Today, Shelby and Scott are discussing Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E 13, originally released October 10th, 2012. This issue is part of the RotWorld crossover event. Click here for complete RotWorld coverage.
Shelby: I liked the zero issue of Frankenstein. I already know the original Frankenstein story, so I just enjoyed this comic book take on it. Sure, I didn’t know anything about S.H.A.D.E., including what the acronym stands for, but it didn’t get in my way of appreciating the story being told. Knowing that we’d be covering the title at least through Rotworld, I foolishly thought I didn’t need to know anymore, that I’d be able to pick up issue 13 just fine. Apparently, I forgot how comic books work; even with the familiar faces of the Red and the Rot to guide the story, I have almost no idea what is going on here, so bear with me.
Frankenstein is in the Leviathan Graveyard with Nina, who I think is kind of a fish, and Khalis, who I think is a mummy. Victor shows up, and describes how after Frank left him for dead in the Amazon, he was approached by both the Green and the Red to join their side. Naturally, he ended up choosing the Rot; as he put it, the Rot is what keeps the balance between the Red and the Green, and that makes it the more powerful force. He set out to destroy Frank, and since Frank is immune to the Rot, Victor decided the best thing to do was destroy the world around his creation. Then…something happens with a membrane, and the horrifying monster they were inside of (?) beaches itself. Frank is carried off by condors, emissaries of the Red, who drop him off in Metropolis to deal with the undead masses. He finds Velcoro, another agent of S.H.A.D.E., who tells him that Victor broke the soul-grinder into pieces and hid the pieces, because apparently it has the power to stop the Rot, so they have to find the pieces and put it back together. Also, Victor destroyed S.H.A.D.E. H.Q. and everyone inside.
It could be because I have NO IDEA about any of the S.H.A.D.E. stuff in this issue, but the Rot story line almost feels a little forced to me. It’s also very obvious that this issue immediately follows the zero; despite the fact that, in comic book time the current events and Frank’s battle with Victor are separated by a couple hundred years, writer Matt Kindt very directly references it. I want to see how the events in Frank’s past contribute to his present situation. I don’t want “remember last month — er, many many years ago when these things happened?” It just feels a little contrived. I do like Kindt’s explanation of the the Red, the Green, and the Rot, especially when paired with Alberto Ponticelli’s pencils. Calling decay the balance between the competing forces of flora and fauna is a very straightforward and elegant explanation for regular Frankenstein readers who have no clue what the hell Rotworld means. Ponticelli does a great job drawing gross, and I don’t know why, but I love seeing Victor covered in fungi. It just really pleases me to see such a realistic symbol of decay in this grotesque, unbelievable event.
I can gloss over most of the S.H.A.D.E. stuff in here, I get that I’m not going to get it, but I also don’t quite get the Rotworld stuff. Why would the soulgrinder have the ability to stop the Rot? As I understand it, it’s just a machine that converts the human soul into energy to power other machines; I can’t possibly come up with a reason why it would be a threat to the Rot. Moreover, if it was such a threat, why would Victor just “destroy” it and hide the pieces? Why wouldn’t he legitimately destroy it, instead of giving his arch nemesis a quest to accomplish? I get that Victor is a villain, and setting up elaborate schemes which ultimately result in his own demise is kind of his shtick, but this just seems too obvious. I’m also confused by the timeline, as in “where in the timeline are we?” Metropolis is pretty much a goner, so does this take place at the same time Buddy and Alec emerge, or are they still MIA?
It feels a little unfair to make a judgement on this issue when I know so little about the title as a whole. It seems to me like this is a confusing title about a section of the DCU I know nothing about. Moreover, the Rotworld stuff (which I am intensely familiar with), seems forced upon this story, and confusing in and of itself. Scott, what did you think of this issue, were you able to get anything out of this?
Scott: Pretty much no. I figured I would have a lot of catching up to do jumping into this issue, and it didn’t long to realize I was completely in over my head. Kindt correctly assumes that I don’t know what the Leviathan Graveyard is, but his footnote describing it as “A S.H.A.D.E. deep-sea base, protected by a S.H.A.D.E. firewall-generated aquatic-membrane” (I know what a few of those words mean!) does little to clarify things for me. I turned the first page confident only in that the big green thing was Frankenstein. Better than nothing, I guess.
Once Victor shows up, things start coming together. Shelby, I can see what you mean about the Rot storyline feeling forced; while I, too, thought Victor’s description of the Rot was well done and well-drawn, revealing so much important information via an expository flashback sequence really undercuts the urgency of that whole storyline. “Show, don’t tell” should always be the rule when it comes to comic books, and in a series called “Frankenstein: Agent of Shade”, we should get to experience the most important moments from the titular character’s point-of-view. Having Victor show up and explain to Frankenstein that the entire world has pretty much been destroyed while he’s been under the ocean just feels like a cheat.
Despite its faults, I found plenty to like about this issue. One thing’s for sure: Kindt has a knack for cool settings. The Amazon rainforest, inside of a giant monster under the ocean, and a post-apocalyptic Metropolis? Yes, these are all places I enjoy seeing Frankenstein kicking some ass, and they also allow Ponticelli to create some pretty awesome images. His depiction of the Green and the Red vying for Victor’s allegiance in the rainforest was beautifully done.
My favorite moment of the issue comes when Frakenstein, standing alone on a desolate downtown street moments after slaughtering a bunch of zombies, is greeted by the “clop clop clop” of a slowly approaching, un-manned horse. How am I supposed to not love that? Somehow this feels more surreal than any of the other crazy stuff that’s happened in this issue, and it provides a perfect change of pace after a very frantic sequence of events.
Shelby, you’re right about Victor’s decision to hide the pieces of the soulgrinder not making any sense and setting up a predictable path for his own demise. But we’re in a world where anything can, and does, happen, and while that can be a very dangerous thing in the hands of the wrong writer, I’m at least interested to see what happens next.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?