Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Mike Logsdon are discussing Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 0, originally released September 12, 2012. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Patrick: It’s 2012. Hell, it’s the end of 2012. Comic books — and superhero comics — have been around almost a century at this point. And this is a medium that loves its own history, so it’s basically impossible to pick up an issue and read it devoid of context. Zero Month, and our experiment with guest writers (Hi Mike!), tests just how well these issues hold up without the appropriate context. I’m reading a lot of comics, but I’ve never read Frankenstein before — clarification: I’ve never read this series before. I have read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. So, I feel like I have enough context to evaluate what I’m reading… I just fear that it’s the wrong context.
First, a point of contention that I’m just going to have to get over: for the purposes of this comic (and therefore the purpose of this conversation), the monster is called “Frankenstein” and the doctor who created him in called “Victor.” When I see the Frankenstein monster in other media, and he’s referred to as “Frankenstein,” it usually pisses me off. ‘THAT’S THE NAME OF HIS CREATOR, DUMBASS” I yell at the television. But I’m conceding that argument right now — Frankenstein is the monster; Victor is the doctor.
The issue opens with Victor’s creation turning on him in the lab. Frankenstein leverages his invulnerability and distinct size-advantage to escape his imprisonment, while also rescuing the rest of the innocent people Victor’s been experimenting on. On his way out, Frankenstein spills the beans to Victors wife (“surprise: your husband experiments on people!”). In what seems like a split-second-180, Victor’s wife sends Frankenstein out into the mountains to protect those newly freed experiment subjects (there are wolves out there, after all). Oddly, this is where the narrator says that Frankenstein “had immediately shown an innate sense of justice,” but this isn’t entirely true. Frankenstein in taking orders — maybe that’s what the S.H.A.D.E. agent narrating the issue finds so valuable.
But then Frankenstein begins a soul-searching “journey of ten thousand miles” — a fair portion of which finds him walking along the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Why Alberto Ponticelli doesn’t draw me a picture of this ocean-walking, I’ll never understand. But Frankenstein eventually finds himself wandering sadly through the Amazon rain forest. He’s befriended a local tribe and lives with them for some time (occasionally helping them fend off their ancient evils). But it’s not long before Victor and his steam-punk band of bounty hunters descend of the tribe, killing all the natives in a fire. Frankenstein handily dispatches Victor’s goons, freeing creator and creation to have a good ol’ fashioned duel. Frankenstein wins, thereby earning his right to exist, and then he’s approached by another woman looking to tell him what to do.
So let me tell you what doesn’t work for me in this origin story: Frankenstein finding his humanity. If the subject of Frank’s compassion comes up regularly throughout the series, then I guess I can’t be all that upset about it, but just from what we get here, it feels unearned. Also, it seems a little dishonest — Frank’s humanity is displayed in the form of killing some kind of squid demon? That’s just more killing (i.e. less humanity). The implication is that he became part of their tribe, but the only thing to indicate such is the red paint over his face. The point is, I don’t really buy Frank’s loss when the village is destroyed.
That’s not really the point of the issue though. The point is Frank breaking free from the shadow of his creator. The writing is pretty blunt on this point. When taunting Frank, Victor says “I created you! What can you tell me, beast? What can you say to your creator? What will you say to your god?” (Frank’s response is a none-too nuanced, but still totally satisfying “SHUT UP!”) But however heavy the hand of writer Matt Kindt, you can’t really ask for better duel staging than is delivered here. Swords and pistols at the top of a waterfall? Yes, please.
I appreciate the narrowed focus of this zero issue. Just from looking at the cover of Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. 1, it’s clear to me that this could have been about a number of different characters and/or organizations. But the streamlined storytelling about a Frank establishing himself as something more than an invention is interesting. I don’t know how much “loyal soldier” fits in to his own-going characterization in the series, but if that is part of the guys make-up, then this zero issue did a good job of exploring that.
I don’t know if this has won me over to picking up the series regularly, but we certainly will be following the next three issues as Frankenstein engages in some Rotworld antics. Oh, I guess we can announce that here: we’ve covering all of Rotworld!
Mike, I can’t wait to hear your perspective on this one. Was it more singularly focused on Frank than usual? What’s the deal with Victor’s gun (Father mentions that a modified version of it is still in use today — by whom?) Should I have made a bigger deal about the four-armed green lady on the table in Victor’s lab?
