Today, Shelby and Scott are discussing Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., originally released January 16, 2013.
Shelby: I’m going to be honest: I just finished the last issue of Frankenstein, and I have no idea what just happened. I’m not sure what I was expecting; the last issue wrapped up so conveniently with the formation of the nigh-unstoppable undead army we’ve seen in Animal Man. Even though this issue isn’t a part of Rotworld, and even though it is the last issue of the title, I guess I thought there would be some sort of connectivity between issues 15 and 16, that we would see some kind of closure for these characters we’ve come to (briefly) know. Instead of having Frank go out in a blaze of glory, Rotworld style, or having Frank and Nina live happily ever after, Matt Kindt has returned these two to “same old, same old” and the effect is…rather hollow.
The story is simple enough; Frankenstein and his WHOLE crew (Velcoro and Khalis included) are sent by Father Time to deal with some supernatural terrorists who are planning to detonate a dirty bomb in Central City. Frank and Nina chat en route about why he’s suddenly so crabby, the team kills all the bad guys, and Frank detonates the bomb in the air and neutralizes the virus inside because his blood does…something. A Homeland Security agent watching the whole thing has his tapes erased by a S.H.A.D.E. device, and his supervisors tell him he sounds like a crazy person when he talks about monster sleeper agents fighting terrorists, the end.
So, ok, wait, what? Everyone is alive again, and things are back to normal? When Frank and Nina are talking, Frank mentions that a) he wants to quit S.H.A.D.E. and b) even though he knows Victor is dead, he is still haunted by visions of him. So, this issue either takes place after Rotworld has been very thoroughly magicked away, or it takes place sometime before Frank’s Rotworld adventures began. Do Frank and Nina get to live out the rest of their weird days post-Rotworld with their little fish-baby monster bundle of joy? The only connection I had to these characters was in context of Rotworld; I expected this last little epilogue to maintain that connection. I suppose there was no reason for me to have that expectation; there were 13 issues of Frankenstein before Rotworld started, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Kindt to want to tie this issue to those. I know I tend to get frustrated when I don’t have the full picture of a title in front of me, and I know I tend to write off titles simply because I haven’t been reading from the get go and don’t understand what’s going on (coughBatmanIncorporatedcough). I’m sure a lot of my questions about timeline and continuity stem from my unfamiliarity with this title.
Then again, the timeline of this issue itself doesn’t make a ton of sense. We basically get the story twice: first, the abridged version as told from the agent observing the whole thing go down.
He watches in disbelief as the S.H.A.D.E. agents take to the street, describing a werewolf, bat-man, mummy, and superhuman with a sword. After the mysterious, super-human agents defeat the suspects he’s been monitoring, he watches in horror as the dirty bomb is launched and then explodes. BUT WAIT JUST A MINUTE. The first couple pages show the terrorists launching the bomb and then getting the shit kicked out of them by Frank. The rest of the issue confirms it; by the time Frank arrives, the bomb is already in the air. He blows it up, then confronts the terrorists. Also, despite Khalis the mummy showing up on one of the agent’s monitors and being specifically mentioned, he’s not there. Nope, it’s just Velcoro, Frank, unnamed werewolf, and Nina. Did Kindt just forget to include the mummy in the rest of the story, despite going out of his way to point him out? That is sloppy writing, and sloppy editing, neither of which I have much patience for.
So, what are we left with? I can’t figure out where this issue is supposed to fit in the continuity of the title. Any commentors out there reading this before Rotworld? On top of that, I can’t really figure out the timeline of the issue on its own; it’s like the story was written in chunks, with a lot of time between writings. I’ve got a, “well, there goes that” sort of feeling about this book, which is a shame. I love what I’ve seen of the character Frank, and I think the combination of his Victorian technology with the ridiculously advanced tech of S.H.A.D.E. is great. I’m halfway tempted to go back and read this title from the beginning to see what I’ve been missing. What about you, Scott? Were you better able to make sense of what was happening in this issue? Am I missing a page where Khalis plays a super important part in the fight? How do you feel about this as the last issue of Frankenstein?
Scott: I couldn’t make much sense of this issue either, but I don’t think the lack of continuity is what really bothered me. I was willing to grant Kindt a free pass to do whatever he pleased with this issue so long as it felt worthy of series finale, but this fell totally flat for me. Even when looked at as just a typical issue, without the added expectations that come with being the last issue of the series, there was a surprising lack of any sort of resolution. What is Frankenstein’s future with S.H.A.D.E.? What’s going to happen to Frank and Nina? What about their baby?? Some of these topics are vaguely addressed, but by the end no answers are given.
Shelby, you mentioned that this issue marked a return to the status quo. While this makes for an awkward transition from the end of issue 15, it also makes absolutely no sense within in the context of this issue. For Frankenstein, the status quo meant a preoccupation with defeating his creator, Victor, a constant threat to Frank throughout the series. It also meant being discontented with his work for S.H.A.D.E., sticking around mostly to get a shot at destroying Victor. But now, Frankenstein has killed Victor, so at last he is able to move on, to leave S.H.A.D.E behind knowing he has accomplished his goal and satisfactorily fulfilled the arc of a comic book hero. Right? Not so fast. Instead, Kindt uses Victor’s death as a means to keep Frank at S.H.A.D.E., because he is “haunted by visions” of Victor. That’s the only explanation given. I could understand if the status quo was restored in order to segue into a new arc involving Victor, but seeing as this is the final issue, it seems like it’s merely for the sake of creating an unsatisfying ending.
I don’t like the idea of the “status quo ending” to begin with, since it’s usually employed as a sort of cop-out ending that leaves the door open for future installments of a series. Maybe Kindt just wanted Frankenstein to remain a deeply troubled character at the end of the series. I don’t have a problem with that. It wouldn’t have made sense for Frank to suddenly be all cheery and content. But after 16 issues, you’d think he would have progressed in some way, that he would have solved at least one problem. Really, I just wanted this issue to feel like the end of something.
One of the recurring flaws in Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is that Frankenstein is so uncommunicative that other characters are often brought in to provide the bulk of the narration, so we get the story through the eyes of characters we’ve never seen before or care little about. The point of Agent Karl Martin apparently is to point out how ridiculous the idea of S.H.A.D.E. is. It’s funny to think about the Department of Homeland Security coming to grips with the idea of an incredibly sophisticated organization of crime-fighting monsters, but all it does here is show us that this series is able to laugh at itself, which is an incredibly modest goal for a series finale. After all, S.H.A.D.E. is no more ridiculous than the conceit of most comics. I think the final panel of the issue is supposed to make me smile, because of the funny situation with Agent Martin. But the character we care about is Frank, and knowing how deeply unhappy he is makes that smile feel, as Shelby put it, “rather hollow”.
Because of the setting, the bit at the Homeland Security HQ made me think of the last scene of Burn After Reading, which also neatly summarizes my thoughts about this issue. What did we learn?
I don’t know.
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