret base should look shiny and sharp, not dark and fuzzy. The lack of definition also takes away from the impact of the Ogre Titan's emergence. I think it's time to get a different inker on the book.
Nick: I, for one, enjoyed the art on this issue. Ponticelli has managed to make more and more outrageous monsters with each turn. I only wish that he had more to work with in this outing. His pages always manage to look like he is drawing a lost story from the old Tales From the Crypt or Weird Science comic, and I mean that in a good way.
The trouble is that the book looks so rushed that all of the images seem to blend together. On certain pages, you can't tell the difference between the foreground and background objects. This might be a perfect example of why one gives artists time to work rather than rush them to turn in pages before they can complete them (*cough* *cough* Dan DiDio *cough* *cough*). This issue could have used some finishing work.
One thing that I feel needs to be praised is the cover art by J.G. Jones on this series. Every single cover has been brilliant work! And this cover is the one that takes the cake. This one is designed like an old monster movie poster that any film geek would want to have framed on his wall. I sure as hell know that I do!
Chris: So Nick liked the art and Mike didn't; does that mean I get to cast the tiebreaker? I agree with both of you guys that Ponticelli's stuff looks rough and muddled, but I think it's an intentional stylistic choice. It's a method that works well when the scene involves a countless horde of creepy crawlies, but not so much when you're trying to depict the interior of a high-tech science lab. Since most of the action here takes place on the monster planet, the bulk of the issue does mesh well with what Ponticelli is doing. The art may not be desktop background-ready like Jim Lee's stuff often is, but I'll take it as an appropriate match for the story at hand.
Mike: All of that is not to say the issue, or the entire story, is a complete wash. Seeing the War Wheels tear across a giant monster is inherently cool. The scene where Father Time and a technician playfully steer the Wheels over the monster like a video game is funny and frightening. Frankenstein, The Bride and the Creature Commandos are all unique and compelling characters. And Lemire has shown he can throw out over-the-top ideas. All the ingredients for a great comic are still here. And I'm willing to give the book four more months to improve.
The upcoming crossover with OMAC, another book driven by high-concepts and wild monsters, should be a turning point for the series. Can Lemire keep up with Giffen and Didio?
Nick: This issue wasn't bad, in any regard. It just was not on par with the previous three issues that Lemire and Ponticelli have given us. Before this, Lemire was giving more outlandish situations than the ones preceding. Now, we got an issue where nothing depraved and insane occurred. Everything ended a bit too neatly in this issue. Maybe I just expect more from Jeff Lemire, but I know that he can do better. I hope that this is but a single misstep in the series. I just hope OMAC can be the shakeup that Frank clearly needs.
Chris: I'm sure the OMAC story will be fun, if for no other reason than that it'll involve a smackdown between Frankenstein and a guy with a big blue Mohawk. However, my sights are set a little further ahead in the series, where I'm expecting the real greatness to occur. Lemire has stated plans to delve into the characters more deeply in the near future and that this first arc was mainly intended to establish the nuts and bolts of how S.H.A.D.E. worked. That was fun for a little while, though I think the mediocre flavor of this issue demonstrates why it is time to let things progress.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter at @nitroslick.
Michael Deeley is proudly serving in the US Air Force while inoculating his fellow airmen with his liberal views. He’s currently struggling to balance a life that includes family, career advancement, video games, and Mystery Science Theater 3000, in addition to comic books.