Mike: Hi Patrick! Thank you for the warm welcome and the opportunity to write with Retcon Punch! I’m more than thrilled to be here writing about Franken — I mean, the monster erroneously known as Frankenstein. First off, my take will be a bit different from yours because while I’ve never read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, I have been reading DC’s version of the character ever since Grant Morrison introduced him way back in his Seven Soldiers miniseries before the events of the New 52. With that said, my context for this story comes entirely from a DC perspective. I’m not sure if that improves my enjoyment of this story but I can’t imagine it hurts it either.
Patrick, you had mentioned a point of contention that I’d like to address wherein the characters of this series refer to Frankenstein as, well, Frankenstein. Just as you get frustrated when this occurs, so does our main character (although I’m not sure if he’s yelled at any televisions). Frank has even attempted to correct his teammates in the pages of this series but — like many of us, it seems — they just can’t help but call the big green lug by his creator’s name. I hope that assuages this particular frustration with the issue and that you stop yelling at your TV so much. Does it really deserve that after all it has given you?
But I digress. When reading this issue I was immediately struck by the use of an old newspaper headline to help establish a bit of exposition. Now, there is a fine line between “classic” and “cliché” and we’ve certainly seen this kind of tactic before about a million times, but I think what makes the difference is if it’s used in a clever and fun way. Here, Kindt begins this issue with the mutilated bodies of animals and wraps the aforementioned newspaper around a rotting fish. This visual fits beautifully into the origin of Frank but I think it also hints at the Rot quite nicely as well. From page one, with this simple and clever device, I felt tucked right into the story.
Another criticism Patrick mentioned was how the narrator to says that Frank had “shown an innate sense of justice” when he did. The argument being that Frank was really simply following orders the whole time which, in the end, just shows how good a soldier Frank is instead of showing his sense of justice. We’ve seen this theme of Frank being a “loyal soldier” throughout the series, but I’d like to point out a scene that took place a page before the one you mentioned where Frank CHOOSES to free Victor’s victims entirely on his own. His first act of free will, after waking up to defend himself, was that of righting something he saw as wrong. To me, this shows his “innate sense of justice” much more effectively than following orders.
Additionally, I think this scene shows another important theme of the series, that being the question of Frank’s humanity. His sense of justice is a big part of his quest to find his own humanity which, to answer your question Patrick, is also a part of the series. Frank “finding” his humanity in this issue is also hard for me to believe as he still questions his humanity in the present. Is he really just a cold, heartless monster merely following orders or does he do what he does because it suits his interests? Some characters in the series would say he’s much more than a monster, but the answer all depends on who you ask, and the main character isn’t even sure himself. Even though Frank is a “loyal soldier” he still has his own sense of right and wrong. Due to this, tensions have been building in the series and he’s been questioning his place with the S.H.A.D.E. organization, something Father Time does not like and is apparently prepared for. Foreboding stuff, folks.
Patrick, you asked me if this issue was more focused on Frank than usual and the answer is most definitely “yes.” While I feel this issue does a great job of introducing new readers to Frank, I can’t say it does so for the majority of the supporting characters in the series. Besides a brief glimpse of Father Time, this book gives no information about Frank’s teammates, the Creature Commandos. I hope that the next issue will at least give those who choose to continue reading this title some kind of quick intro to Frank’s supporting cast. You mentioned that Retcon Punch will be covering all of Rotworld, so it would be nice to get all readers up to speed on the other important characters featured in this book. As for the four-armed lady you mentioned, I’d say she’s a pretty important character too considering she’s a certain someone’s Bride.
Finally, you asked me about Victor’s gun and — I had to go back to the first issue to be sure — but it turns out it’s actually the gun used by Frank in the present. At the end of the day, I’d say this was a fairly successful ZERO issue in that it gave us a nice origin story to one of DC’s stranger heroes and, with a word of advice from Father Time, set things up for future issues.
Mike Logsdon aka Mikyzptlk is a blogger living in Nashville. He is a master of Kung Fu and reading comic books. Find out which one of those things is true by checking out his Blog, Facebook Page, Twitter and Tumblr!
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